Bulbul, a teenage girl from Nepal had to leave school for work as her mother was finding it difficult to make ends meet. The only job she could find was that of a bar dancer, but that job too didn't last due to the lockdowns. She then met a man who promised her money for her videos, only to find herself facing sextortion. She wanted to end her life. Today, she is a survior and fights against online exploitation.
Bulbul had only finished class 10 when she had to leave school to look for work – her mother was struggling to provide for her and her two sisters as the only breadwinner of the family. Bulbul searched for jobs in her village but couldn’t find any, so she moved to Kathmandu in 2019 to seek better opportunities.
After a while, she took a job as a bar dancer. She thought that she had no other choice as she hadn’t been able to find anything else. This job already put her at risk of abuse, violence and exploitation. Then the COVID-19 pandemic came.
During the pandemic, the dance bars had to close, so Bulbul lost her job. She could not go back to her village as the situation there was worse: her father (a violent alcoholic) was ill and they still struggled to make ends meet. Then, one of her friends came up with an idea: she and Bulbul would record themselves dancing and share the videos. She told Bulbul that she knew a man who could help them make money with the videos.
Bulbul and her friend trusted this man, but he soon tried to convince them to make videos wearing less clothes. He assured them that the videos would be shared with private clients outside of Nepal. Since she was in dire need of money, Bulbul agreed to this.
In late 2021, as the dance bars gradually opened again, Bulbul got her job back, and stopped sharing both pictures and videos. However, the man that Bulbul thought was her friend asked for new content, and when Bulbul refused to provide it, he threatened to share the videos and pictures he already had. He then blackmailed her and asked her to either pay him 50000 NPR (about 400 USD) or entertain a group of customers for him. “I felt like committing suicide”, said Bulbul.
Fortunately, she was identified by the partner of Terre des Hommes Netherlands in Nepal, Women Youth in Social Service and Human Rights (WYESHR), who work with women employed in the entertainment sector. In March 2022, the youth change-makers associated with WYESHR organized an awareness meeting about Online Child Sexual Exploitation in Bulbul’s neighbourhood in Kathmandu. After meeting her, the youth change-makers brought up the issue with the WYESHR programme team. Then in April 2022, they helped her go to the police and file a complaint against the man who was threatening her.
Bulbul’s father died during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, so Bulbul returned to her village to live with her mother and younger sisters. The WYESHR team (through the Building Back Better programme) provided Bulbul’s family emergency support so that they could purchase food and education materials. Bulbul also received counselling, and after leaving her job as a bar dancer, she was able to open a grocery shop in her village – with the help from the WYESHR team. Although Bulbul does not wish to continue her studies anymore, she wants to help her sisters stay in school.
The youth change-makers still meet up with Bulbul and her younger sisters to provide them with counselling. The team is also still checking up on the case against the man who threatened her. The case is still in progress: As of June 2022, the police were still looking for this man, who reportedly fled Kathmandu.
Bulbul has been able to recover emotionally and currently spends a lot of time with her mother. She now also knows how to identify and report online abuse. “The support I received is the biggest support of my life as I am now free from fear and sadness. Also, I am aware of this issue and will tell everyone, especially the girls, how to be careful online,” explained Bulbul. “I will also join as a change maker in the programme to raise awareness against this issue,” she added.