Many people still missing in the aftermath of civil war in Nepal

Nepal, a tiny county between India and China (home to one half of Mount Everest), had a civil war the last decade. Probably not many Americans know about it; probably a significant minority have never even HEARD of Nepal. But it, like its neighbor country Bhutan, has fascinated me for a long time now and I’d love to visit (not to climb Everest, though).

Anyway, I found some articles addressing the missing person problem in Nepal. Loads of people disappeared during the civil war and many still have not been found. All the headlines say “hundreds” are missing but that doesn’t explain the opening paragraph of one article:

Almost five years after the end of the decade-long insurgency in Nepal in which almost 14,000 people were killed, the status of more than 13,000 other people who went missing during that period is still unknown.

Um, 13,000 is not “hundreds.” Someone needs to check their math. Or maybe they meant to say 1300, in which case they need to check their typing.

Nepal: Families losing hope of meeting missing kin (Hindustan Times)
Hundreds still missing in Nepal after the end of its civil war in 2006 (World Tribune)
Five years after war, hundreds still missing in Nepal (Daiji World)

I know of a nonprofit organization, Next Generation Nepal, which works to reunite victims of human trafficking with their families. I read the founder’s memoir, Little Princes, and it was excellent. He was inspired to start the organization after he spent some time volunteering at a Nepalese orphanage and discovered that few, if any, of the children were actually orphans. They were in fact victims of trafficking and had families who were alive and trying to find them.

Kelsey Collins and teen prostitution

I found this really excellent article which is about the disappearance of Kelsey Collins in 2009, but also about teen prostitution in general. Kelsey was 18 when she went missing and had been involved in prostitution for several years. She had agreed to testify against her pimp, and did appear before a federal grand jury, but she disappeared afterward and was unavailable to testify at the actual trial. They had to drop the charges against the man for lack of evidence, because Kelsey wasn’t there. There’s strong suspicion that she was killed because of her testimony.

I feel very sorry for that poor girl and her family. It sounds like her mother tried to do right by her and tried to protect her, but there’s only so much you can do. Especially when you’re a single parent. Especially when your kid gets into their teens and you can’t watch them 24/7 anymore. Especially when you don’t have the money to pay for some fancy residential treatment center far away, or even for regular counseling sessions.

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it before, but Tricks by Ellen Hopkins is an excellent novel-in-verse about teen prostitution. Each of the five teenagers (three girls, two boys) in the story became a prostitute through a different series of events. One character’s story was very much like Kelsey’s. The girl, Whitney, was fifteen years old. She was pretty and popular and came from a wealthy family, but she felt neglected and unloved by her parents, who seemed to favor her sister. Her boyfriend had just dumped her and bad-mouthed her to everyone, and she was hurt and humiliated. Then she met what seemed to be the greatest guy in the world and fell head over heels in love with him, and within weeks he had her turning tricks in Las Vegas. He was, of course, a pimp, and regularly scouted malls and other hang-outs looking for more Whitneys to sink his teeth into. I think, by making Whitney white and from a privileged background, Ellen Hopkins was trying to show that what happened to her could happen to anyone, not just minorities or teens from poor families.

I really hope Kelsey is alive out there somewhere. Maybe in a city far away. Maybe she doesn’t even realize people are looking for her. But it seems unlikely to me.

Article about missing children in India

I found this excellent, if brief Times of India article about missing kids in India. Of course children run away or get kidnapped there same as anywhere else, and India is such a huge place, with so many people, and so poor, that it’s even more difficult to find them than it is in more developed countries.

In India as in China, there’s a lot of human trafficking with kids being forced into slave labor making tchotchkes at five cents an hour for export abroad. I read a novel, Boys Without Names by Kashmira Sheth, about a child who was forced into a situation like that.

Heroes for missing children

This out of Pakistan: a barber who has made it his mission to reunite lost children with their families. Anwar Khokar says that since 1988 he’s helped 8,500 missing children. Missing children are a big problem in Pakistan — as they are, I suspect, in all third world countries. Kids run away or are thrown out by families who can’t afford to keep them. Child trafficking goes on. And the police often can’t help. If they’re not simply corrupt, they have a lot of other problems on their plate.

I recently read a book called The Little Princes: One Man’s Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal. This American guy went to volunteer at an orphanage in Nepal for a few months and discovered that all of the “orphans” had in fact been stolen from their families by child traffickers. So he decided to reunite them, and journeyed to an extremely remote region of Nepal (without even road access) to find their parents. And he founded a non-profit for this purpose. It was dangerous work — the child traffickers were often well-connected and powerful, and there was the business of having to trek through the Himalayas — but the looks on the parents’ and kids’ faces made it all worth it for him.

Article about now-adult kidnapped kids in China trying to find their families

Justin sent me this excellent and insightful article about some of the older victims of China’s child trafficking problem. The man featured in the story is about 27 and he thinks his name was Zhou Chengliang. He remembers his abduction when he was six or so (this would have been in 1989-ish), but he can’t remember enough details to identify his family or even what part of the country he was from. There are a lot of men and women out there like him.

It’s so sad. I cannot imagine buying a child, knowing he must have been stolen from some other family. Why would a person do that? It’s not like there aren’t any real orphans to adopt. In fact, a Time Magazine article linked in the first article says that more and more Chinese couples have chosen to adopt, while the rules for international adoptions have gotten stricter and more exclusive.

I hope Zhou Chengliang, if that’s who he is, succeeds in finding his birth family. I wish the same for all the other trafficking victims inside China and out of it.

Human trafficking in the US

I found this article about human trafficking within the United States. It mentions a fourteen-year-old runaway from California who was profiled on Charley. She got involved in prostitution pretty much instantly and was eventually taken out of state. It was very sad. But her father was dedicated to finding her and he never stopped looking. She finally came home on her own, but by then she had a drug problem and she continued to run away from home and get in trouble with the law. She now 19 years old and estranged from her father. The article provides a good summary of how ordinary teenage girls get sucked into that kind of life:

Turner said Marla met the profile for victims of human trafficking perfectly. She was shy, quiet, not likely to question those she perceived as being in charge and had fragile self-esteem.

The girls often don’t get, or don’t think they get, enough attention and affection at home, the detective said.

The pimps are almost always well into their 20s, and often in their 40s while the average age of most victims who fall prey is 12, Turner said.

The pimps also put victims through a program of sorts, one well-documented and glorified in movies and books, that includes a period of charm training and gifts as well as abuse and molestation, Turner explained.

(Good god, that profile sounds like ME as I was ten years ago.)

Ellen Hopkins’s novel Tricks, about five teens from different parts of the country who all become prostitutes for different reasons, features one character from a wealthy family who fits that profile to a T — except she was a little older, fifteen. She wasn’t close to her parents or her sister, and she and her mother really didn’t get along. She met a pimp who suckered her into running away with him and within weeks he’d gotten her addicted to heroin and soon had her turning tricks and doing child porn in Vegas.

I would like to share stories like this with people who wonder why the cops bother to look for teen runaways.

Highlights in the latest missing persons news

Hank and Lisa Croslin, the sort of step-grandparents of the missing Florida girl Haleigh Cummings, have been arrested on drug charges. They join their son, daughter and former son-in-law in jail — all of them locked up for drug offenses. It should be a nice family reunion.

The Chinese government is still trying to identify children who were the victims of human trafficking within their country. Many of them were so little when they were taken and/or so traumatized by the experience that, when rescued, they don’t remember who they really are. A DNA database is in the works and they have already collected over 140,000 samples from “missing children’s parents, children suspected of having been abducted or with an unclear history, children in social welfare institutes, homeless children and child beggars.” The DNA gathering and comparisons will be done at the government’s expense, a good thing because most of these people can ill afford it.

I found this interesting article about the difficulties of locating children missing from foster care. (Charley’s latest such case is that of Patrick Alford, a seven-year-old boy who supposedly ran away from his foster home to find his biological mother. He’s been missing for six months.) The article points out that the very privacy laws intended to protect foster children seriously hinder the search for them. Even the police had to get a court order to look at Amber Nicklas’s file. I suspect there’s probably also a tendency to just not bother to report it when chronic runaways got AWOL for foster care for the fifteenth time. Another problem is that there may not be any family members to supply photos or DNA samples, or anyone who really knows the child well enough to say where they might have gone, and the only one left to advocate for the missing child may be a social worker who, well-meaning as he/she might be, has fifty other cases to manage and not a whole lot of time. It’s a mess.

A rare Puerto Rican case

Tomorrow I shall be posting the November 2000 disappearance of Yamaira Montes-Gonzalez. I don’t have too many Puerto Rican cases on Charley, in large part because I can’t read Spanish so most of the LE sources there are lost to me.

I am curious as to why Interpol is investigating Yamaira’s disappearance. The only thing I can think of is a suspected international kidnapping — perhaps human trafficking. She was a very pretty teenager, maybe even beautiful. I looked up Yabucoa and Wikipedia says it’s a coastal town. (They call it a “small town” but the population is close to 40,000. Speaking as someone from a town with a population of 600, give or take, Wikipedia doesn’t know what it’s talking about.)

I hope Yamaira just ran away or something and hasn’t been trafficked.

Crusader for kidnapped Chinese children

The Shanghai Daily has this article about a man from the Chinese province of Shandong who’s become a crusader in search of all of China’s missing children. China has a serious child kidnap/human trafficking problem that I’ve written about previously. This man, Guo Gangtang, had his two-year-old son snatched in September 1997. He travels from city to city, and each one he unveils a banner with photos of 500 missing children. He’s found seven kids in this way…but not his own.

From the article: Guo has gone through eight motorbikes and spent a total of 300,000 yuan (US$43,900) over the 13 years, earning a living by selling gourd pipes. Even in the United States, $44,000 is a substantial sum of money, about what your average household makes in a year. And seeing as how Wikipedia says the average per capita income in China is $3,677, in there it’s a fortune. I suppose he must get donations or something.

So hats off to Guo Gangtang. I hope he keeps fighting the good fight and that he finds his own child soon. This man is a hero.

Child trafficking fears in Haiti

All sorts of nasty things have been occurring in Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake earlier this month, as I’m sure everyone knows. Tens of thousands of bodies have been buried in mass graves. Many people remain missing. The true death toll may never be known, as the Haitian government couldn’t even keep track of their living citizenry before the quake. As if this most unfortunate of nations hasn’t suffered enough! My psychiatrist is from Haiti and went on the local TV with his wife (also Haitian) appealing for aid for his country. Fortunately, he told me, he knows his family survived.

And top of everything else, child traffickers may be swooping down trying to take advantage of the tragedy and chaos. I’m not sure how big the problem really is — so far it looks like there’s only 15 confirmed cases of children being removed from the country illegally — but it has the potential to be huge if not checked immediately.

There are a lot of well-meaning people out there who want to help out by adopting a Haitian earthquake orphan or two. Haiti also had a small international adoption program before the disaster. But international aid organizations and the U. S. State Department are advising the would-be adopters to hold their horses. Many of those “orphans” may actually have parents or other relatives alive and able to care for them, and time is needed to sort out the genuinely orphaned from the merely displaced. I am reminded of an incident during the Vietnam war when a few hundred Vietnamese children were airlifted out of the country and sent to the US. The people who took them in were under the impression that they were adopting orphaned children, but those children actually had living parents who were under the impression that their children were merely being fostered until conditions were better, and then they would be returned home. It was a terrible situation for everyone involved.

But non-orphaned children taken abroad to loving adoptive families may be the lucky ones. Haiti had a pretty big child trafficking problem of another kind before the quake — child sex trafficking and slavery in general. As the London Times points out, the situation in Port Au Prince is such that child traffickers now have their pick of victims. All these kids are running around the streets with nowhere to turn — fish in a barrel. And those who disappear will probably be assumed to be simply buried under the rubble.

What can I say? It’s a nightmare over there. It wasn’t exactly a bed of roses before the earthquake flattened Port-au-Prince. But we can help make things better. Or at least not make them worse.