Police face daunting task of tracking and catching traffickers, who operate in several districts along the Nepal-China border.
Karuna Tamang*, 20, was struggling to eke out a living in Kathmandu when a "gentleman" offered to find her a decent-paying job in a Chinese border town. For Tamang, who is illiterate and hails from a remote village in Nepal, the offer seemed a godsend.
Only after the "gentleman" left her in a dance bar in Khasa did she realise she had been trafficked.
"The dance bar owner seized my legal documents that are needed to travel across the border," she told Khabar South Asia. "I was forced to live a hellish life for several months."
She was later rescued by Maiti Nepal, a non-profit organisation in Kathmandu dedicated to helping victims of sex trafficking. But Tamang is now psychologically disturbed. She cannot return to her home village, nor is it easy for her to start a new life.
"What will people say to me if I go back to my village? They know already that I was trafficked," said Tamang. She currently receives counseling and life-skills training at Maiti Nepal.
Tamang's case is far from unique. While various Indian towns continue to be the major destinations, women traffickers in Nepal have lately found new markets in Chinese border towns in Tibet, such as Khasa, Sigatse, Kuti, and Kerung, as well as Lhasa.
"Though there are no officials statistics available as to how many girls have been trafficked to these towns, we believe the number could be close to 1,000," said Madan Kumar Chaulagain, a programme officer with Maiti Nepal.
Trafficked women and girls come from both rural and urban districts, including Sindhupalchok, Kavrepalanchok, Kaski, Lalitpur, Jhapa and Panchthar, he said.
According to Maiti Nepal, six trafficking victims were rescued in the past few months and over 50 others were sent home after traffickers realised they were under surveillance along the Nepal-China border. Two others were able to flee on their own.
But since there is no effective bilateral mechanism to deal with the issues of women trafficking, Chaulagain believes the numbers could increase. So far, only one suspected trafficker has been arrested by police, based on details provided by victims.
Inspector Bishwo Karki, who heads the Border Police Office in Tatopani, said checks to control trafficking have been increased. "We have started sending our informants to learn about the situation in Khasa and also begun deploying police personnel in alternative routes that traffickers are found using lately," he said.
Maiti Nepal recently organised an awareness campaign in various villages in Sindhupalchowk district against women trafficking.
"Local people have appreciated our efforts and sought our support to curb such heinous crimes," said Maiti Nepal founder Anuradha Koirala, who was given a Heroes Award by international broadcaster CNN in 2010 in recognition of her contributions to anti-human trafficking efforts.
Still, the menace shows no sign of abating. Sindhupalchowk-based Daily Nagarik journalist Dhruba Dangal, who got a government award this year for his reporting on women trafficking, believes the problem cannot be solved unless people change their attitudes.
"There is a problem in people's thinking. It is unfortunate that even a father is found selling his own daughter," Dangal said, referring to a case pending at Sindhupalchowk District Court in which a local resident, Lok Bahadur Ghale, stands accused of trafficking his daughter.
*Tamang's name has been changed to protect her identity.