A new briefing paper by ECPAT International highlights some of the most pressing risks of child sexual exploitation in Nepal. Weak laws on online exploitation, slow economic development and recovery from the 2015 earthquakes and potential risks from the rising trend of ‘voluntourism’ leave children vulnerable to different forms of sexual exploitation.
The paper draws information from the Economist’s Out of the Shadows Index which looks at the Government of Nepal’s response to fighting sexual exploitation of children, and the ECPAT Country Overview report on Nepal. In the Index, Nepal ranked 39 out of 60 countries measured.
Urgent need to protect children from sexual exploitation online
Internet penetration in Nepal is at 63% and there are 139 mobile subscriptions per 100 users, but both legislation and awareness on child sexual exploitation online are lagging. Though there are laws that criminalise the production, sharing and viewing of child sexual abuse material, there are no laws that address live streaming of sexual abuse, online grooming or sexual extortion. In a study described in the ECPAT briefing paper, 452 children aged 5-12 were asked if they knew how to protect themselves online—75% said they had little or no information on how to do so. Nepal also does not mandate Internet Service Providers to report child sexual abuse material that is hosted on their servers.
“These circumstances are increasing the risks of children being sexually exploited online, and unfortunately, creating opportunities for those who are looking to harm children. The Nepali government must act immediately to criminalise all forms of online child sexual exploitation.”
– Andrea Varrella, Legal Officer at ECPAT International
Child marriage – a way to survive after the 2015 earthquake
The 2015 catastrophic earthquakes left an imprint of financial hardship on Nepal. In times of crisis, desperate families can be more likely to involve their daughters in child, early or forced marriage as a way of coping with economic hardship. As of 2019, Nepal has the 17th highest rate of child marriage in the world—a phenomenon found by researchers and practitioners to be exacerbated by the 2015 earthquakes.
“Despite some good awareness-raising, the Nepali government and communities need to sustain action on child marriage. Global research tells us that child, early or forced marriage has long-ranging consequences for rights like accessing education, as well as on National economies.”
– Charimaya Tamang, Founder and Executive Director of Shakti Samuha
‘Voluntourism’ and orphanage tourism put children at risk of sexual exploitation
Offering tourists the chance to engage with children in care homes such as orphanages has become a trend among travellers—a practice also known as ‘voluntourism’. Even though many volunteers have good intentions, certain forms of voluntourism have been shown to have a range of harmful consequences, including increasing the risk of child sexual exploitation. At the very least, short-term connections with children in care with multiple strangers can also have damaging impacts on child development. Though tourism is one of the main sources of income to the Nepal economy, little data exists on children being exploited in the context of travel and tourism.
ECPAT names concrete improvements for the way forward
The briefing paper suggests a number of concrete measures to better protect Nepali children:
- Strengthen national legislation related to all forms of online child sexual exploitation such as criminalising online grooming of children for sexual purposes and live streaming for sexual purposes.
- Include statutory rape provisions in legislation that protect boy victims.
- Expand government-led rehabilitation services to provide more support to every victim of child sexual exploitation — boys, girls and non-binary children.
- Expand strategies to address the harmful consequences of child, early and forced marriage across the country and enable alternative and sustainable solutions that mitigate the push factor of economic hardship.
- Regulate and monitor the use of international volunteers—such as creating international police clearances and codes of conduct in children care centers and activities with direct child contact, as well as not allowing volunteers to work in residential care facilities for children.