Nepal: Unpaid Charity Workers ‘Turn To Prostitution’ For Survival

9 Oct

Desperate AIDS charity workers in Nepal are turning to prostitution to pay bills and buy food because government bureaucracy has denied them their wages, campaigners said Friday.

Gay rights and AIDS charity the Blue Diamond Society said it had been unable to pay its outreach workers, who receive as little as 3,000 rupees ($38) a month, for 12 weeks because of a lack of funding.

The group’s leader, Nepalese lawmaker Sunil Babu Pant, said he employed about 400 “educators” in Nepal, some with HIV, who worked to raise awareness about safe sex, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We don’t have exact details, but many have turned to sex work to survive,” he explained.

Nepalese youth volunteers take part in a rally to mark World AIDS Day in Kathmandu in 2009

Pant said some of his employees working in border areas might even be failing to use condoms because of the lack of free contraception there.

The World Policy Institute think-tank highlighted this week that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) battling HIV/AIDS in Nepal were being denied $10 million in aid currently being held by the government.

The money has been in limbo since 2009, when Nepal announced it would stop funding HIV/AIDS education programmes, saying that infection rates were slowing down.

After pressure from the World Bank, the deeply impoverished Himalayan country agreed to reverse its decision, but problems with contract negotiations and other bureaucratic delays have meant the money has still not been released.

“While stories of stagnant bureaucracy in Nepal?s fledgling democratic government are not new, the consequences this time will put those increasingly dependent on NGO support at great risk,” said Kyle Knight, author of the World Policy Institute blog post.

About one percent of the adult population of Nepal is estimated to be HIV positive, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

But female sex workers are said to be a particularly high-risk group.

Since Nepal?s first cases were reported in 1988, the disease has primarily been transmitted by intravenous drug use and unprotected sex, UNAIDS said.

“About 70,000 people are estimated to be infected with HIV in Nepal, most of whom are not aware of their infection,” the United States Agency for International Development‘s 2010 Nepal HIV/AIDS profile said.

“As of the end of 2009, only 14,320 HIV-positive persons were officially reported.”

Nepal’s National Centre for AIDS and STD Control (NCASC) reports HIV infections to be more common in the far western region of the country, where migrant labour is more common, and in urban areas.

Poverty, low levels of education, illiteracy, gender inequalities, marginalisation of at-risk groups and stigma and discrimination compound the epidemic?s effects, the organisation said.

No one was available for comment from the health ministry.

Desperate AIDS charity workers in Nepal are turning to prostitution to pay bills …

Nepalese transgender performer Swecha Lama dances on World AIDS Day in Kathmandu in 2008

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