Taboos smashed by youth radio

Toya Ghimire clears his throat and reads from a page torn from an exercise book. "This letter is from a girl in Lamjhung. Seven or eight years ago, when she was seven, she was raped by her mother's brother. She says that she has not shared her problem with anyone before."

There is a slight pause round the table. The young production team of Radio Nepal's ground-breaking programme for teenagers, Sathi Sanga Man Ka Kura (Intimate Conversations with Friends), are used to confidences like this one but they are still hard to accept.

There follows a barrage of questions, stored up for years, based on ignorance, insecurity and fear. "How can I forget this? Can I still be a pure woman? Was it my fault?"

The show is a phenomenon. It dares to tackle issues that have long been taboo in this deeply conservative society and is a radical move for the staid state radio station.

An estimated 4 million teenagers are tuning in to hear problems of their peers and the views of presenters on topics such as masturbation, condom use and the caste system. They are encouraged to listen with other teenagers so discussion can continue after the programme. In the past six months, the number of official listeners' groups across the country has nearly quadrupled to 300.

The production team of Nepali men and women in their twenties have been trained by UNICEF to advise on these issues. So the girl from Lamjhung will be praised for finding the courage to speak out and told that rape is something done to her, not caused by her. She will be encouraged to consider confiding in someone she can trust.

Her example will inspire others to write in, at the rate of between 200 to 700 letters a week, to share problems that are never usually discussed in public.

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