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Child Trafficking Increase Feared in Nepal after Earthquake

Each year an estimated 10,000 children are trafficked from Nepal to work in Indian brothels and factories, and the April 25 earthquake has only made the problem worse.

by Neha Shastry
Jun 9 2015, 4:25pm

Navesh Chitrakar/Reuters

The India-Nepal border is an infamous transit point for trafficking children to work in Indian brothels and factories. Each year an estimated 10,000 children are smuggled across the 2000-mile border.

The April 25 earthquake that struck Nepal, killing and displacing thousands of people, has only made the child trafficking problem worse.

"After a disaster like this, trafficking does tend to increase," said Ramsey Ben Achour, a child protection specialist at UNICEF in Nepal. 

The 7.8 magnitude quake, which killed nearly 9000 people and left thousands more homeless, affected nearly a million children across the country, according to UNICEF. Since the earthquake, anti-trafficking activist group Maiti Nepal has established 12 monitoring stations along the border to look out for children being trafficked. The stations are run by former victims of human trafficking, who know what kind of behavior to look out for.

"So far we've intercepted over 50 girls at the border," said Bishwo Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal.

The 50 trafficked girls weren't the only ones. In the last week of May, a labor official in the Northeastern Indian state of Bihar told The Guardian that authorities had rescued 26 children arriving from Nepal in the past 20 days.

Related: Videos Show Huge Tremors and Utter Devastation After Earthquake in Nepal

According to Khadka, traffickers are using a variety of methods to smuggle their human cargo across the border.

Some Nepalis don't know they're being trafficked, and cross the border after traffickers have fooled them by posing as concerned volunteers for relief organizations. Others flee with their families and, after having been smuggled across the border, have to get jobs to provide for there relatives. Some are even lured over through social media, and end up working in brothels or factories.

But the destruction in large swaths of Kathmandu and many outlying villages and towns, an approaching rainy season, and continued aftershocks have provided a good reason for people to want to leave the country.

"What we have noticed is that whole families are migrating to India, specifically from areas where the earthquake...hit the hardest," said Maiti Nepal Director Khadka. "People are leaving out of fear. But even if the parents are able to find jobs in India, the children are left vulnerable."

As of now, not much can be done for children migrating across the border with their families, even if organizations like Maiti Nepal believe that this is putting children at risk. But on May 26, the Nepali government did take action to protect children who may have lost or been displaced from their families.

While Nepalese nationals can travel to India without a visa, the country's Ministry of Women, Children, and Social Welfare announced that all children up to the age of 16 traveling to Nepal must be accompanied by a parent or a legal guardian. The decree is aimed at preventing trafficking and, if an adult who is not a legal guardian accompanies a child, they will need an approval letter issued by a district child welfare board for traveling even between districts within the country. This is to prevent the children from reaching the already busy trafficking corridor between Nepal and India.

"It's an excellent policy that the government has put in place," Ben Achour told VICE News.

Related: Earthquake in Nepal (Dispatch 5) | VICE News

Along with the new travel policy, UNICEF has also signed an agreement with police, supporting them to strengthen 84 police stations across the country so they can focus on the issue of child trafficking. Just last week, prior to the announcement, the police intercepted 44 children who were traveling out of the Dading district to Kathmandu with adults who weren't their legal guardians..

But as the monsoon season approaches, challenges related to child safety will arise, and it will be an issue that will continually need to be addressed. Because thousands of families were left without homes after the earthquake and have yet to rebuild, the torrential rains to come will make their already difficult situations more dire. This may lead families to send their children away in the interest of their safety, but this poses its own problems. 

"Families will be more likely to give up their children to orphanages because believe that they'll get more security. This can lead to exploitation," Ben Achour" told VICE News.

To make matters worse, another aftershock with a magnitude of 4.2 hit on Sunday night, making the number of aftershocks of its kind exceed 300 since April 25.

Follow Neha Shastry on Twitter: @nehashastry

Watch the VICE News documentary, "Nepal Earthquake, Dispatch 1." 

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