Nepalese Army imposes curfew in outdoor post-Earthquake camps to ‘stop prostitution’

Asia Pacific Regional News Correspondent

On 28 May, 2015, the Nepalese Army imposed a strict 8pm curfew on entering and exiting the central Kathmandu, Tundikhel field where over a 1000 people are currently residing in tents following the 25 April 8.1 magnitude earthquake, which killed over 8000 people and left hundreds of thousands of people displaced.

At 8:30pm, approximately 50 people were denied access to the Tundikhel field.  Citing concerns that the field would be patronised by ‘prostitutes and thieves’, the army erected razor wire fencing across the field’s only public access point, causing distress to many residents of the field.

When questioned as to the motivations of army’s new and arbitrarily applied policy of denying access and entry to the field after 8.00pm, Commander Bishun, said that the army was “protecting the residents of the field from prostitutes and thieves”. According to Commander Bishun, the army was acting in response to several cases of public drunkenness, which they believed contributed to men seeking the services of street-based sex workers who operate from nearby Ratna Park and Kanti Path, on which Turdinkal field is located. Commander Bishun also said that the army was concerned that “prostitutes may enter the field and attempt to ply their trade to family men during the night.”

After a lengthy argument with a woman currently residing in the field who was attempting to enter the field to transport clean water, medicines and food to her friends, Commander Bishun agreed to allow access to the camp if all the male residents attempting to enter agreed to undergo a test for drunkenness, provide army guards with a copy of their identification and/or their names and contact details (including an description of where their tents were located and how many people were residing in the tent), and could explain the relationship they had with all women accompanying them. The small number of unaccompanied women also attempting to enter the field were similarly asked to explain where and with whom they were residing.

According to Gitmina, another woman resident in the Tundikhel field camp, she felt frustrated by the army’s actions. Gitmina said, “They say they are doing this for our own good, but I don’t understand why or how this benefits us at all. The army are also camped here, albeit on a rotational basis, so they should know the conditions we are facing here. There is no 24 hour first aid tent in operation, there is not always water available here, the free food distribution has finished, and many of us have sick and injured people we are caring for. What if there was an emergency and someone needed medicine, clean water or food? Would the army let them in or let them leave? There is a woman who is 8 months pregnant staying in a tent nearby mine. What if she went into labour or had a complication which required urgent medical attention?  ”

Gitmina also said, “I know that there have been several instances of public brawling between drunken men, and that because many people have no homes to return to, they have make semi-permanent tent structures here into which they have bought many household items they need for basic survival. I understand that the army thinks that they need to protect the field’s residents, but why did they implement this policy only today? For the last month people living here have organised our own ways of taking care of the area and guarding against thieves. Local sober men have also been controlling situations when there are incidences of public drunkenness.”

However, Sagar, another resident in the camp felt that the army’s actions were justified. He said, “The army is just trying to protect us and I’m glad that they are committed to keeping out the undesirable elements. This area has been famous for prostitution for over 25 years and a woman on the street alone at night time is only looking for 1 thing. Why else would she be on the streets that late at night time? Why wouldn’t she be at home with her family?”

Sex work in Nepal is highly criminalised, with police often arresting street-based sex workers under “public disorder” and 'obscenity' policies. Additionally, according to local street-based sex workers, the police often target sex workers for bribes and/ or demand free services from sex workers.