After the earthquakes: Girls at risk of trafficking in Nepal

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More than a month has passed since the first of two devastating earthquakes struck Nepal and impacted the lives of millions. The quakes on April 25 and May 12, the continuing powerful aftershocks, as well as the heavy rains signalling the approaching monsoon season, are leaving survivors traumatized, vulnerable, and in need of urgent emergency relief.

Following a disaster like this, providing shelter, food, and water, is critical to survivors who’ve lost their homes, livelihoods and belongings. But equally important is the protection of children.

For children who’ve survived the earthquakes, and particularly adolescent girls,  the increased risk of trafficking, sexual exploitation and early marriage is sadly very real.

[SEE ALSO: Surviving the Nepal earthquake: A young girl’s story]

A country already at risk

A girl standing on a pile of rubble. Before the earthquakes, Nepal was already faced with high rates of child marriage, human trafficking, and forced labour – all of which disproportionately affected girls. Every year, approximately 7,000 girls and women from Nepal are trafficked across the border to India alone. Girls are often sexually exploited or forced into domestic labour.

Research and experience from past disasters like the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the 2013 typhoon in the Philippines, reveal how existing gender inequalities like these are exacerbated during crises.

“In the aftermath of the earthquake, with destroyed livelihoods and high levels of distress…Children and families are likely to be in a desperate situation. This could lead to children, especially adolescent girls, engaging in commercial sex work. Also child marriage could be a coping strategy of families to secure the future of girl children,” shared Lotte Claessens, an advisor on child protection in emergencies with Plan International in Nepal.

A rise in trafficking

In the aftermath of the Nepal earthquakes, local organizations in some of the most devastated communities are already reporting signs of trafficking.

Nepal_girls_trafficking_carryingleaves“We know that Nepal is a high-risk trafficking country…and local NGO’s already reported that people [traffickers] had been coming to remote villages,” said Claessens.

[SEE ALSO: Fighting child trafficking in Nepal]

“In big disasters, we know that the risk of trafficking increases: existing community structures break down and a lack of security and community monitoring allows people to go in and out of communities without notice, and even cross borders. Often people are unaware of traffickers´ strategies and ways of operating.”

Protecting girls at risk

The government of Nepal as well as local and international organizations, are responding to the risks of trafficking and exploitation by increasing border control, and raising awareness among children and their parents through initiatives like child-friendly spaces.

Group of children playing under a tarp.

With trained facilitators, Plan’s child-friend spaces provide children with a safe place to play and find support.

Claessens shares how Plan International’s child-friendly spaces are key to preventing trafficking and other abuses against children: “In the spaces, we install a protection help desk where communities can report cases and receive information about issues of violence, neglect, exploitation, as well as family separation, missing children, and trafficking.”

While child-friendly spaces are important temporary solutions, the risk of sexual exploitation and trafficking will likely increase as the earthquakes’ long-term economic and social impact on communities unfolds.

“Beyond the immediate relief, the government and aid organizations should invest in helping families recover from this disaster,” urged Claessens. “Support family livelihoods, children´s education and strengthen protection of the most vulnerable, including girls, boys and women.”

[SEE ALSO: Protecting Nepal’s children in the earthquake aftermath]

Support Plan’s emergency response in Nepal

Plan teams are on the ground in many of the hardest hit regions of Nepal, responding to both urgent and long-term needs of children and their families. Help protect the rights of girls and boys during this difficult time. Donate now and make a difference in the lives of those in need.

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Plan is proud to participate in the HUMANITARIAN COALITION, comprised of Plan Canada, CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Save the Children Canada, five of Canada’s largest relief agencies. By joining our efforts, the HUMANITARIAN COALITION will increase the impact of Canadian humanitarian responses and reduce administrative costs. 

To find out more, visit the HUMANITARIAN COALITION website at