Siddhartha Yadav: Sex and the city

Thamel is a busy tourist hub in Kathmandu. Its streets are lined by numerous shops, massage centres, bars, pubs, hotels, restaurants and even strip clubs, popularly known as dance restaurants. Life in Thamel begins with nightfall. This nightlife used to continue throughout the night. But not any more. A new directive by the home ministry requires that all night businesses should close by 11 pm. The ministry says its prime reason for doing so is to curb the sex trade.
Prostitution is illegal in Nepal and punishable by imprisonment. Yet, Kathmandu has around 5000 sex workers according to an estimate by not for profit organisation New ERA [http://newera.com.np/]. Yes, it is an open secret that sex is sold in Thamel and many other parts of Kathmandu. And like many other commodities in Kathmandu, bargaining is allowed!

It is also well known that these sex workers in Kathmandu work under cover of other legal businesses such as the massage centers, cabin restaurants, hotels, and dance restaurants. So, it may seem plausible that by shutting these businesses early, the home ministry is making it difficult for sex workers to find customers. On the other hand, there have been arguments that not all of the girls involved in these businesses are prostitutes. There are waitresses, dancers, and other girls who earn their living through their work there. By shutting these businesses early, they have less opportunity to earn their living and hence are being indirectly pushed into prostitution.
At a time when there is a news article in studentBMJ on decriminalisation of gay sex (http://student.bmj.com/issues/08/12/news/430.php), the opposite seems to be happening in Kathmandu. The home ministry thinks of prostitution as a law and order problem only and is taking its actions to the next level by even targeting girls and customers in legal bars and restaurants. Nowadays it is quite common to see police barging into dance restaurants and arresting the dancers, strippers, and the customers. What is worse is that there are media reports saying that police ask for sexual favours from girls there in return for releasing them.

My question is, “Is prostitution a legal problem only?” We cannot ignore the underlying causes that force girls into prostitution. Most of these girls are into sex trade because of unemployment, limited work opportunities, and poor salaries in other jobs. Hence, the argument that the recent targeting of girls in other legal business by the police will only push them further into prostitution may seem to hold true.

The health aspect of this problem seems to have been totally neglected. Last week during the World AIDS Day celebrations, the health ministry said that one of its challenges was reaching the sex workers. Well, how can we reach them when on one hand we give them this legal scare and send police to look for them, and on the other we ask them to come and talk to us about their health problems? How well can these contradicting policies work? I am not capable of analysing policies in depth but on the surface, something seems to be out of place in the way we have been handling the sex workers and HIV situation in Kathmandu.

There have been strong voices for and against the legalisation of the sex trade in Nepal. Whatever their legal status, we cannot ignore the existence of sex workers. About 20% of those infected with HIV in Nepal got it from sex workers. To address the growing HIV/AIDS epidemic, there is a need to bring them within the reach of our health services so that interventions aimed at them can be effective. The need to work together among various ministries and organisations in line with an overall national policy cannot be overemphasised.

The streets of Thamel are quiet after midnight these days. The dance restaurants, bars, pubs, and massage centres are closed. But sex is still being sold: the places have changed, sex workers have become cleverer at hiding their identities, and customers are more careful. Sex trade in the city continues. The spread of HIV continues.

Siddhartha Yadav is a medical student in Nepal and former BMJ Clegg Scholar.

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  • I don’t know if prostitution is a legal problem only. However, there is not doubt about the fact that prostitution is the oldest work all around the world,in uderdeveloped, developing, and developed countries, in identical manner!

  • lalit mohan pant

    I appreciate the view that siddhartha talk about.Sex is our biological need, some people have a sex for there living & some for internal satisfaction. The thing we can do is just give them awareness and leave them. What the government is trying to prove, it should also think about how the tourism is being affected in such areas and other business. We should be able to accept the truth, look forward and find the alternative ways to control. If there is action there is a reaction, so closing night business by 11 or any time is not a way to control the thing.

  • R P poudel

    Prostitution is not a legal problem. Rather not legalizing sex trade is the problem. It is only by legalizing sex trade that these sex workers can fight for the rights they deserve. Only in legalised red area can government easily approach them to provide health services.

  • Sanju Lama

    A sensitive topic cleverly analysed and put forward. Just because some other country has legalised same sex relationship does not set standard for another country to jump and follow something similar or go closer (with due regard to the individual rights and voice of the population/groups concerned). However, what’s happening in Nepal does not look like the way to go either! In their effort to create discipline and order amidst the chaos of transition, this must be what the current/novice government (let’s not forget that the people of Nepal chose them over anybody else to run the country) could imagine as their best possible solution. Issues like these become some sort of a taboo for general public to discuss openly, and are certainly deemed very private and personal for those directly involved. And hence become a gray area for law-makers, kind of a confusion as well when it comes to decision making and implementation; leaving a lot of space for unwarranted speculation/bribery and unlawful doings within the area concerned (eg. the cops demanding sexual favour rather). I wonder if any of the policy makers are aware of this or do they have any clause in case the system backfires! Well, it seems they better start thinking about it sooner than later. It takes generations to establish a system that works for all, and a way to start is to value criticism / comments and figure a way out in the best interest of everyone concerned. And most importantly for those young ladies out there, there definitely is a better way to channel their youth and energy. Thanks to Mr. Siddhartha Yadav for his observation and opinion. It may help to broaden the vision to a little extent, and which may be just enough to make a start with.

    Sanju Lama.

  • Matiram Pun

    Dear Siddartha,

    The prostitution is, no doubt, one of the oldest profession of human civilization and the goverment new rules of new Nepal has little affect on it especially what they intended for. The bigger and negative impact is more on the business and the employees that work in them.

    The goverment decision is myopic.

    Best wishes,
    mati

  • Mati

    Dear Siddartha,

    This is excellent issue and it has been well picked up with wonder coverage! I think the way home ministry of Nepal imposed a law to close bars, restaurants, discotheque and all in the intent to discourage sex business is just like hiding the dust under the carpet. This is not the approach and it can’t be resolved in this way!

  • Mati

    First of all, we have to accept the existence this business. Secondly, we have to make it more organized and preferably legalize it. There are other many kinds of business while sex is the secondary in the night business of Thamel. Therefore, the home ministry is closing the door not to allow sex trade to enter in but there are so many businesses that has been closed with it! How can you close whole industry with a mere secondary outcome which you think bad? This is home ministry’s job to make it decent, organized and legal or illegal. Here home ministry has failed to do its job and has taken the decision, the easiest one – close the night business! Who says sex business can’t be done during the day? What a pity on their decision and thinking!

  • Mati

    In fact, the sex business has not been affected that much. The discotheque, dance restaurants, bars and so on have now started opening at 3PM and close by 11PM (11 PM is the government deadline to close them) while they used to open at 8PM and close by 4AM previously! What’s the difference? The show is going on and sex trade is there!

    Then who are affected more? The Thamel is the tourist hub and pubs used to remain open whole night for the tourists and locals. This is the night life and business there. Now this is the business most affected and people who are working there and so is for other big hotels, casinos and employees!

    The decision of home ministry is myopic, impractical and a mere denial of what is going on and present there!

    Thanks Siddartha for bringing the issue here.

    Best wishes,
    Mati

  • Vinita

    Dear Siddartha,

    Yes, what you have written is right but, we in Nepal are bound to think “something is better than nothing”. Closing of the night business sure is not the end of the problem. But, I think we should take it as a sign of the Nepal government not being completely dead.

    In addition to the decision, thamel’s restaurants are also being raided now a days. Eventhough this might be “ta kute jasto garr, ma roye jasto garchhu..”, with almost nil chances of legalization of prostitution in Nepal anytime soon, we could take it as a ray of hope.

  • kool

    This is quite a stupid issue for a home ministry to stut down everything in the country after 11 pm….

    1. home ministry is not a moral ministry
    2. its a democratic country so these bars should be legalized but heavily taxed to demoralize customers.
    3. nepal is a country sustained by tourism and just imagine what message it will send across with no night life.
    4. if cops cant handle the crime in the night well i would like to add they have not done anything in the daytime also . people are still being slaughtered in broad daylight.
    5. they can make only one area for such activities so that the concerened authorities can effectively monitor. jai nepal

  • ivo de decker

    dear Siddharta, like others I think it’s best to regulize
    the sex industrie, let them do under certain conditions,let the sex bars pay taxes and the obigation to engaged the girls with a fix monthly gage and bonusses for good work, with these taxes verify the hygiene
    give the prostitutes a decent formation and act against abuse of these rules, man needs sex so it is better to control it than to leave it illegal where exploitation is common and only the maffia earns on it, greetings Ivo

  • rabina shrestha

    dear Siddharta
    iam appreciate the view of siddharta. There are so many bar and diffrents types of restaurants in thamel . But it shoudnt open till midnight . Goverment policy shoud be strict . Thamel is being like just sex point now. it should be change into tourist area and as historical place otherwise it effect in nepal.

  • Hallo Siddharta, I have been spending three weeks in Nepal, cycling around the country visiting and talking to people over there, I spend several days in a hotel in Thamel and understand the problems now that occur in Nepal
    1st there is not always electricity
    2nd a lot of people are unemployed
    3th the people that work don’t earn enough money to live a nice life
    4th the people of Nepal are very friendly
    so what’s wrong with Nepal, the government and leadership of Nepal are failing
    simple solutions : build more dams so people will have electricity, construct a railroad in the terai from east to west, learn people to be hygienic, teach the people, learn the men that are marrying a woman with children to respect her children and help to raise them and not to throw them on the street, learn the children the use of condoms so that they don’t have to quit school and still be able to work otherwise they will end in the prostitution business,
    start working to raise your voice and tell people to raise theirs, organize peacuful marches and maybe the government and the world will notice they have to help these wonderful people, watch my photostream about Nepal, read my comments on the pictures, see how Nepal looks through the eyes of a traveller, follow this link and look for the Nepal set http://www.flickr.com/photos/ivo1/ greets Ivo

  • samir

    hi how ru your concen aboout this thing ig good

  • Pennieenly

    Good post overall. Enjoyed reading it.