An investigation has uncovered how children in Nepal are being trafficked into illegal orphanages where they are uncared for and often forced to work or beg. Families are often duped into giving up their children to these fraudulent homes under false promises that they will receive an education.
“My heart broke”
Bhim Bahadur Shahi is one such parent. He was approached with an offer from a fraudulent children’s home offering to educate and foster his son. As a farmer with limited means to educate his eight-year-old son, Shahi agreed thinking that this would be in his child’s best interest.
He paid the orphanage the equivalent of about $220 to cover his son’s food and clothes. But a year and a half later, Shahi found his son kept in miserable conditions.
Shahi told the Kathmandu Post:
“My son was malnourished and looked like he hadn’t had a bath in months,” said Shahi. “He looked so uncared for that my heart broke. I wanted to bring him back home immediately but the children’s home operator put up a fight. After much persuasion and threats, they let me bring him with me. It was only then that I realised that the establishment was operating illegally.”
After pulling his child out, Shahi warned his fellow villagers about the poor conditions in the orphanage. Some of his neighbors had also been tricked into sending their children there and they later decided to go in search of them.
Children from impoverished Dalit communities in Nepal may find themselves particularly vulnerable to ending up in an exploitative orphanage according Baley Bishwakarma, a human rights activist in Nepal’s Kalikot district. This is in part due to parents having to migrate to India in order to find work, leaving children in the care of orphanages.
Despite evidence that hundreds of children are trafficked into these orphanages, Bishwakarma notes that authorities aren’t doing enough to hold these fraudulent institutions accountable “which means there is no government data on exactly how many children from Karnali [a district in Nepal] are trapped in such situations.”
Families are also targeted by people claiming to represent religious groups who convince families that their children will receive a good, free education if they go with them. This happened to Sushila BK and Bhakta Bahadur BK. They said:
“We were in a very difficult financial situation so we accepted their offer and sent our two daughters, one aged seven and another nine, to Butwal with them,” said Bhakta. “Later, we found out that they weren’t sending our daughters to school or giving them enough to eat. My daughters were sent to different places to beg. So we brought them home with us.”
We know that the risk of trafficking and exploitation in orphanages is too high. Ask volunteer tour operators to stop offering volunteer placements in orphanages and help break the cycle of exploitation. Send them a message today!