| July 19, 2019

The great exodus

Missing women and children

Jhapa district is emblematic of the recent uptick in disappearance of a large number of Nepali women and children from border areas as well as the 14 districts that were the worst hit by last year's earthquakes. According to the police, there are several reasons for their disappearances, such as family disputes, desire to earn money at a young age, failure in studies and most troublingly, the widening net of human traffickers. Those who go missing are disproportionately from poor families, say the police. In this fiscal year alone, around 100 young women and children have gone missing from Jhapa—and these are just the recorded cases. Police believe the activities of human traffickers have vastly increased after last year's earthquakes, even in border districts like Jhapa that were largely unaffected by the earthquakes. As the traffickers became more active in quake-hit districts, areas along the porous Indo-Nepal border also witnessed a corresponding increase in trafficking. According to the United Nation, around 12,000-15,000 girls were trafficked from Nepal every year before the earthquakes. Police suspect that that the number this year could be much higher as border regions continue to witness persistent political instability and as post-quake rehabilitation is proceeding at a glacial pace. There has historically been little political commitment to stem the flow of trafficked women and girls.
Thankfully, there has been some action of late. The government for instance has started preparations to ratify the Palermo Protocol on human trafficking. UN's Palermo Protocol was adapted to complement the Convention against Transitional Organized Crime, 2000. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) had long been asking the government to ratify the protocol which focuses on preventing, suppressing and punishing those involved in trafficking in persons, especially women and children. This makes sense since trafficking is, by nature, an international crime involving more than one state. The cooperation of India in particular is vital since thousands of Nepali women are taken to its brothels every year. Even when the traffickers take victims to other countries, they, more often than not, have to pass through India.

Although NGOs run anti-trafficking outposts at major checkpoints, most of the border areas are not monitored, allowing traffickers an easy escape. The country's priority in recent times has been on getting the broader political and constitutional questions right. That is as it should be. But trafficking is a growing problem that could soon get out of hand if urgent steps are not taken to check it. There are reportedly at least 500,000 women and children who have been forced out of their homes due to last year's earthquakes. They continue to put up in temporary facilities where they don't even have access to separate toilets to clean themselves. Their precarious existence also makes them prone to the allures of the would-be traffickers. Unless these vulnerable women and children can be properly rehabilitated, they will continue to be at the mercy of wily traffickers.

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