ECPAT UK and other children’s rights organisations have today warned of the increased risk of child trafficking in Nepal, after another devastating earthquake hit the region Tuesday morning.

Since the first earthquake on 25th April – which killed an estimated 8,000 people and directly affected 1.7 million children – tens of thousands of young women and children have been reportedly targeted by human traffickers ready to supply a network of brothels across South Asia.

ECPAT UK has joined the urgent appeal for help, calling on supporters to raise vital resources for grassroots organisations working in Nepal to meet the needs of local children.

As families and communities begin the process to help themselves recover from this devastation, they have been faced with yet another challenge to protect their most vulnerable members from trafficking and abuse. Rashmita Shashtra, a local health worker, told The Guardian: "The earthquake will definitely increase the risk of abuse. People here are now desperate and will take any chance. There are spotters in the villages who convince family members and local brokers who do the deal."

According to The Times, troops rescued four children from traffickers on the Nepalese border, amid fears that thousands orphaned by last month’s earthquake are being preyed on by gangs aiming to sell them into prostitution or slavery. 

Nepal has a long and troubled history of child trafficking, with children as young as six subjected to forced labour and sex trafficking. The UN estimates that between 12,000 and 15,000 girls are trafficked every year. Many are trafficked to India and further afield, where they are sexually abused in brothels and exploited in forced labour on construction sites. Last year, there were 5 cases (3 females and 2 males) of Nepalese origin reported to the UK Human Trafficking Centre as potential victims of trafficking in the UK. 

The standard response to any disaster is to meet the immediate needs of shelter, food and access to safe drinking water and sanitation for the affected communities. Some NGOs are providing children safe places to learn and play, and to help them begin the process of recovery from this traumatic experience. However, as children and families find themselves in desperate situations – homeless and without access to basic human necessities such as food, medicine, shelter, livelihood and social support systems – their risk to trafficking has grown exponentially, as many look for any opportunities to exit from this extremely difficult situation in the hope of a better life elsewhere. 

Bharti Patel, CEO of ECPAT UK, said: "All Children have a right to feel safe regardless of their situation. Given the heightened risk to children of abuse, exploitation and trafficking in disaster-affected regions, it is critical that interventions in protecting children from trafficking are prioritised in all disaster relief efforts. Anti-trafficking measures should include special funds allocated for child protection, raising awareness of the risk to trafficking and its impact on children. It is also critical for government and global leaders to provide children with safe places and engage with specialist anti-trafficking NGOs in the aftermath of the disaster."