As families across Australia enjoy the long weekend, it’s easy to forget what life is like for kids who are at this very moment, being robbed of a childhood.
Millions of children worldwide are forced into back-breaking work for very little, or no, pay.
In Nepal, more than a year after devastating twin earthquakes killed thousands and obliterated large parts of the country, Plan International is evolving its work from emergency relief, to more long-term sustainability, by building schools, maintaining friendly spaces for kids and monitoring child safety.
After disasters, it’s common for development agencies to report an increase in abuse and exploitation. We are currently seeing this in Nepal, 14 months after many parts of the country were levelled by twin 7.8 and 7.2 magnitude earthquakes.
These crimes are reported by children themselves in the Children’s Voices, Children’s Rights – One Year After the Nepal Earthquake report, carried out by Plan International with World Vision International, Terre des hommes, UNICEF and Save the Children.
Report: Children's voices, children's rights – One year after the Nepal earthquake.
This report revealed very high levels of child labour, migration and trafficking of children after the earthquake, particularly in high risk districts of Kavre, Sindhupalchowk and Dolakha.
Of the children we surveyed, one in 11 told us they have been victims of child labour or trafficking. And we know that in Nepal, 1.6 million children as young as five are forced to work.
While the government has put in place measures to identify and prevent trafficking risks, and to a good degree of success, it is clear that a weak child protection system, particularly at the community level, continues to exist.
It’s unpleasant to think about, but the reality is that we live in a world where some will seek to capitalise on disasters. The lowest of these prey on children, left vulnerable and often alone.
The Nepal earthquakes orphaned many children, forcing them onto the streets or into shelters run by un-registered organisations or individuals, exposing them to violence and abuse.
Girls are at great risk of sexual abuse, child marriage, harassment and trafficking. Boys face being sent away to work backbreaking and often dangerous jobs. Sometimes, the desperation of families who are left with nothing leaves them with a horrible choice.
In Nepal, we know of many such children. One is Suraj*, who was just 11 when his parents, who faced extreme hardship after losing everything in the earthquake, sent him to the Sindhupalchowk district to work. There are around 6,800 children aged 10 to 14 involved in various forms of child labour in this district alone.
Suraj left school and was sent to wash, clean and cook with the promise of earning an income to support the family. Despite what was promised, Suraj was not paid and became a victim of child trafficking.
Fortunately, Plan International was working in Suraj’s village identifying children at risk following the earthquake. After explaining the situation to Suraj’s parents, he was called back home and returned to school.
We are continuing to work to release children like Suraj from the shackles of child labour.
Australians responded with overwhelming generosity in the days and weeks post-earthquake. Many of us – including myself - feel a close connection with this beautiful country, which receives 25,000 Aussie tourists each year.
Indeed, we heard many reports of Australians dropping everything to travel to Nepal to assist after the earthquake.
As it is with any disaster, the more time that passes, the easier it is to forget.
Over the next two years, Plan International’s aid will support 325,000 more people in need, focusing on child protection, education, shelter, water and sanitation, livelihoods, income generation and disaster risk reduction.
We will not forget Nepal’s children, who need our help now, more than ever.
* Name changed to protect the child’s identity