Caste Locks Nepal's Sex Workers Into Their Profession

It would take special effort to empower an "untouchable" Hindu caste in Nepal that has long been associated with entertainment and prostitution, social activists say. Four years ago, the government banned Badis from engaging in sex work, and it promised assistance.

A failure to implement the ban has led some local communities to form monitoring groups backed by violent vigilantes. Many Badi girls and women have been displaced by such a group in the town of Muda. Nonetheless, Badis are not allowed legal businesses.

Riddha Bhandari, a leader of Muda's monitoring group, said it formed in part to prevent HIV's spread. "We're trying to help the Badi women start new dignified lives, but we do admit that there are no viable alternatives," said Bhandari, advocating government support.

"Most Badis are uneducated and have no farms or livestock," explained Uma Badi, an activist and one of the few college-educated Badi women. Following Nepal's 1996-2006 civil war, political instability has continued. "I have met three different prime ministers in the past few years," Uma said. "They promise support but forget us as soon as we head back to our villages."

"We didn't want to continue with prostitution but the government has failed to fulfill its promises of rehabilitation," said Bishal Nepali, husband of a sex worker. The aid package was to have included housing and work assistance and scholarships for Badi children.

"My family has survived on this trade for generations," said Sabitri Nepali, 30, in Kailali district. "My mother was a sex worker and I continued the family profession." "We defied the ban and continued with our traditional occupation," said Kalpana Badi. "How could we survive without incomes? Think about our children."