After Nepal’s devastating earthquake took their mother, little brother, and home last month, Swotha, 7, her 9-year-old sister Estha, and Sushma, 11, were at a loss. Their father, who is a drunkard, survived but was injured and in no position to care for the girls. So when a neighbor living in the city arrived at the remote Ri village of Dhading district and offered to take the sisters to live in Kathmandu, it seemed like the best option. “Our school was destroyed and so was our home. So, when he told us about taking us with him to help us to live in a safe place and provide education facilities, we were happy to follow him to Kathmandu,” said 11-year-old Sushma Tamang. The sisters, along with 42 other children ranging in age from five to 16, traveled from Ri village to Kathmandu, where they were told to make themselves at home in a Christian missionary school. With the help of a pastor and the verbal OK from a local official, the children were moved to the shelter. But it raised eyebrows among locals, who tipped off the government’s Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), which quickly dismantled the housing and returned the children to their families. Though the CCWB did not file any charges against the neighbor, who they believe was not ill-intentioned, they warned that such arrangements have made children acutely vulnerable to trafficking in the aftermath of the quake. Almost 8,700 people died in the April 25 earthquake and a second one that hit two weeks later, leaving tens of thousands homeless.
Thank you. You are now
signed up to our Daily Full
“Child trafficking is particularly prominent during time of disasters. And unfortunately, the districts hit by the earthquake belong to the remote, rural and poor communities and the children from there are an easy target now,” said Tarak Dhital, chief of the CCWB. In the one month since the earthquake hit, 56 children from Dhading and Dolakha alone — two of the worst hit districts — have been rescued by CCWB in coordination with the police, he said. The children rescued from the Kathmandu school were moved to a temporary shelter and given physiological counseling before being returned to their families, said Dhital. Authorities are now searching for alternative shelter for Swotha, Estha and Sushma. While the numbers of rescued children remains low, protection authorities are concerned that the earthquake and its aftermath will lead to large-scale exploitation. “There are even reports of child orphanages and child care homes shifting from Kathmandu to other parts of the country as the government recently tried to crack down on many such places after increasing cases of abuse and exploitation of children were reported,” said Yubaraj Ghimire, child protection coordinator at Children and Women in Social Services and Human Rights, a local NGO. “The biggest challenge to protecting the rights of the young children is that most them come from very remote and poor families and it is easy to tempt these children and even the parents to send them with groups or individuals who claim to work for child safety and offer a better future,” he said. In the coming weeks and months, there is likely to be a rise in the number of children migrating to border areas for work with their parents or on their own. This would further worsen the already serious problem of child trafficking, especially that of young girls to India. “They are easy targets, can be easily tempted with money and other promises, and most important is that parents are willing to send their children,” he said. Late last month, police arrested five people, including two Indian and three Nepali citizens, for allegedly trafficking 19 children from Dolakha district, another remote district badly affected by the earthquakes. “We have filed charges against the suspects for human trafficking,” said Dan Bahadur Karki, Deputy Superintendent of Police at the Metropolitan Police Circle, based in Kathmandu. The children were returned to their parents. Across nearly two-dozen districts affected by the earthquakes, 1.7 million children remain in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to UNICEF. As the weeks pass, the risk of long-term physical and emotional impacts is growing. Similarly, Save the Children has said that more than 7,000 schools were damaged due to the 7.8 and 7.3 earthquakes on April 25 and May 12 respectively. “The days after any big disaster are a very crucial time to help the children to stay with their families and relatives. So, the government and concerned authorities should ensure the safety and home environment as well as support in their proper rehabilitation,” said Sapana Pradhan Malla, a human rights lawyer. “The districts from where the children are being transported, including Dhading and Dolakha, are already prone to human trafficking including that of children and young girls and women to various Indian states. So, there was already a network working before the disaster occurred, and the volatile situation where children are unaccompanied provides an opportune moment for the traffickers to conduct activities,” she said. Concerned over the reports of abuse, exploitation, transport and trafficking of children from the disaster-hit remote villages, the Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare (MoWCSW) has come up with emergency measures. Local and foreign adoption is temporarily banned, while transport of children from their homeland to another place without parents and permission from the local authorities has also been outlawed. The government has also imposed a ban on registration of new orphanages in the country after the disaster hit the country. Authorities have also ordered local governments not to issue permission for any orphanages or child shelters opened specifically for child survivors of the disaster, said Radhika Aryal, joint secretary at the MoWCSW “Children are more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation during a disaster and in the aftermath of a disaster. And most of the children who have suffered in this disaster come from remote, poor households and the prospect of leading a comfortable life eludes them,” she said.