Child trafficking is a human rights issue of serious concern. It is not a new phenomenon in the world. However, in recent years, it has emerged as a global problem. It is becoming a grave challenge in South Asia as well. In Nepal, as many as 3,407 children went missing in the first 11 months of the current fiscal year 2020/21. This figure points to a serious facet of the issue. According to the Children Search Coordination Centre, out of the missing children, 1,922 were found and reunited with their families. However, whereabouts of 1,485 children are still not known. According to the National Child Rights Council, 2,729 children went missing in the previous fiscal year. Likewise, a total of 3,422 children had gone missing in FY 2018/19 preceded by 2330 in FY 2017/18. A stunning fact about the missing minors is that most of the victims are girls.
Children of Nepal are trafficked within the country, to India or the Middle East for labour exploitation, sexual abuse or forced marriage. Similarly, they are forced to cross the Nepal-India border for bonded labour as domestic helps, circus entertainers, industry workers or beggars. Several data of the government show that the number of missing or trafficked girls is higher than that of the missing boys. There is a strong possibility of missing children being trafficked. Missing children are highly vulnerable as they are likely in many cases to be trafficked for bonded labour and forced prostitution in India and other countries.
The National Child Rights Council under the Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens is the main government body responsible for taking on the cases of missing children in coordination with Nepal Police. According to officials of NCRC, they do not have a comprehensive child search and rescue mechanism at the provincial and local levels. In addition to the coordination centre at Bhrikutimandap in Kathmandu, the government agency has provincial centres in Morang of Province 1, Janakpurdham of Province 2 and Rupandehi of Lumbini Province. The NCRC has plans to establish more coordination centres in other provinces to help in searching and rescuing missing children. Concerned government officials claimed that they were taking initiatives to reduce the incidents of child disappearance. For the purpose, the government has conducted educational programmes in schools for raising awareness about child trafficking.
But awareness on human trafficking or child trafficking should be started at an early age as chances of children dropping out of school before they get to the secondary levels are higher in rural areas. However, awareness through the curriculums alone will not be enough to lower the incidents of children being trafficked. In the short run, the government must make all its mechanisms more active and functional for protecting the children from going missing. Nepal’s open border with India is another major challenge for reducing human or child trafficking. The government’s agencies, especially the NCRC, have no official arrangements to repatriate missing children from India. So the government needs to work in this direction as soon as possible. Poor economic conditions and lack of awareness may have made minors easy victims to traffickers who lure them with tempting promises. Concerned agencies should work seriously to find, nab and punish those involved in this crime.