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Sharing, teaching, learning about sex trafficking

Nepalese students, children of women who were trafficked, discuss issue during Vancouver visit

By , Columbian Political Writer
6 Photos
Nepalese visitors Manisha Sunuwar, 20, left, and Pooja Ghimire, 21, perform a traditional Nepalese dance at Shared Hope International on Friday.
Nepalese visitors Manisha Sunuwar, 20, left, and Pooja Ghimire, 21, perform a traditional Nepalese dance at Shared Hope International on Friday. The two women, who are children of women who were trafficked, were part of a group that came to the United States to spread the word about the human trafficking problem in Nepal and India. Photo Gallery

Earlier this week, three Nepalese students stood in front of the Temple of Justice in Olympia holding signs that read: “Stop Buying Our Girls,” and “Not In Our City.”

The students, who were in the United States for the first time, later listened as lawyers argued over whether Backpage.com should be held responsible for three minors who were sold as prostitutes through the website’s classified advertisements.

Their justice system is different and the circumstances surrounding sex trafficking are not the same, but it didn’t stop the three Nepalese students, who were in Vancouver on Friday, from identifying parallels between the three Washington minors bringing the lawsuit and their own experiences.

The three students — Manisha Sunuwar, 20, Pooja Ghimire, 21, and Ajay Pun Magar, 18 — each had teenage mothers who were sold into the sex trade. The visitors were in Vancouver, in part, to spread awareness about sex trafficking in their country; they will leave with a sense of what the crime is doing to victims in the United States.

Sunuwar’s teenage mother was living in a rural village when she was promised a better life and a job in a city, only to wind up working in a brothel in India. Sunuwar was abandoned. Ghimire’s mother married at 16 but was kicked out of the house when her husband married another woman. Ghimire was a small child but enslaved and forced to work; her young mother was drugged and woke up in a Mumbai brothel where she worked for five years. Pun Magar wandered the streets of Bombay as a small child while his mother worked long hours in a brothel.

All three young visitors eventually wound up in a rural village outside of Nepal, in a community known as Asha Nepal, and have lived there since they were young children.

The village was built by Shared Hope International, founded by former U.S. Rep. Linda Smith of Vancouver, who was hosting the students.

Now in college, Sunuwar hopes to become a social worker and help educate women to prevent trafficking. Ghimire wants to be a banker, and help foster financial independence for women to help them avoid the desperation that could lead to being trafficked. Pun Magar, a mentor to the other boys in the village, would love to play professional soccer —he knocked the ball around with the Seattle Sounders this week — or work in hotel management.

Closer to home

For a long time, Smith’s organization had an international focus. It wasn’t until about 2005 that it looked at what was happening domestically with sex trafficking. She was appalled at what she found: Portland, Seattle and Vancouver are among several cities involved in a trafficking circuit.

Shared Hope International has become a vocal proponent of holding Backpage liable for selling minors for sex. The website’s lawyers argued they should have immunity under a federal law and because the website is not producing the content.

Smith is hopeful that even if the court decides not to hold Backpage accountable, with more attention the website will lose in the court of public opinion and eventually lose business. The supreme court justices plan to rule on the case in the future.

The three young travelers said their experience in Olympia at the Washington Supreme Court was educational. They could empathize with the deception and desperation that can lead to victims being trafficked.

When they return home, they plan to continue their work education women in rural villages on how to avoid being trafficked.

Columbian Political Writer