KATHMANDU, Nepal — While orphanages are often intended to pull children from dangerous lives and provide them with care and shelter, sometimes these institutions are the real threat. When orphanage owners are only concerned with profits, as is the case in countries like Nepal, India and Haiti.
Child trafficking in Nepal accounts for a large percentage of the children found in orphanages. In Nepal, it is estimated that only 10 percent of children in orphanages were actually abandoned by their families or have no living parents. Instead, stealthy child traffickers take children off the streets or from under their parents’ noses and keep them as their meal ticket to take money from adoption agencies and volunteers. With 650,000 orphans in the country–15,000 of whom live in the capital alone–the number of potentially trafficked children is staggering.
To top it off, orphanages in Nepal are unpleasant places. Children face physical and sexual abuse by their captors, as well as forced labor and starvation. Some girls are trained to be prostitutes at 14 years old and made to sexually abuse the younger boys.
Most child homes in the capital of Kathmandu are unregistered with the government, permitting them leeway to abuse kids or sell them under the table. Even 90 percent of those oprhanages who are registered with the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB) often fail to meet the minimum standards of care. “We have introduced minimum standards for children’s homes and we need to strengthen our monitoring systems, but we have not been able to until now… we lack financial and human resources,” says Tarak Dhital director of the CCWB.
Child trafficking in Nepal’s orphanages is heavily tied to poverty in a myriad of ways.
First, trafficking through illegal adoption and exploitation of donations is a hugely profitable business, and in a nation where over half the population lives in poverty, money goes a long way in survival and prowess. According to UNICEF, orphanage owners can make anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 on an international adoption.
“These little girls are very important for the owner of the home to get money. This is the only reason that they want these children,” says Marina Argeisa, a former volunteer in a Nepalese orphanage. Unfortunately, because this trade is such a lucrative one, it shows little sign of stopping.
While some traffickers simply grab kids off the street and haul them to their child homes, most are more creative. Traffickers intentionally target impoverished families, promising better lives for the children with education, healthcare, shelter and food. Parents are willing to part with their children under the false hope that the orphanage owners can provide a brighter future for their sons and daughters. As a result of this trickery, traffickers can buy children from their poor parents for as little as $15 to reap profits of thousands of dollars, never educating or paying medical bills for the children.
To avoid suspicion and ensure the child can be adopted, traffickers publish ads for found children in newspapers or fake death certificates for the family. Nepal’s laws state that if no one comes forward to reclaim a child, it can be put up for adoption as an orphan.
Unfortunately, the problem is not going away. There is a large market for illegal, under-the-table international adoption of Nepalese children. Sixty-six American families found themselves wrapped up in a complex adoption fraud operation, prompting the U.S. ban of adoptions from Nepal in 2010. All but one of those families have since received visas for their new children, but the U.S. government’s suspicion still remains.
The child trafficking rings in Nepal’s orphanages also benefit significantly from volunteer tourism, a business that attracts some 1.6 million good Samaritans around the world each year. Nepal welcomed 600,000 tourists in 2012, many of whom paid a few hundred dollars to work in an orphanage. Volunteers leave with life-changing memories and a drive to raise funds for the children they fell in love with while abroad. However, little do they know that the money they send back goes to the captors’ pockets, not to helping the children.
“There is the potential for huge profits to be made for those who internationally and unnecessarily displace children from their families, so they can be used as lucrative poverty commodities to raise funds from well-intentioned but ill-informed tourists” says Martin Punaks, director of Next Generation Nepal which works to unite trafficked children with their families. Essentially, the do-gooders’ funds simply perpetuate the problem.
So far, the Nepalese government has done little to solve the issue. No legislation is in place to effectively control the registration status or safety of orphanages. In addition, poverty is rampant with little aid, meaning child trafficking is one of few options for earning money. To effectively solve the problem, the government must first address the crippling poverty and give its citizens other outlets to make profits and allow parents the ability to raise their children with adequate education, food and healthcare. Decreasing poverty will reduce reliance on child trafficking and illegal international adoptions.
The international community also has a responsibility to act. Sanctions on adoptions decreases the market, making child trafficking a far less lucrative business. Additionally, a careful eye when assessing where donations go and investigation into orphanages’ child trafficking rings can protect against well-intentioned volunteers feeding the business with funds.
Nepal’s orphanages prey off weak, impoverished families and gullible volunteers to feed a widespread and highly profitable child trafficking ring. Efforts to reduce poverty will help save children from being pried from their families, abused and sold for profit. Less child trafficking means a more successful future for the Nepalese children.
– Caitlin Thompson