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Red Light Area of Nepal
In the 'Cabin Restaurant'
Rupa Kharel (rupi)     Print Article 
Published 2006-07-06 13:54 (KST)   
A young woman, Priya (name changed), 20 years of age, is in a hurry to get to the office. The sun's rays are spreading everywhere, but because of the black glass there is no way for them to penetrate into her office, where a 25-watt red bulb illuminates a 10 ft-by-8 ft room.

A Cabin Girl sitting in the lap of a Customer
©2006 R. Kharel
She has told others she is working in a travel agency, but actually she is working in a Cabin Restaurant. Yes, the dark room is the "Cabin" to attract customers. When a customer comes into her office, she asks, "What kind of service do you want from me?"

Sunita (name changed) works in an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization), whose objective is to raise awareness of STDs and HIV/AIDS. This girl, who spreads awareness, is herself a sex worker.

Shila (name changed), mother of a one-year-old daughter, lives in Kathmandu. Her husband died six months ago. After his death, she worked in a carpet factory. At the same time, her daughter got sick. So, she started a sex business to pay for her daughter's treatment because her wages from factory work were not enough.

Shila doesn't work in the Cabin Restaurant, but one of her friends, Priya, brings her Cabin Restaurant customers to her (Shila's) rented house, where she has sexual relations with them for the sake of her daughter.

Either working in a Cabin Restaurant or in the background as a prostitute, the attitudes of these three girls are totally different from each other. One thing is consistent ?- they all work as prostitutes, directly or indirectly.

An NGO named New Era has done research about prostitution in Kathmandu, according to which there are more than 5,000 prostitutes, just in the Kathmandu valley alone. Among them, only 12 percent do safe sex with condoms, so it is clear that the rest may be suffering from HIV/AIDS. Most enter this profession at the age of 21.

The profession isn't seen as a formal job but also it has established actually. A business can be opened by calling it a "Restaurant and Bar," but then most of the restaurants add the word "Cabin."

In Kathmandu valley alone, there are about 4,000 Cabin Restaurants and 3,000 Dance Restaurants, which have given employment to 100,000 girls directly (working whole days) or indirectly (part time).

The direct meaning of "Cabin" is that girls are available here, and the total tab can be three times what it is in other local restaurants. As to why this would be, one of the proprietors of a Cabin Restaurant said, "We have to give hafta (a weekly payment) to the police and incentives to the girls."

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all provided for the girls by the restaurant as well as NRs 150 (US$2) for taxi fare. Their wage is no more than NRs 3,000 (US$40.54). Their extra income is from tips and, possibly, a commission of NRs 50 if they take an order for an expensive dish, and the amount from a one-night stand with a customer. They get NRs 500 (US$6.76) to 1000 (US$13.51) for a one-night stand.

According to research by New Era, the regular customers of a Cabin Restaurant are mostly businessmen, professionals, drivers, soldiers, restaurant proprietors, etc. Nowadays, workers returning from Gulf countries are the main patrons of such restaurants.

If they run out of money while there, they're asked to leave their passports and visas, watches, gold chains and rings as collateral, to be returned after settling.

According to the proprietor of a Cabin Restaurant located in Gaushala, more than 50 (age) cross people come in the restaurant only for the special girl they want. Their number will decrease as the leave of their required girl.

New Era reports that the places where prostitutes are easily found are Cabin Restaurants, Dance Restaurants, roadhouses, lodgings, and liquor stores ("Bhatti" in Nepali). Most of these girls are from remote places like Nuwakot, Jhapa, Dhadhing, Sunsari, etc.

On average, the girls involved in sex work are around the age of 16. These girls get 500 to 1000 in general for one-time sex. The professionals, though, get more. They prefer to go to beautiful places like Pokhara, Nagarkot, Chitwan, or Dhulikhel, according to the desire of the customer, either by motorbike or car.

In Cabin Restaurants, the customers are divided up into groups of five per girl, so that one girl has to look after five customers. New Baneshwor, Battisputali, Gaushala, Chabahil, and Gongabu are the districts in Kathmandu where most Cabin Restaurants are to be found.

The Secretary of the Nepal Restaurant Organization, Yogendra Chaulagain, said, "Only a small number of women have complained of not getting paid." It means that most of the girls are satisfied with what they get. Ten years ago, Cabin girls would be raped by the owner of the restaurant. Now, neither owner nor customer does anything without their permission.

Priya said, "No one can even touch us without our permission. But there is the compulsion of sex work for the sake or our stomachs." She also added, "We don't have to worry about the job. If we leave our job in the morning, we can get back to it in the evening."

If the customer wants a call girl, the waitresses are ready to fetch a Cabin girl. Without hesitation, Priya said, "My customers are not only adults but also school agers, who give me NRs 500 for a one-night stand."

In 2002, Maoists campaigned to close these Cabin Restaurants, knowing how the girls were exploited. Far from succeeding, they've been flourishing instead. Someone has said, "I found one Maoist worker inside a Cabin Restaurant. If they themselves are going there, how can they close it?"

Everyone is aware of what happens in these Cabin Restaurants. Former Minister Sarad Singh Bhandari has said that if people have made a tacit agreement about these Cabin Restaurants, then why don't we manage them in an open way?

If the government respects this sex business or declares it a "Red Light Area," everyone involved in it would not have to be cheated socially, economically, or physically.

©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Rupa Kharel

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