After quake, trafficking fears haunt survivors

  • Amitava Banerjee, Hindustan Times, Darjeeling
  • Updated: Apr 29, 2015 19:09 IST

The devastating earthquake in Nepal may have shattered the lives of thousands of women and children but their predicament isn’t over yet as activists warn they are at a heavy risk of being sold into manual labour or sex work.

The Street Children Trust, an NGO working in West Bengal’s Darjeeling and surrounding areas, has decided to visit quake-ravaged areas in Nepal to keep tabs on possible trafficking routes as the Himalayan nation struggles to cope with its worst natural disaster in almost a century.

“A six member team will be leaving on Thursday for reconnaissance in the areas on the Bihar-Nepal border and near Kathmandu. We will keep a close tab on the human trafficking situation as women and children are vulnerable to child labour and sexual exploitation," said Anuja Ghaley, director of the Trust.

Over 5,000 have died after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake jolted Nepal last Saturday, flattening several cities and crippling infrastructure. Rescuers have criss-crossed the country over the past three days but battered mountainous villages still remain inaccessible due to the treacherous terrain.

Such calamities often act as triggers for trafficking, numerous studies show, with women and children survivors the most vulnerable as criminals take advantage of widespread chaos and a bruised law enforcement system.

Thousands of children are also orphaned after an earthquake or a flood and, in the absence of a vigilant state and police, they are picked up by traffickers with ease. In addition, disasters often add extra burden to already impoverished families, making them prime targets for traffickers.

Activists had expressed similar fears after the Uttarakhand floods two years ago as displaced and homeless children had nowhere to go, with their families dead and schools and other local infrastructure destroyed.

In the 2004 tsunami, many women who lost their family were trafficked, the United Nation’s Division for the Advancement of Women said in a report. Moreover, children were also trafficked as cheap labour in Odisha after the disaster struck.

The 2008 Kosi floods in Bihar that affected 3.5 million people, including over a million children, saw rampant child trafficking as children were picked up, sometimes with the consent of parents. to be sold into Child trafficking had become rampant sometimes with the consent of parents. Many children were trafficked as cheap labour in Odisha after the Tsunami.

According to a UNICEF report, 2,500 children were trafficked in north Bihar following damages due to heavy rains in 2007. The relief camps in Bhuj,Gujarat, set up after the 26 January 2001 earth quake, had also become highly vulnerable to human trafficking, drug trafficking and sexual exploitation.

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