Final words on “As a Tiger in the Jungle” – and the future challenge for ChoraChori

Nepal performers Aman Tamang and Renu Ghalan in circus performanceBetween April and June 2019, contemporary circus show “As a Tiger in the Jungle” enjoyed a hugely successful tour of top venues across England and Wales, including the Glastonbury Festival. Nepalese performers Aman and Renu have now returned to Nepal but leave behind a powerful legacy of memorable performances and poignant messages.

Through “As a Tiger in the Jungle” Aman and Renu shared their experience of being trafficked from Nepal into slavery as “child performers”. See this previous blog post that gives the detail of this remarkable production. Between performances, they would take time out to give interviews on television and radio, ensuring that their message wasn’t confined only to those who attended the shows. Click on the image above to see their appearance on BBC Southeast during their visit to Brighton.

In May they laid on a special charity performance at Stratford Circus in London in support of ChoraChori’s Big Give summer appeal. Afterwards, ChoraChori Founder Philip Holmes addressed the audience in which he reflected on his organisation’s previous rescue work of Philip Holmes, Founder ChoraChorihundreds of children, including Aman and Renu, and how the contemporary circus training had started out in 2011. Then he called for public support for the greater challenge that lies ahead, as ChoraChori tackles the burgeoning issue of child rape in Nepal. When you read press articles such as this one from last week’s Kathmandu Post, it brings sharply into focus just how much needs to be done – even in ensuring appropriate police management of survivors. You can see an extract of Philip’s speech by clicking on his image above.

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ChoraChori to train its own social worker in Nepal

We are very pleased to announce that, thanks to generous supporter sponsorship, ChoraChori will be training its own social worker in Nepal – a young woman with quite a story to tell.

Twenty-year-old Chhukit Lama knows all about the extreme vulnerability that can accompany childhood in Nepal.

She hails from Humla, a remote, sparsely-populated District in Nepal’s remote northwest, next to the Tibet border.  Even at “the best of times” it’s a tough place to grow up with a chronic lack of healthcare provision and education. It has the lowest literacy rate in Nepal (47.8%), an infant mortality rate of over 30% and an average life expectancy of just 58. But back in 2004, when Chhukit was just five, the District was in the midst of the worst of times, with the ten-year-long Maoist “People’s War” at its height. Schools were shut down and children were being conscripted into the “People’s Army”. Parents were desperate to get their children to a place of safety and find an education – and an apparent saviour came to their aid.

As described in Philip Holmes’ newly published memoir Gates of Bronze, self-confessed child trafficker DB Phadera began to prey on the families. He offered false hope, taking children out of the District, with some adopted abroad without their parents’ knowledge or consent. He took older girls, like Chhukit, across the border to Tamil Nadu in India’s deep south where he admitted them to the Michael Job Centre. Operated by self-styled “India’s Billy Graham”, the late Dr PP Job, this fake orphanage was an extreme “Christian” indoctrination centre. Dr Job’s agenda was to bring up these children in his version of the faith so that they could return to their home areas as missionaries, with, in his words, “a bible in one hand and a degree in the other”. The Centre was supported by a keen, but naive, band of international radical evangelists who believed Dr Job’s lies that the children at the Centre were the orphan daughters of Christian martyrs. In fact, for the most part, the children’s parents were alive and well and they came from Hindu or Buddhist families.

Phadera took five-year-old Chhukit, her older sister and four other girls from the village on the long journey south. So began her eight-year sentence that ended only after her parents responded to her sister’s desperate telephone appeals and paid the trafficker to return their daughters to them. Soon afterwards, in September 2011, Philip and his team went to the Centre and brought all of the Nepalese girls out of this fraudulent arrangement. See this report from the Nepali Times and this one from the UK’s Daily Telegraph. Chhukit then joined the returnees in completing her education in an excellent school in Kathmandu, funded by Philip’s former charity, The Esther Benjamins Trust.

Chhukit excelled at school, passing her School Leaving Certificate (a remarkable achievement in itself for a girl from Humla) and her Plus Two exams (the equivalent of A-Levels). Now, thanks to two very generous ChoraChori sponsors, she will start a four-year full-time course towards her Bachelor’s in Social Work. The total cost will be £7,800 but this will represent not only a tremendous investment in this talented young woman’s future but also help us build local capacity in Nepal – the latter being part of ChoraChori-UK’s remit. While she is studying, Chhukit will also “pay-back” by spending time supporting the child rape survivors at our Children’s Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre (CRRC) in Kathmandu.

ChoraChori trainee social worker at the Children's Refuge and Rehabilitation Centre in Kathmandu, Nepal

Blind man’s buff at the CRRC

ChoraChori returns first group of rescued Nepalese children to their families

ChoraChori conducts medical checks on rescued Nepalese children at its Kathmandu refugeRescued Nepalese children returned to families

On the 17th March 2017 ChoraChori brought 33 trafficked and displaced Nepalese children back to Nepal. See this link. Working in conjunction with Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board, we freed them from captivity in dreadful conditions at two children’s shelters in Bihar, north India. Since then we have been conducting basic medical checks on the children and, where necessary, providing essential medical care. We’ve also been finding out more about the children’s circumstances and how they ended up in India. And this past week we’ve successfully reunited the first nine of the returnees with their families.

Nepal’s Musahar community – the rat-catchers

These first nine children are from the Musahar caste. This word means “rat-catcher” or “rat-eater”. This caste lies within the “untouchable” community and the Musahar population straddles the border between India and Nepal. See this description of the Indian Musahar from Wikipedia. The 2014 Nepal census records 234,490 Musahar as living in Nepal. Their name stems from the belief that the people were so poor that they caught rats for food. That may not longer be the case but the Musahar still lead tough lives and experience terrible discrimination. As untouchables they are kept at the margins of society and may not share the same space as higher caste people. They undertake the most menial work and that includes, like their Bihari counterparts, going to north Indian States to find agricultural labour.

Caught in a trap

The nine children we returned to their homes in Siraha District told us of how, ironically, Musahar children find themselves in a trap. They have to attend separate schools, segregated from other children. Their school offered classes only up to the 5th grade. Further education would have involved transfer to a mixed caste school and that wasn’t allowed. So in desperation the children set off as a group to work  in a pizza shop in Ahmedabad, Gujarat. Relatives who were working there already promised them a salary of 5,000 Indian rupees (£60) per month. The children left home with their parents’ permission but en route the Indian police intercepted them. The authorities placed them in Darbhanga children’s shelter where ChoraChori eventually rescued them.

Now these reunited children have no interest in education – it’s not available anyway. Instead they want to find work in Nepal or, when they are older, as migrant labour in the Middle East. One of the nine even wants to return to India once his citizenship papers are complete.  However bleak their prospects in life might be, at least these Nepalese children have the chance of a fresh start after their appalling experience as captives at Darbhanga children’s shelter.

Child trafficking

We are still researching the circumstances of the other rescued Nepalese children. Already there seems to be a significant child trafficking element involved. For obvious reasons we’ll not share anything on this while our investigations are underway. Also, two children are runaways from a Buddhist monastery in south India. They allege that they were being thrashed by the monks. This is not the first time that we have come across this allegation arising from a most unlikely place and this too requires our further research.

ChoraChori in the Nepali Times

Nepalese children captiveYesterday the Nepali Times published a powerful report on our joint operation with the Central Child Welfare Board. You can read this article and view the associated film by clicking on the image to the left.

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The Long Rescue – trafficking of Indian children to Nepal

A great deal is written, including by ChoraChori, about the trafficking of Nepalese children to India. But it is worth remembering that Nepal is also a destination country for child trafficking. In “The Long Rescue” feature from the June issue of Harper’s Magazine journalist Sonia Faleiro describes the where, why and how of it all, supported by great pictures from Brian Sokol. I have to take issue with Sonia’s description of Bhaktapur: “The kiln was located at a high altitude, and in January the mountains were covered in ice. Trapped in the midst of thick forests, the seven boys felt terrified and helpless.” This is far from the dusty town on the outskirts of the Kathmandu conurbation that I know. There’s no high altitude and ice in Bhaktapur. However the remainder of the article rings true from what we have seen – the traffickers’ deception and the indifference, indeed the opposition, of the police. And nothing surprises in a scenario where it’s difficult to distinguish the good guys from the bad. Note how she describes how one trafficker kidnaps children while his brother-in-law extracts information on the their whereabouts.

I remain full of admiration for the NGOs, and especially ChoraChori, in how they can continue to operate and succeed against such a nefarious backdrop and do so with such limited support.

Images by Brian Sokol

Nepali child trafficking victim in Indian jail

jail_650x400_41454525512On their latest visit to India the ChoraChori rescue team has been investigating the case of a 16 year old boy from Bardiya, west Nepal, who has ended up in an Indian jail after being trafficked.

Gopal was taken by a fellow villager to Delhi with the promise of work and handed over to an Indian trafficker. This transfer between agents is common practice. The Indian agent put him to work in a shop that was selling alcohol illegally. Six months ago the police raided the shop and the owner fled, leaving Gopal to be arrested in his place.  Someone misinformed the police that the boy was 23 and on that basis he was charged and sent to prison in Noida, Uttar Pradesh. Gopal managed to get word to his family in Nepal through a released former jail inmate who also happened to be a Nepali. The family contacted us and in parallel went to the Nepal embassy in Delhi. Although they have a birth certificate to prove that he is indeed sixteen nothing has happened to get him freed.

ChoraChori has now contacted the Child Welfare Committee in Noida and Childline Noida. The Noida Childline coordinator has since been to the jail and will visit the police station where the case was filed. At our request Childline will establish how this child has been charged as an adult and on what basis. While this is being sorted out we have asked that the boy be transferred to a Juvenile Justice Home with all haste.

We suspect that many children and young people who are trafficking victims could also be being held in Indian prisons and young offenders’ centres. Gopal was fortunate in that he was able to get a message to the outside that prompted our intervention.

Trafficking of Nepali boys into India

24863865-Tag-or-word-cloud-human-trafficking-awareness-day-related-in-shape-of-hand-or-palm-Stock-PhotoSince August we have been rescuing trafficked and displaced Nepali boys from India. This report in today’s Himalayan Times reminded us of the dangers and how important our work has been. We know Manahari well; it has been a trafficking hotspot for many years with a lot of girls being sent from there to become child circus performers (slaves) in India.

ChoraChori’s first success against an alleged Nepali trafficker

Alleged trafficker on left, Shailaja on right
Villagers gather to hear Shailaja interview the alleged trafficker

Villagers gather to hear Shailaja interview the alleged trafficker

Shailaja collects information from the alleged trafficker

Shailaja collects information from the alleged trafficker

Alleged child trafficker brought to meet ChoraChori team

Alleged child trafficker brought to meet ChoraChori team

Yesterday Shailaja, Founder and Co-Director of ChoraChori-Nepal, went with her co-worker, Rita Mokhtan, to research a village in Parsa District, south Nepal. It is home to a community of 44 Dalit (“Untouchable”) families and around 50 children under the age of six who all looked very malnourished. The villagers informed our team that brokers come to the village regularly and take children and adults off to India with the promise of work. They end up mainly in Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Tamil Nadu. They  might return because of the difficult work environment or remain there as they have no other alternative. But some go missing.

The purpose of Shailaja’s visit was to collect information following parents complaining formally about the disappearance of a number of children who were trafficked to a poultry farm in south India. After saying that she needed to identify the agent to establish the children’s whereabouts, Shailaja was surprised at how the villagers went off and returned a couple of hours later to bring him before her. The alleged agent is 45 year old Patall Mahatwo Dangar. Four months ago Indian relatives came to the village and offered money for him to go and work with children to the poultry farm. He found seven boys to go with him and they met with an Indian agent. After a month and a half at the farm Dangar asked for money but was told that it had already been given to the agent. An altercation followed and Dangar left the farm, while the children went missing.

Dangar has agreed to help trace the other agents but yesterday the team took him to the local police station. There, in collaboration with local NGO Sano Paila, the family of the missing children successfully filed a case against Dangar. Now, in collaboration with the police and NGO partners, ChoraChori needs to not only find the other agents but rescue these lost children from India.

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