July 30 was the third annual World Day Against Human Trafficking. Its aim is to raise awareness that an estimated 2.5 million people across the globe are trapped in modern-day slavery at any given time, and to show solidarity with them.
Adara knows all too well about how human trafficking can damage communities. Over the past decade we have worked closely with Nepal on this issue.
One of our partners in Nepal is The Himalayan Innovative Society (THIS). The society specialises in anti-child trafficking and returning trafficked children to their families. THIS helped Adara reunify all the Adara Kids rescued more than a decade ago.
We sat down with DB Lama, the CEO of THIS, to talk about trafficking in Nepal. DB is from Humla, where Adara has been working for 18 years, and was born into a sheep-herding family. He is very committed to improving the lives of children in the Humla region.
1. Hi, DB! Can you tell us a little about the work of THIS?
Initially our work began with minor activities related to education, health and income generation. But today our work is focussed on child protection, particularly the reunification, reintegration and repatriation of trafficked children from institutions or orphanages. This reintegration work, in partnership with Adara Development, started in 2006 during the Maoist insurgency. To date we have reunified more than 500 children safely back to their family and community, with no re-trafficking cases.
2. Wow! That is amazing. How serious a problem is trafficking in Nepal?
Trafficking, in various forms and with various motives, is becoming a serious problem in Nepal. In the past it was aimed at women and girls. But now we see various forms of trafficking, including orphanage, labour, sex and even organ trafficking. Recently, we have also seen children trafficked into various churches under the lure of better education and a better future.
3. You have worked with Adara for a long time now. Can you tell us a little bit about our first project together: the reunification of the Adara Kids?
Adara and THIS’s partnership began with the reconnection, reunification and repatriation of the 136 ‘Adara Kids’. They were brought to Kathmandu by a local trafficker during the Maoist insurgency. The trafficker promised to educate them in good boarding schools in Kathmandu. He took money and goods from the parents for “the cost of transportation and food” on the way to Kathmandu.
Instead of ending up in education, most of the children had to face a life in hell with not enough food, clothes, medicine or education.
We worked with Adara to reunify the first boy in January 2007, and by the end of 2010 we had reunified all the children with their families. It took us 60 days to trace all the families across nine districts of Nepal.
Now most of these children have completed – or are in the last years of – their high school and college studies. Some who have completed their 10+2 can stand on their own feet in business, service and running their household business. Our partnership has changed the lives of these 136 kids, and now it is their responsibility to change their household economy and their village and community. We are very positive about their future and look forward to watching them grow up.
4. Has the nature of child trafficking changed since you helped Adara reunify the Adara Kids? Are children still being trafficked in Nepal?
During the Maoist conflict, child trafficking from Humla was very prevalent. Through our family tracing and reunification work, we raised awareness of child trafficking. In 2010, we also started running a FM Radio programme in Humla to make people more aware of child rights. As a result of this work, we have seen trafficking in Humla drop significantly. There are still some cases of trafficking in the southern parts of Humla, but there have been very few cases from northern Humla where our work has been focussed.
In Nepal more generally, children are still being trafficked, but the current scenario is different from the past. Children used to be trafficked under the guise of better education so the traffickers could gain income. Now it’s Christian churches and their followers luring children in the name of ‘better education’. This is a serious matter, as these groups look to convert children from their original religion and culture. It is ideologically rather than financially driven – as revealed by several recent rescues the government made from orphanages and churches.
5. Tell us about the work that Adara and THIS do with children of single mothers?
Adara and THIS are now working together for the education of children of single mothers in upper Humla where the polyandry system is still in practice. (Polyandry is where one woman takes many husbands. In Humla, this is typically all the brothers in a family. You can see Adara’s Innovation Director, Kimber Haddix McKay, talk more about this marriage system in her TEDx talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6bYCi-1wF4)
Children of single mothers have historically been very disenfranchised, living without national identity as the Nepali government did not have any provision to issue citizenship for children without paternal identification. Now, as per the new constitution in 2015, the government can provide citizenship in the name of the mother. So we are sure there won’t be any children without national identity. They will have the right to say they are Nepali citizen. These groups of children used to go to India and Kathmandu for Buddhist education and live the lives of monks. They were very vulnerable. By working to keep the families together and reduce stigma in the community, we are protecting these children from child trafficking.
Thank you, DB, for sharing your thoughts with Adara!