The biggest threat to Nepal’s children, three months after two earthquakes devastated the popular South Asian country, is no longer the spread of disease or even the fear of another tremor: it’s trafficking.
UNICEF, a long term presence in Nepal and active immediately following the April 25 earthquake and May 12 quakes, holds grave concerns that children already displaced and vulnerable will be easy targets for traffickers.
1.1 million children live in areas affected by earthquakes that killed 9,000 people and destroyed homes, communities and put hundreds of thousands out of work. The first earthquake, which struck three months ago now, was the biggest Nepal had experienced in 80 years.
UNICEF acted quickly to house displaced families, reunite children with their parents or close relatives, install systems for clean water and waste, immunise children against the rapid spread of disease and provide safe places for children to resume their schooling.
Yet, despite the quick response a threat still lingers.
Thousands of children like Anjali are back in school but the danger of exploitation remains.
In Nepal, trafficking was rife even before the earthquake, with an estimated 12,000 Nepalese children trafficked to India every year. Girls not recruited into prostitution face being sold as domestic slaves, and boys are taken into forced labour.
UNICEF fears its efforts, along with the efforts of Government and other partners, will need to grow to ensure the risk of trafficking does not increase. Already, by the end of June, UNICEF helped stop 245 children from being trafficked but realises it’s the tip of a growing iceberg.
“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.”
For some children there are no parents to protect them from the offers made by traffickers, which include the promise of a home, safety and security along with more tangible things like food and school.
“Traffickers promise education, meals and a better future but the reality is that many children could end up being horrendously exploited and abused,” UNICEF Nepal Representative Tomoo Hozumi said.