Kathmandu: Nepal is gradually becoming a safe haven for human skin trade. Streets of Thamel in Kathmandu are dark after 11 pm but the dance bars situated are beaming with life. Agents offer a wide range of “services” in these bars to lure tourists inside.
Apart from engaging in flesh trade, women in Nepal revealed a shocking fact. One women had sold 20 inch square of skin tissue to an agent voluntarily for Rs 10,000to make her ends meet. The money was soon over because of the huge debt she had to clear. The same agent helped her get into prostitution. “The agent told her that he supplies skin to another agent and it’s used in making some sort of stuff that helps in plastic surgery,” said another woman who discovered a big scar along her back.
Thamel can be easily mistaken for Las Vegas or Bangkok. Small bars teems with young men.
An awareness booth at the Indo-Nepal Border Checkpost at Gauriphanta, Dhangadhi, Nepal. These booths aim to stop women from being trafficked to India. However, traffickers seldom use these check posts to cross the border.
An agent was asked on the availability of the skin for a relative whose has burnt skin. The agent replied “With a down payment of Rs 50,000, it can be arranged.” The agent asked for a picture of the patient to ensure that the skin complexion matched. He also asked for blood type and a medical document to check the authenticity. The agent called back in two days later to ask for the advance payment. He told me that “sample” is available.
“Skin is in huge demand. A 100-inch square piece of fair skin sells for Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 in Delhi and Mumbai. Agents take women till the Indo-Nepal border. From the border, another agent takes them to India and hands them over to another agent. The third agent arranges extraction of the skin. The women have to sign that they have donated the skin and not sold it,” says 40-year-old trafficker Prem Basgai in district jail of Kabrepalanchowk district, just 50 km away from Kathmandu. Prem Basgai was nabbed by police a year ago for selling kidneys from the district that had become infamous as the ‘Kidney Bank of Nepal’.
Selling human organs is a crime under Nepali law. Transplantation of Human Organs and Tissues Rules, 2014 prohibits the sale of tissues and organs in India. The laws mandate that organs and tissues could only be accepted from registered donors. However, fake documents are easily made in both India and Nepal.
University students assist in forging documents.
Not just kidney, Basgai used to get Rs 30,000-50,000 for each skin sample he supplied to the agent next in line. He used to pay about Rs 5,000 to the person whose skin was being taken.
The agents having a higher reach send it to the pathological labs to get the tissue processed. The processed tissue is supplied to bigger labs (some of them are quite reputed) with a licence to export biological derivatives to the US.
In the US, these derivatives are developed into Alloderm or similar product, used in various aesthetic surgical procedures such as penis enlargement, breast augmentation and lip augmentation for which India is a growing market. The business of human tissues has become so lucrative that a large number of people are getting into it.
“Women are often drugged or sedated before their skin extraction. And sedating women is normal. For example, if a client wants to try something adventurous and is ready to pay for that, a woman would be sedated and tied to the bed. When she is back in her senses, she had to run for life and not check for the missing patch of skin in her body,” she adds.
Often families depend on these agents for small odd jobs to earn money. Often, victims turn into traffickers. This is exactly what happened in the case of Basgai. He and his wife sold their kidney, and when they realised body parts fetch good money, they started convincing people that one kidney is enough to survive; two kidneys is a luxury, says Satish Sarma of Kathmandu-based non-profit, Forum for Protection of People’s Rights.
Skin is sold to agents for a meagre amount of money.
Women are the worst victims of trafficking because their skin and organ are more often in better condition since they do not smoke or drink alcohol. Nepali women are mainly targeted for skin because they are fair and their skin is passed off as that of a person of Caucasian origin.
“I had first come across instances of skin trafficking in Sindhupalchowk. Some of the people in the local community said that skin is being trafficked for cosmetic surgery. Though we tried to do something about it, the cases could not be traced back since people were scared to speak up and so nothing could be done,” says Jeevanti, a field worker with the non-profit Shakti Samuha.
“Raw material goes from India to the US, the product is manufactured in the US and resold to India. That’s how the market is running.”
The security checks at the Indo-Nepal border are rare. The 1800-km border is very porous.
They get the tissues from cadavers, from various tissue banks and also from some pathological labs or biotechnology firms in countries that may not have a tissue bank. He says that only two three medical establishments in India have tissue banks but the tissues that these banks have are used for the treatment of serious ailments such as burns over 90%.
Alloderm, one of the products manufactured by LifeCell, a company that patents tissue derivative products, has seen sales growth at an average of 41% per year and profits up to 72% annually. Rising sales of Alloderm contribute majorly to the company’s growth. According to LifeCell, their products are made from “human skin tissue supplied by US American Association of Tissue Banks-compliant tissue banks.”
Villages like Kabrepalanchowk, Nuwakot, Sindhupalchowk in Nepal have become more like “Body Organ Farm” for traffickers.
Indian and Nepal government are clueless on how the skin grafting is a flourishing industry to to produce and process raw material for skin grafts. And between Nepal, India and US; and all the rich, including the celebrities, who pay for these aesthetic restructuring or the cosmetic surgery, hundreds of women in Nepal and brothels in India are exploited while the industry thrives.
Credits: Soma Basu From Youth Ki Awaaz