CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 22 September 2018

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Post-earthquake Nepal wary of child-trafficking threat

Kathmandu (UCAN): In the aftermath of the magnitude 7.8 and 7.3 earthquakes that struck Nepal on April 25 and May 12, authorities have been wary of the scourge of child-trafficking.

“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 government’s Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB).

Dhital noted that 56 children from Dhading and Dolakha alone—two of the worst hit districts—have been rescued by CCWB in coordination with the police.

“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 non-government organisation.

“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.

“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.

In one case in the remote village of Ri in Dhading district, three sisters aged seven, nine and eleven, had lost their mother and brother to the earthquake, while father was injured, addicted to alcohol and in no position to care for them. They were offered shelter in Kathmandu by a neighbour and, with a verbal clearance from a local official, travelled there along with 42 other children ranging in age from five to 16 years of age.

“Our school was destroyed and so was our home,” explained the eldest of the sisters, “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.”

However it raised eyebrows among locals, who tipped off the CCWB, which quickly returned the children to their families and warned that such arrangements have made children acutely vulnerable to trafficking. 

The children rescued from the Kathmandu school were moved to a temporary shelter and given physiological counselling before being returned to their families, said Dhital. 

Ghimire explained that the coming weeks and months, there would likely 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.

In May, 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, in Kathmandu. The children were returned to their parents.   

Across nearly two-dozen districts affected by the earthquake, 1.7 million children remain in urgent need of humanitarian aid, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund. As the weeks pass, the risk of long-term physical and emotional impact is growing. Similarly, Save the Children has said that more than 7,000 schools were damaged due to the earthquakes.

The Ministry of Women Children and Social Welfare has come up with emergency measures. Local and foreign adoption is temporarily banned, while transport of children from their homes to another place without parents and permission from the local authorities has also been outlawed. 

A ban has also been imposed on the registration of new orphanages.

Radhika Aryal, joint secretary at the ministry, said that local governments have been told not to issue permits for orphanages or child shelters opened specifically for child survivors of the disaster. 

 

“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,” Aryal said.