Mumbai, Sept.20 : At least 500 Nepalese children have been sold into slavery to Indian circuses over the past year, according to a new report issued in Kathmandu. The Times quotes the Nepali Central Child Welfare Board report as saying that India is emerging as a major hub for human trafficking. The paper further goes on to say that Indian circus owners prize young Nepalese girls for their fair skin and "exotic looks" - features also favoured by the pimps who run prostitution rackets that span South Asia and the Middle East.
Impoverished parents in Nepal are paid as little as 10 pounds for their daughters by agents usually linked to powerful organised crime networks, human rights activists claim.
When they reach India the infant circus performers live in constant fear of the exploits they are forced to perform in the ring, and of the abuse they suffer from their owners backstage.
"Anything on the high wire is terrifying, but the most notorious act is the star kiss, which most girls call the dental trick," said Philip Holmes, the head of the Esther Benjamins Trust, a charity that has rescued more than 350 Nepalese children from Indian circuses over the past four years.
To perform the trick a young girl grips a rope with her teeth while she is twirled around at ever increasing speed, perhaps 40 feet above the circus floor, without a safety net.
Other children have been mauled by tigers in the ring, only to be forced to reenter the ring when their wounds have healed.
Many young girls are forced to marry older men to tie them into circus life forever. Often circus owners sell unwanted children into prostitution.
A Nepalese official told The Times that the trade in circus performers was seen as an urgent issue by policy-makers and law enforcers but that it was diminishing in seriousness.
A ban on wild animals in Indian circuses has damaged their popularity, he said, and the demand for young performers is drying up gradually.
It is not hard to see why: most of India's travelling circus troupes are drab and depressing affairs.