Last month’s devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake in Nepal has thrown open the door for opportunistic human traffickers exploiting the extremely vulnerable survivors who are merely trying to stay alive and begin rebuilding their lives after nearly 8,000 people perished and tens of thousands have been injured and hundred of thousands left without homes or income.

The devastating earthquake in Nepal, is said to have intensified an already lucrative, violent and illegal trade. According to the United Nations (UN) up to 15,000 persons are trafficked annually from this economically desperate country to neighbouring states like India and South Korea and as far as the Gulf states and even South Africa for forced labour and the sex industry.

Amidst the postquake chaos traffickers have been targeting survivors and luring them in with tempting offers of jobs or even marriage. Some are aware of these ruses but many genuinely believe they will get legitimate jobs. Migrant work is very common for the Nepalese, as the UN reports: “A third of all Nepali households, and 35 per cent of rural households, have at least one member working and living abroad. The contribution of migration to the economy of Nepal has increased significantly in the past decade, with close to US$3.5 billion received last year. Remittances constitute nearly 23 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

It it reported the majority of trafficked persons end up in brothels in neighbouring India (according to UNICEF the figure is currently sitting at 200,000), so local NonGovernmental Organisations (NGOs) on both sides of the border are working hard to raise awareness of this global problem.

The US Department of State’s 2014 Trafficking in Persons Report puts Nepal at Tier 2 status meaning, “the Government of Nepal does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking” but encouragingly, “it is making significant efforts to do so.”

This earthquake will unfortunately be a major setback for the government of Nepal in the fight against trafficking as the country has a weak economy and rebuilding could run into tens of billions of Dirhams. The US report recommends these steps among many others be taken to help the problem – “Increase law enforcement efforts against all forms of trafficking, including sex trafficking of Nepali females within Nepal, and against government officials complicit in trafficking-related crimes and to ensure victims are not punished for their involvement in prostitution or forgery of official documents as a direct result of their being trafficked.”

Saju Mathew, Vice President of Operations in South Asia of the International Justice Mission says: “The road to recovery will be very long, and we encourage local officials in Nepal and the bordering nation of India to protect the scores of children and young women who are particularly vulnerable to violence like trafficking and sexual exploitation.”