Nepal earthquake: Unicef fears rise in child trafficking in the post-earthquake chaos

They warned that child abusers, exploiters and traffickers are taking advantage of the chaos in Nepal to step up their activities

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The Independent Online

Unicef fears that child traffickers are exploiting the chaos in Nepal following April's massive earthquake, which killed more than 8,000 people and injured more than 23,000.

A report released yesterday said that at least 245 children have been intercepted while being trafficked or illegally placed in children's care homes since the 25 April earthquake and the huge aftershock on 12 May.

Tomoo Hozumi, a representative for Unicef in Nepal, said that the organisation had feared a spike in child trafficking in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

"Loss of livelihoods and worsening living conditions may allow traffickers to easily convince parents to give their children up for what they are made to believe will be a better life. The traffickers promise education, meals and a better future. But the reality is that many of those children could end up being horrendously exploited and abused."

 

Even before the earthquake, trafficking was a major problem in Nepal. A 2001 International Labour Organisation study that around 12,000 Nepalese children were trafficked to India every year.

Girls are often forced into prostitution or slavery, and boys are often put into forced labour.

Villages across the mountainous nation were flattened by the earthquake, leaving hundreds of thousands without homes. Unicef believes this has made parents more willing to send their children to poorly-regulated orphanages, where young children could be at risk of unregulated adoption, exploitation, and abuse.

Prior to the earthquake, around 15,000 children languished in such homes. More than 85 per cent of them had at least one living parent.

Working with the Nepalese government, Unicef is working to stem the flow of children, by establishing and strengthening checkpoints across the country, creating refuge centres for trafficked children, and spreading information about the dangers of trafficking to families and police in affected areas.

Immediately following the earthquake, the Nepalese government suspended international adoption and banned children from moving between districts without their parents or guardians.

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A worker for anti-trafficking organisation Mati Nepal checks a girl's ID on a bus to India, trying to ensure she is not being trafficked.

The registration of new orphanages has also been suspended, in an effort to cut down on 'adoption' that is often simply trafficking in disguise.

Unicef also expressed concerns about Western and global 'voluntourism', as people across the world increasingly want to travel to Nepal through adoption or visiting orphanages.

They said that while many such visitors are well-intentioned, they run the risk of seriously harming children - in some cases, children are deliberately taken from their families to orphanages, in an effort to attract lucrative adoptive families, donors and volunteers, all of whom would give money to the unscrupulous orphanage owners.

40 national and international agencies that recruit orphanage volunteers have been told to stop their orphanage volunteering programmes. Eight of these agencies have complied so far.

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