- Updated Story
Ranjila is a shy, seventeen-year-old Tamang beauty who has spent her entire life in a village in the hill country of central Nepal. On November 17, 2011, she introduced me to her aama—her mother—outside their mud-walled home. Ranjila’s father is dead; he perished falling from a tree while gathering fruit. When I inquired how Aama, who is illiterate, provided for Ranjila and her six siblings, Ranjila explained that she toiled in other families’ fields for $2.50 per day. Later I learned that to make ends meet, Aama had also been forced to borrow money at usurious interest rates—a debt that grows larger every month, which she has no hope of ever repaying. The margin by which this household survives from week to week and year to year is as thin as a stalk of rice.
Throughout this corner of Nepal, bright-eyed adolescents like Ranjila are routinely targeted by predatory “brokers” who rove through the villages attempting to lure girls from their homes with promises of marriage or lucrative jobs in distant lands. Owing to their hard circumstances and ignorance, the girls’ families often succumb to the brokers’ deceptions and hand over their daughters in return for payment of a dollar or two. Occasionally families are so desperate to offer their children better lives that they actually pay the brokers to take their daughters off their hands. Some girls are delivered to Saudi Arabia or Lebanon or Dubai and given legitimate, if exploitative, employment as household servants. The broke...