Common in India, so-called mujra dance bars - where young women dance to Bollywood music for money from male patrons - have mushroomed in cities including Nairobi, Mombasa and Kisumu, where there are countless Kenyans of South Asian descent.
Police and anti-trafficking groups have repeatedly voiced concerns that some of these private clubs are used as a front to ensnare women and girls, some in sex slavery, with women forced to pay off loans by erotic dancing or having sex with clients.
“Most victims come from poor conservative families and there is shame and stigma attached to this kind of thing,” she said.
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Sheela and the other 11 women rescued in Mombasa said they had come to Kenya separately over the past nine months on flights through India and Ethiopia arranged by the club owner.
In court testimonies the women, aged 16 to 34, said they were told to carry hand luggage only and tell immigration officials they were visiting friends or family in Kenya.
I sat on the bed, facing a window and spread my legs.
He knelled in front of me and stared directly at my labia.
Latest figures from Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed 43 women and girls were repatriated from dance bars in Kenya and neighboring Tanzania in 2016/17. To date there have been few prosecutions to raise awareness about what authorities fear is a growing trend, but April’s rescue and subsequent arrest threw a spotlight on the issue.
The owner of the Mombasa club, Asif Amirali Alibhai Jetha, was charged with three counts of human trafficking, accused of harboring victims for the purpose of deception, using premises to promote trafficking, and confiscation of passports.
“(But) it was not what I expected,” said Sheela, who was rescued with 11 other Nepali women from a nightclub in Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa in April where she danced on stage from 9 p.m. A rising number of women and girls are leaving South Asian nations such as Nepal, India and Pakistan to work in Bollywood-style dance bars in Kenya’s adult entertainment industry - many illegally - according to anti-trafficking activists and police.