How human traffickers have created a thriving economy in the aftermath of the natural disaster that knocked down the nation.
The effects of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the country, causing the deaths of 9,000 and injuring 22,000 people can still be seen throughout areas of the landscape to this day, two years later. Nepali families and businesses are making the most of what they could salvage as they try to rebuild their communities after the worst natural disaster that has struck their country since 1934. As the economy tries to repair itself, a prosperous black market has formed that profits on poverty, misfortune and the desperation of a society trying to recover.
Human trafficking, classed as modern day slavery is now prevalent in many industries in Nepal, especially in agriculture, manufacture and the sex trade. It is the act of forcing someone into labour or sex work against their will for dangerous or dirty work with little or no pay with physical enforcement or threats. Every year it is estimated that 12,000 women and children are trafficked around or out of Nepal. It acts as a source, transit and destination country for traffickers. The victims of this developing industry are sourced mostly in rural areas and used in bonded labour for mines and factories or as domestic servants, circus entertainers, commercial sexual exploitation, forced marriages or even organ removal.
According to the 2016 Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), Nepal is described as a Tier 2 country which means “the Government of Nepal does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making signification efforts to do so”. While the Nepali government does try to prosecute traffickers and has introduced different legislation over the years, the law does not define the prostitution of children as human trafficking. Awareness raising programs and checkpoints were initiated to address the increased vulnerability of women and children following the disaster but these efforts are inconsistent and inadequate in an area where resources are already strained.
It is an industry, like many others, that is benefiting from the technological advances of our times. Traffickers utilise social media and mobile technologies to exploit their victims. Corruption also contributes to the success of this enterprise; some government officials are reported to have accepted bribes to include false information on Nepali passports such as the age of child sex trafficking victims. This coercive economy takes advantage of the situation that many Nepali families left with nothing find themselves in. Mediators between potential victims and the trafficking group can come in the form of trusted family members that make the decision to have one less child to feed and look after in exchange for a sum of money that ranges extensively; some reports stating up to €100 per person, rendering human life affordable and disposable. Other families are lured by the promises of marriage, education or employment. Poverty is a factor that traffickers take advantage of; average annual wage in the country amounts to less than €800 per year with some families living from less than €1 per day. Additionally, the chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake and its aftershocks meant orphanages became overloaded and many unregistered and unregulated orphanages sprang up in its wake, making prime picking grounds for trafficking groups.
Natural disasters and human plight seem to become opportune moments for human traffickers to profit from. In 2014, 30 children were rescued at borders in Sindhulpalchowk, a district prone to trafficking. The following year this number reached over 70 children between the first earthquake and the end of summer of 2015. UNICEF reported the interception of 245 children in the two months following the earthquake. However, this number is a drop in the ocean. Reports fluctuate and the extent of this industry is too large to document; some children slip through the cracks and become eternally lost. UNICEF reports approximately 7,000 girls are trafficked every year to India because of relaxed borders and while it seems that this is an issue that is only in our peripheral vision, investigations have reported victims have been sold to Britain for up to €6,600.
Human trafficking has always operated in Nepal and its neighbouring countries, the earthquake has merely acted as a catalyst to its operations and has contributed hugely to its profits. And two years later, as the country rebuilds and media interest subsides, this pursuit of vulnerable people continues as strong as ever. Children have become a commodity in Nepal, and even with increased help from global NGO’s, charities and local aid to monitor checkpoints, borders and screening points, this criminal industry has embedded itself into the economy of the country. This is not a new problem, but it is one that needs to be addressed immediately.