Hotspot operations: August 2015 – December 2020
The central Nepal hotspot was established in August 2015 to bring an end to the issue of internal trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC) in Kathmandu’s adult entertainment sector (AES). When the hotspot was launched, research conducted by Terre des hommes estimated between 11,000 and 13,000 women and girls were working in the AES, with up to a third of the sector’s workers estimated to be children.
The hotspot worked with 14 local NGO partners to implement a comprehensive strategy targeting 1. minors and their communities 2. the government and 3. the owners/managers and customers who drive the demand.
Building on the work of local organisations working with AES workers and vulnerable communities, the Freedom Fund’s hotspot model brought significant new resources and technical assistance to frontline partners and invested in a wide-ranging research agenda to build the evidence base and strengthen programming.
The Freedom Fund took the decision to exit the hotspot in 2019. This was on the basis that significant progress had been made and new donors attracted to work on the issue, enabling our focus to shift to other areas of greater need. In December 2020, we reached the end of our managed phase-out period which prepared partners for our exit and closed the central Nepal hotspot program – the first Freedom Fund hotspot to complete a full program cycle.
In total, our partners provided social and legal services to 24,673 individuals, which directly contributed to 2,258 children and adults leaving situations of exploitation in Kathmandu’s adult entertainment industry. The program also supported 2,347 at risk children to attend school and enabled 760 individuals to find an alternative livelihood by starting a micro-enterprise or job placement, a vital component in the pathway to a life outside of the adult entertainment sector.
Program research and learning
The Freedom Fund invested heavily in research for the hotspot, completing six studies over the life of the program to better understand the scale of exploitation, pilot new methods and test the effectiveness of interventions. These helped to improve the program itself and offers a contribution to the evidence base for others working in the sector both in Nepal and in other contexts.
Updating prevalence estimates on children being exploited in the adult entertainment sector
In 2018, the Freedom Fund commissioned the most statistically rigorous prevalence study of minors working in Kathmandu’s adult entertainment sector to date. The study estimated that the population of minors working in adult entertainment venues was 1,650. Which was significantly lower than estimates from several studies from the years prior to the start of the program. The study also investigated the nature of exploitation and found the sector to be a highly sexually exploitative place for children to work. Among workers aged 17 and under over 60 percent are working in sexually exploitative environments, meaning that whilst at work they can be subjected to groping, forced to watch pornography and/or made to engage in intimate sexual activities with customers. The study found that nearly all of the workers (99 percent) of those aged 17 and under working in the adult entertainment sector are considered to be working in the worst forms of child labour, according to the International Labour Organization convention.
External evaluation finds the program made a significant contribution to reducing the prevalence of minors working in the adult entertainment sector
In 2019 we commissioned Progress Inc, a research consultancy, to assess our program’s contribution to reducing the prevalence of minors working in the adult entertainment sector.
Based on feedback from 103 stakeholders, both internal and external to the program, the evaluation concluded that the key factors in reducing the number of minors had been: (1) increased frequency of workplace inspections by government officials and (2) stricter provisions in the Children’s Act (2018) and Labour Act (2017) which prohibit minors from adult entertainment venues and improve conditions for adult workers. These had both been core policy objectives of the Freedom Fund’s program, and the evaluation found that there was strong sentiment among government officials and business owners that the Freedom Fund’s NGO partners had played a vital role in advocating for the changes in these laws, in facilitating government inspections, and in sensitising employers to the stricter laws.
The evaluation highlighted the need for government bodies to strengthen their monitoring and enforcement of the new laws to combat CSEC to sustain the gains made in reducing the prevalence.
What works – pathways for girls exit AES
In 2016, the Freedom Fund partnered with the University of Hong Kong, Griffith University and Terre des hommes Foundation in Nepal to conduct research to identify the services and systems that are needed for girls to speedily, safely and permanently leave the AES. Respondents said that psychosocial support, vocational training and education opportunities were the most helpful services. Among those who had exited the sector, emotional resilience and coping skills played a crucial role in helping them to leave and stay out of the AES, highlighting the importance of providing these services alongside those which build skills for economic empowerment.
A lack of decently paid jobs as an alternative to work in the AES emerged as a significant barrier to leaving the sector. On average, girls and young women worked in the sector for 18 months and attempted to leave 2.5 times before they successfully exited.
The study found that support services are not always accessible to AES workers due to restricted movement in highly exploitative venues. This highlighted the need to adapt program intervention to specific conditions of venues. The research also underscored the importance of building relationships with girls as early as possible after their entry into the sector, as their first jobs tended to be in less exploitative establishments.
Exploring what drives demand for minors in Kathmandu’s adult entertainment sector
With a growing body of research, government policies and support services to help minors exit the AES, the Freedom Fund sought to better understand the demand-side of the problem i.e. the segment of male AES customers who engage in sexualised activities with children and as such create a demand for minors.
Research undertaken by SUTRA on behalf of the Freedom Fund conducted in-depth interviews with owners, managers and customers of the venues where CSEC takes place. In the report “Minors in Kathmandu’s adult entertainment sector: What’s driving demand?“, we document the widespread prevalence and acceptance of a culture that permits and justifies exploitation. While interviewees broadly agreed that sex with children is morally reprehensible, each group shifted the blame for CSEC on to a different group. They created narratives to excuse the use of minors in the sector, supported by cultural factors that have made the coveting of girls acceptable.
Those who use the services of children were able to normalise their behaviour and distance themselves from the harmful implications of their actions. The research showed that the narratives that normalise, justify and excuse the sexual exploitation of children must be challenged to prevent CSEC, and this shaped the concept behind the hotspot’s normative change campaign.