Child trafficking in Nepal
Child trafficking in Nepal
Traffickers make families give up their children. The children disappear into the successful ‘orphanage industry’. Fiona Broom writes about how we can stop this child-trafficking.
After the earthquakes last year, there was more child-trafficking in Nepal. © Julian Bound
There is a big problem in the mountain villages in Nepal. For twenty years, this has been destroying families and children.
A smart man with a briefcase comes to the village. He promises education and a new life for the children. The parents dream of this new life for their children. But behind the smiles of the traffickers is a life of sexual slavery, forced labour, or poverty in the very big orphanage industry.
When Chhetra was nine or ten, a man took him from his village to a children’s institution in the capital, Kathmandu: ‘I went to get a better education. When I reached my new house, I saw many children there. At first I thought it was not bad, but after one month, it got worse. There was not enough food or clothing for the children. Then the food finished and we had to go to the street to beg.’
Child trafficking has been a big problem in Nepal since the Maoist–government fighting began in 1996. Maoist rebels were forcing boys to join them. So the families paid someone to take them to ‘safe homes’ in Kathmandu. But the traffickers said the children were orphans. They forced them to live in poverty so tourists would help with money.
The war ended in 2006 - 16,000 people died. But the orphanage industry did not stop. People told international organizations that there were groups of orphan children that traffickers took to checkpoints outside Kathmandu. They sent volunteers to find homes for them. A lot of money came from other countries to help. So the traffickers changed their business to get this money.
‘They mostly take children from the countryside to urban areas,’ said Jack Hogan, who was communications director at NGO Umbrella Foundation. ‘Traffickers tell the parents that if they pay a little money, they’ll take their children to school in Kathmandu. They say the children will get an education and earn money.’
Traffickers often promise that the child could become a doctor. This persuades many parents that sending their child away is the best action.
When parents lose contact with their children, not many have enough money to travel to the main tourist areas in Nepal to find them.
When Krish was seven, traffickers took him to Kathmandu, to the Little Princes Children’s Home. He was one of the lucky ones - his mother found him. Krish, now gets an NGN (Next Generation Nepal) scholarship. He is helping other trafficked children. ‘Poverty is one of the main causes of many of the immoral, illegal actions in our society,’ he said. ‘Poverty forces families to separate.’
There are now 700 registered children’s homes and many other unregistered ones, for more than 15,000 children in Nepal. People think about 85 per cent of the children have at least one living parent.
‘Most children don’t need to be in these homes,’ says Martin Punaks, country director of child protection NGO Next Generation Nepal (NGN).
Traffickers are good at getting money from foreigners and making a profit. Many people who were in the orphanage industry now work in the child protection agencies.
Conor Grennan and Farid Ait-Mansour started NGN after they volunteered at Little Princes Children’s Home in 2005. Children there have to pretend to be orphans. ‘I feel very sad when I hear stories of volunteers in Nepal who causing more trafficking because they pay to volunteer in corrupt orphanages. The volunteers have good intentions and they don’t know this,’ Grennan said.
Viva Bell and Dave Cutler started Umbrella Foundation. They found a manager of a home was keeping the donations. And the children got nothing but abuse. Umbrella has been to seven orphanages with Nepal’s Central Child Welfare Board and rescued 391 children.
The traffickers even take very young children. Last year, NGN rescued a 17-month-old infant in one home, and a two-year-old from another. Punaks says this was the worst case their organisation has seen.
NGN know the volunteers and people who donate money want to help. But they are not helping. ‘They give time and money to support children and develop a poor country. But they are keeping children away from their families and helping a criminal and corrupt industry. This stops development in Nepal.’
Last year, some information evenings for foreign tourists started in a Kathmandu bar. Punaks told the (mostly) Westerners that ‘voluntourists’ (volunteer tourists) think they can do a lot because of colonial Western ideas. ‘Nepal is very complex,’ Punaks said. ‘There are very intelligent Nepalis here who can’t solve the problems.’ He is also thought he could save the world when he was a naïve young foreigner.
Punaks and Katie Feit wrote a 2014 report ‘The Paradox of Orphanage Voluntourism’. This says foreigners should stop this kind of help.
‘Orphanage voluntourism does not help children. They cannot grow up with their family, and they are at risk of physical and sexual abuse. And it helps make money for the corrupt trafficking industry,’ Punaks and Feit wrote. ‘It is not an ethical option in the nearly all cases.’
Anti-trafficking organizations were afraid that the chaos after the earthquakes last year would mean more trafficking.
They stopped adoption to other countries. And they asked travel agencies to stop selling orphanage tourism. The government stopped children from going to different areas without a guardian.
Posters to get volunteers to work in orphanages in Nepal. Next Generation Nepal
Umbrella started child-friendly spaces in the worst, poorest areas, and registered children by name and photograph. A helpline run by the Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN) had many phone calls from areas hit by the earthquake.
More than 350 staff from CWIN stopped the trafficking of 250 children. They can look after 40 rescued children at a time, while people from CWIN look for their families.
They try to take the children back to their community. But there are cultural problems. If a parent marries again, sometimes they do not want the children. Girls sometimes are forced into sex. They put these girls in a home and educate them.
It is very difficult to find the families, only with a photo of the child. The children are often too young to remember where they are from. Officers walk for days to remote villages a long way from roads. They get information anywhere they can, often asking hundreds of villagers. And they are very successful. Umbrella rescued 391 children. And they have taken 298 back to their families.
The work is often dangerous. Sometimes traffickers threaten them.
Punaks says that the trafficking problem is too big for Nepal’s legal system. And Bharat Adhikari (from CWIN) says that laws, regulations and policies need to be stronger.
To stop child trafficking in the future, they need stronger laws, more support from politicians and they need more people in Nepal and other countries to understand about trafficking. But it is just as important that Nepal’s young people really want to fight for the best possible future for their communities.
After last year’s earthquakes, children rescued by Umbrella before helped to protect children. They were very happy to help.
In one area, young people volunteer to get on buses to check for unaccompanied children or children travelling with someone who is not a relative, to protect vulnerable children.
When Punaks took control of NGN, he said he was afraid it was impossible to fight against child trafficking. But then he saw all the young, idealistic Nepalis around him. And he knew that they were the change they needed. ‘They risk their lives in the mountains searching for families, and they work late into the night to prepare important reports,’ Punaks wrote in 2012. ‘Our plan for NGN needs to make more Nepalis like them… to empower families, ordinary citizens, NGOs and the government to be the change that stops child trafficking.’
Fiona Broom is a journalist in Kathmandu, Nepal, writing about human rights and environmental issues.
NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/features/2016/03/01/orphanage-industry-nepal/ (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).