By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU, March 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Nepal said it will investigate a report claiming poor women are being trafficked and duped into selling their skin to be used for penis and breast enlargements in the global cosmetic surgery market.
An investigation by the Indian news website Youth Ki Awaaz (Voice of the Youth) said Nepali women were selling 20 square inches (130 square cm) of skin tissue from their backs for $150 to be used in plastic surgery.
Women, Child and Social Welfare Minister Kumar Khadka told the Thomson Reuters Foundation the government was shocked after reading the report published on March 6.
"We are stunned by the report," Khadka said late on Thursday. "We will investigate and if found to be correct, the government will make all efforts to stop this heinous crime and punish those responsible."
The trafficking of Nepalis from the impoverished Himalayan nation to neighbouring India for labour and sexual exploitation - and even kidney transplantation - is widely reported, but cases of trafficking in human skin tissue are unheard of.
The report, by Indian journalist Soma Basu, said the Nepali women were trafficked to brothels in Indian cities such as Mumbai and then later duped into selling their skin. Some victims said they were drugged and their skin removed.
The skin tissue, said the report, is sold onto pathology laboratories in India where it is processed and exported to companies in the United States which manufacture skin and tissue derivative products for the global plastic surgery market.
Women's rights activists called on the government to urgently investigate the report and launch public campaigns in high-risk, poorer districts of the country prone to trafficking.
"The government should be serious about this and protect our women," said Sunita Danuwar of Shakti Samuha, a charity which helps to rehabilitate victims of trafficking.
"Mere lip service will make no difference and innocent villagers will continue to be trafficked for their organs like skin and kidneys."
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma. Writing by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org)