New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch says criminal gangs and other armed groups abducted about 30 children for ransom in Nepal's Terai region last year alone.
Human Rights Watch says child kidnapping is rampant in Nepal's Terai belt
In Nepal's restive southern Terai plains, children are abducted for ransom and sometimes even murdered, says Tejshree Thapa, a senior South Asia researcher with Human Rights Watch (HRW). She explains that in a recent report they highlighted one particular case - that of 15-year-old Mubarak Rayin from Dhanusha district. "He was a boy who was kidnapped together with another boy who happened to have wealthier parents and were able to pay the ransom. This poor family couldn’t come up with the ransom."
Poor parents who are not able to pay the ransom sometimes never get to see their children again
She adds that the police have told the parents that the boy is dead, but the police have not been able to produce a body to prove it. "As far as we are aware, the police has effectively closed the case without having been able to prove that the boy is dead or that the boy is not dead."
The chances of getting back kidnapped children, like Mubarak Rayin, largely depend on how much wealth the family has and how quickly they are able to pay the often hefty ransom. The kidnappers often demand as high as 500,000 Nepalese rupees, the equivalent of around 5,000 euros. Parents who are not able to pay sometimes never get to see their children again.
Police told Human Rights Watch that they had not immediately been able to identify the body that was thought to be Mubarak Rayin's at the time since the head had apparently been smashed by a rock. They said they had buried the body and later came to believe it was Mubarak's.
Families and human rights activists say police are not doing enough
There have been allegations by families and human rights activists that members of the police are themselves involved in kidnapping, or have turned a blind eye for personal benefit. Krishna Subedi from Nepal's Informal Sector Service Center explains that in Sarlai district in Terai region, a police officer had gone out of his way to control criminal activities, "but then the political parties pressured him to take a transfer from there to another place." Subedi says "in some cases, the police indirectly get the ransom from the perpetrators. And in many cases, the Terai-based political parties also support the criminal groups."
He said many child rights organizations have set up surveillance systems and they also pressurize the government to initiate effective measures to control such atrocities, but the situation has worsened.
"Police should be doing more"
Human Rights Watch’s Thapa says people are losing faith in those supposed to protect them. "The police should be doing more than they have done in these cases, particularly some of these cases affect some of the most vulnerable people in the country, the poor. And, some of these ransom amounts are crippling." She adds that subsequent to their press release, police had told the BBC that they have investigated and prosecuted 95 percent of these cases. "We ourselves have asked the police for confirmation of this and we haven’t heard anything," she adds.
Children are abducted for ransom and sometimes even murdered, says Human Rights Watch
Although kidnapping does occur in other parts of Nepal, Thapa says the Terai belt is a hotbed of crime. "The Nepal-India border is an open border and so it’s easier - whether it’s for the smuggling of goods or smuggling of people - for criminal elements to just hide across the border into Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. I think that’s the main reason why we see a rise in criminal activities in that region."
As many as 30 children were abducted in the region last year, according to Human Rights Watch. Nine ended with the child being killed. Moreover, two girls were raped. Security officials claim that there is less crime but local newspapers tell a different story - one of abductions, killings and extortion. Human Rights Watch has called on the Nepalese government and the police for answers.
Author: Sherpem Sherpa
Editor: Sarah Berning