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Nasreen Sheikh

2020 (Narrative date)

There are an estimated 171,000 people living in modern slavery in Nepal (GSI 2018). Within Nepal, bonded labour exists in agriculture, brick kilns, the stone-breaking industry, and domestic work. Sex trafficking of Nepali women and girls increasingly takes place in private apartments, rented rooms, guest houses, and restaurants. Nepali and Indian children are subjected to forced labour in the country, especially in domestic work, brick kilns, and the embroidered textile, or zari, industry. Under false promises of education and work opportunities, Nepali parents give their children to brokers who instead take them to frequently unregistered children’s homes in urban locations, where they are forced to pretend to be orphans to garner donations from tourists and volunteers; some of the children are also forced to beg on the street. 

Nasreen grew up in a small village between Nepal and India not easily accessible on maps or books. People born in her village do not often receive birth certificates and other identifying documents and as a result Nasreen does not know exactly how old she is. She guesses she is now somewhere between 27 or 28 years old. She was undocumented, without any proof of age or identification which allows for people to be exploited more easily. She was taken to Kathmandu to work in a manufacturing factory with her cousin when she was 9 years old. If she was not finished by her deadline, she would not be paid for all the work she had done during the week. She was forced to wake up at 4am and work until midnights, even then there were piles of clothes left over. After two months of working in a small room, the factory closed. Nasreen was turned into what she calls a ‘street kid.’ She met a man who she allowed her to go to school and receive an education, from which she was able to better understand her life and family’s history. He father and uncle died prematurely because of labour exploitation and her sister was forced into marriage when she was just 12 years old. While still a teenager Nasreen advocated for young girls and women in sweatshops. In 2008 she started her own business, ‘Local Women Handicrafts.’ 

I don't know if the world can ever feel the pain and the suffering that I feel. 

I don't know exactly how old I am. And I always make a guess. If we lose our hand in that process or if we lose our eyes or have some accident or injury happens. We will never be able to make a police report because we don't have any documents. 

I was brought into a small room, which was literally a 10 by 10 room, no window. And we had six people, we all lived, slept and worked in the same 10 by 10 room. I had to stitch the same thing probably thousands and thousands of times. We also had a quota that I have to finish 600 or even 700 pieces sometime in a week.  

I would just cry and I couldn't even talk to anybody. So I started to talk to the shirt that I was making and saying that whoever is going to wear this T-shirt, I hope they can feel my blood through my tears. It literally became like my song.  

I was exposed to the street and that is how, in Nepal, 10,000 plus women and girls get into sex trafficking. I could have completely gone into that hole. And I was just very, very fortunate to meet a good person. 

I was able to understand that what happened to my uncle, what happened to my father, what happened to my brother was -- it was a human rights violation. When [my sister] was 15 she already had a child and now she has six children. [Women and girls] get forced into that situation to become a baby-making machine that eventually serves the corporation's needs like all these unregulated corporations. They go overseas and work with unregulated manufacturers, and these all unregulated manufacturers use undocumented people like us who are very voiceless.  

[Local Women Handicrafts] was a mission to rescue those women who are a part of sweatshops and train them how to make ethical fashion. [When I first visited a department store in the United States] everybody was shopping and being happy. But I saw those clothes and those products as a blood, I literally saw as a human suffering. And I cried into tears, and I just can't go into those stores. And I feel like people are consuming suffering very happily. And they don't know the other part of the story.  

I think the best and the easiest way to help and support is to support these small businesses which are run by the families. The easiest way is to ask questions; where are my clothes made and who made it? Once [companies] become regulated, they will tell the story of the artist that is making that [product] and in that case, nobody will buy my story, because nobody wants to see a young child working in the factory for 12 to 15 hours a day. 


Narrative credit to Dateline 

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