Shanta’s Safe House: How a loveless arranged marriage and an unexpected encounter with one of HIV’s early victims inspired one woman to create a refuge and opportunity for victims of human trafficking.



More than half the population of Nepal lives on less than a dollar a day and many children grow up with no sense of security or opportunity.

Limited education compounds the problem. In rural areas, schools may be distant and hard to access. Even when children make it through their basic grades, higher education is too expensive for all but a privileged few.

For girls, all this is made worse by discrimination. They’re often less valued within their families and given fewer opportunities to learn and to grow. Arranged marriages can force them to leave their homes and take on adult roles at an early age.

In their desperation to escape these conditions, thousands of young women each year become victims of exploitation. Traffickers approach these girls with promises of employment and better lives in neighboring India.  Their families may encourage them to go, for convenience or cash.

But instead of finding real opportunities, most of these girls are instead sold into squalid brothels. They’re forced to serve up to 50 clients a day while living in abhorrent conditions. If they refuse to comply, they may be beaten and locked in cages or small, filthy rooms until their spirits break.

After starting with absolutely nothing, Shanta Sapkota harnessed the courage of her convictions and the compassion in her heart to help save these girls. For almost three decades she has fought to restore their freedom and dignity and to bring their enslavers to justice.

Along the way, Shanta attracted a network of other determined people and organizations, and together, they have rescued hundreds of girls. They have created a refuge where they can recover, reintegrate, and re-build healthy, productive lives.

This is Shanta’s remarkable story. A story of how the power of the human heart can turn hopelessness into hope. It’s also a story of how when one person stands up to evil it enables others to stand with them to create positive change. It is a story of how that kind of partnership can make a real and lasting difference in the world.


Gabrielle Thompson, Shanta Sapkota, and Colette Bercu

Gabrielle Thompson, Shanta Sapkota, and Colette Bercu

Shanta with two women in the community

Shanta with two women in the community