Sex trade human traffickers swarm to Nepal to target tens of thousands of women and girls left homeless by the country's giant earthquake
- Criminal gangs masquerading as aid workers to lure desperate women
- Hundreds of thousands left homeless after earthquake struck last month
- Health worker: 'People here are now desperate and will take any chance'
Sex traffickers are exploiting the devastation in earthquake-hit Nepal to snatch thousands of women for brothels across Asia, campaigners have warned.
The death toll from last month's disaster has reached 7,566, with hundreds of thousands left homeless, mainly in desperately poor rural communities.
Women and girls have long been targeted in the Himalayan nation, with the UN estimating that up to 15,000 a year are trafficked to brothels abroad, mainly to India, but also as far as South Korea.
But aid groups say criminal gangs have stepped up their operations by masquerading as relief workers in the chaos left by the earthquake.
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Women queue for food at a shelter in Kathmandu nine days after the earthquake struck. Aid workers warn that thousands of women and girls are at risk of being snatched by sex traffickers amid the devastation
Sunita Danuwar, director of Shakti Sumuha, a NGO in Kathmandu, said: 'This is the time when the brokers go in the name of relief to kidnap or lure women.'
Health worker Rashmita Shashtra also told The Guardian: 'People here are now desperate and will take any chance.
'There are spotters in the villages who convince family members and local brokers who do the deal. We know who they are.'
Jason Burke, from the newspaper, also spoke to a woman called Sita, 20, who told how she was abducted from her home in Sindhupalchok, a village near Kathmandu last year.
She said she was forced to have unprotected sex with up to 30 a day, every day, for a year at a brothel in India before being rescued during a police raid.
Meanwhile, a row has broken out between Nepal and some international agencies over the handling of aid that poured into the country after the earthquake, with each side blaming the other for confusion and delays in getting help to victims.
A woman holds a pot as she walks through tents set up near destroyed houses in the village of Barpak in north central Nepal, nine days after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the Himalayan nation
Frustrated by the lack of co-ordination, some donors are circumventing the authorities and sending supplies directly through non-governmental organisations for distribution, said an aide to Prime Minister Sushil Koirala.
'There are differences between the government and some donors over this,' the aide said.
The government has begun asking foreign teams to wrap up search and rescue operations as hopes of finding people alive in the rubble receded.
'They can leave. If they are also specialists in clearing the rubble, they can stay,' Rameshwor Dangal, an official at Nepal's home ministry, told Reuters on Monday.
A European Union source said only about 60 citizens from the 28-nation bloc were still unaccounted for.
Last week a senior EU official had estimated around 1,000 EU citizens were missing after the quake.
The number is 'going down by the hour' as rescue teams reach remoter areas, the EU source said.
Nepalese soldiers load relief goods into an Indian helicopter at the airport in Kathmandu. Sex traffickers are reportedly masquerading as aid workers to infiltrate poor communities and snatch women for brothels
Home Ministry spokesman Laxmi Prasad Dhakal said the government had been informed of 318 people missing, including foreigners, but said many more could be buried under landslides or in the ruins of their homes.
A U.S. State Department spokesman said helicopters chartered by the embassy in Kathmandu had rescued 17 U.S. citizens in total from remote areas hit by the quake.
The United States has provided $14.2 million in humanitarian aid.
The Nepalese government has said it has not closed Mount Everest, the world's highest peak, to climbers, although the route to the summit has been damaged by the earthquake.
At least 18 people were killed on Everest when the earthquake struck.
Climbers pay $11,000 each to climb Everest, and 357 were registered for this climbing season.
Last year, the government extended permits when teams abandoned their expeditions after an avalanche killed 16 Sherpa mountain guides.
The United Nations has said eight million of Nepal's 28 million people were affected by the quake, with at least two million needing tents, water, food and medicines over the next three months.
The United Nations Children's Fund said more than half a million children were being vaccinated to prevent measles outbreaks.
Around 1.7 million children remain in urgent need of humanitarian aid in the worst-hit areas, it added.
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