Authorities in India have rescued more than 20 children from a human trafficking network targeting families who lost their livelihoods in last month’s earthquake in Nepal.
The 7.8-magnitude quake, which killed more than 8,600 people, devastated rural areas, with hundreds of thousands losing their homes and possessions.
In its aftermath, campaigners warned that girls and young women were vulnerable to abduction by traffickers supplying brothels across south Asia. However, the operation in the northern Indian state of Bihar has underlined another problem: traffickers targeting the children of parents who have lost their jobs in the disaster.
“We have rescued 26 children from the clutches of human traffickers in the past 20 days and sent them to rehabilitation centres,” said Sanjeev Kumar, a senior labour official in Bihar’s East Champaran district.
The children’s parents, from poor villages in northern India, had been working as migrant labourers in Nepal and were laid off after the earthquake. As they crossed into India at the Raxaul border post, they were convinced to allow their children, between the ages of eight and 14, to travel with the traffickers, who promised to give them well-paid jobs in comfortable conditions.
The children were in fact being taken to a bag-manufacturing factory in Mumbai, Kumar said. Four traffickers were detained by the police. Two Nepali children were also intercepted.
Though progress has been made in India towards eradicating child labour, the problem remains serious.
Last week 28 child labourers, including eight from Nepal, were rescued from a garment factory in the north-western city of Ludhiana by an NGO. They were being paid around 150 rupees (£1.50) a week to stitch T-shirts. The Nepalese children had come to India around two weeks before the earthquake, local media said.
“Following the Nepal disaster, the fear of children and women falling prey to the human trafficker gangs has increased manifold and so we are keeping a strict vigil along the Indo-Nepal border to prevent such happenings,” Kumar said.
The border between India and Nepal is 1,088 miles (1,751km) long and only lightly patrolled.
The US Department of State describes Nepal’s government as yet to “fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking … [But] making significant efforts to do so”.
Anand Tamang, director of the Centre for Research on Environment Health and Population Activities, a Nepalese group that campaigns against child marriage, told Reuters that last month’s quake would lead to a dramatic increase in child marri....
“We know the situation will be much worse,” he said on the sidelines of an international conference on ending child marriage in Casablanca, Morocco.
YK Gautam, the state coordinator of Action Against Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation of Children, an Indian NGO in Bihar, described the situation as very serious. “The Indo-Nepal border at Raxaul has become a vulnerable point in the present situation as just everyone wants to flee Nepal right now. This has increased risks of the fleeing population of quake victims falling into the nets of human trafficking,” Gautam said.
Officials say close to 100,000 Indian nationals have returned from Nepal through the India-Nepal border post at Raxaul since last month’s earthquake.
“A significant per cent of these people is those who were born, grew up and got employment in Nepal. They are very unclear what to do now,” Gautam said.