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Adolescent girls working in the adult entertainment sector (AES) in Nepal

Adolescents girls being interviewed in Nepal. Photo: Fiona Samuels

NISER with ODI, has been conducting research on adolescents since 2012, focusing particularly on social norms, intimate partner violence, and mobility and employment. Our findings show that, while there is some positive change, norms around mobility and marriage are still stringent for girls. Amongst other things, parents prefer to marry off their daughters at an early age rather than allowing them to move out of the house and community for work. We found, however, that some girls do try and overcome these barriers around mobility and forced marriage and end up moving to cities for work or to escape the pressure for marriage. In cities, these girls are among the most vulnerable adolescents, largely because they do not have traditional support systems and rely mostly on their peers.

As part of the GAGE research programme, we have recently started an exciting new research project on Adolescent Girls in the Adult Entertainment Sector (AES), or the AGES project. Through this research project we aim to:

  • Understand how social norms push girls into commercial sexual exploitation and how they affect their integration, psychosocial wellbeing and learning outcomes.

Examine cases of girls being sexual exploited on the streets and in guesthouses, two areas where research studies have not focused yet in Nepal.

  • Contribute to the current knowledge base on trafficking in the AES, including linkages between internal and international trafficking (to India, the Gulf, Malaysia and South Africa).

Obtain a better understanding on what works and what doesn’t for the wellbeing of girls working in the AES.

In order to get a better sense of the girls’ situation, as well as their lives before entering the AES and possible reintegration, in Nepal we are talking to adolescent girls, their employers, male peers working in the same sector, people in their communities of origin, experts, and government and non-government entities. We are also doing research in India – in Delhi and at the Nepal-India border.

AGES research team. Photo Fiona Samuels

AGES research team. Photo Fiona Samuels


Our preliminary findings suggest that behind the façade of dance bars, khaja ghars (small snack restaurants), dohari (restaurants where folk songs and duets are performed) and massage parlours, girls are often commercially sexually exploited. Elopement – or love marriages (where girls chose their own spouse and end up marrying relatively early without the consent of parents)–appear to be one push factor as girls lose family support when they marry of their own accord.

From the first part of the fieldwork, what struck us is the courage of these girls to fight their dire circumstances. This has reinforced our commitment to take our responsibilities as researchers seriously and to generate evidence which can be used in meaningful ways for the benefit of these girls.