This morning we jumped in a taxi for 1000NPR (about $15 Aussie dollars) and drove to visit the official Forget Me Not Foundation (FMN) Nepal office.

When we reached the office we were greeted by a lovely lady, Anju. Anju is the Country Representative of FMN Nepal.

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She told us some horrid things, and we discovered some horrible truths about the trafficking of children here in Nepal and the illegal business a lot of orphanages undertake.

Anju explained to us the current No. 1 mission of FMN – to spread the word to stop foreigners volunteering in orphanages in Nepal (#TRAFFICKSTOPPERS). This is because only about 10 per cent of children in orphanages are actually orphans, the other 90 per cent are children trafficked from their real families.

As volunteering is becoming an increasingly popular industry, many agencies offer the chance to work in professional orphanages for months on end – which is what fuels this “bogus orphan trade“.

But what most volunteers don’t know is the profiles of children in orphanages are mostly fabricated. So volunteers are, in fact, potentially complicit with child trafficking.

Poor families are being cheated and unwittingly duped into giving away their children under false promises that they will be given a good education, a good home, medical support etc., all for profits that are fraudulently taken from foreign volunteers.

The children in these orphanages are exploited; they are fed out of date food; they sleep in unstable, unhygienic, small buildings; they are used as slaves and are sexually abused.

The people running these “professional” orphanages, the “business owners” (I will further refer to them as “child pirates”), are so desperate for money they go to extreme lengths that are so morally and legally wrong. For example, Anju mentioned that after the earthquake in 2015 some child pirates were “lucky” in the sense they traded in unaffected areas. BUT, they MOVED to the areas that were destroyed so they could claim disaster relief funds from the Nepal Government and even western society fundraisers.

Such desperation is sickening.

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Screenshot from the Forget Me Not website #TRAFFICKSTOPPERS page.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel with FMN – even though the process the foundation goes through to save these children and stop the child pirates is extensive:

1. Investigate – reports of any fishy business in orphanages are investigated by law enforcement.
2. Rescue – save the children and place them in FMN’s transit home.
3. Build rapport – bond with the children; build trust, ask questions and find out as much about the child and what they remember of their family.
4. Search – start the search and take every avenue available to find the family.
5. Reconnect – connect the child with family and vice versa by bringing the family to the FMN office and meeting the child.
6. Reunify – make them a family again by giving the child back (and rightfully so!)
7. Monitor – visit the child in the home to ensure their safety and comfort, and if the family are struggling FMN will support them with education or medical help or whatever they need.
8. Close case.

The first step is to find the biological family and if that’s not possible it goes to kinship care (uncles, aunties etc.), then foster care, and as a last resort the government will find a reliable orphanage as a long term home, or until they are ready to live independently.

Today, November 18, 2016, is the three year anniversary of the first rescue by FMN Nepal. (It may be yesterday with the upload speed of the internet here.) Twenty girls, as young as six months to 16 years, were rescued from an orphanage and placed back with their families. This was the turning point for FMN Nepal – after this the foundation sky rocketed and now about 88 children have been rescued in Nepal alone.

Some of the girls now work to educate people on the reality of it all, and some even look after other trafficked children in transit homes*.

Yesterday (again, may be the previous day depending on upload speed), the now young and successful women, had their annual reunion with FMN because, as Anju described it, they are the “true heroes”.

Volunteering in these fraudulent institutions is essentially supporting the trafficking of these young and innocent lives and thus needs to be stopped.

There is a huge cry for help in this country.

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PLEASE think carefully before going to volunteer in orphanages in third world countries! Research before you go and find out as much information as possible and reach out to help in other ways.

If you’re interested in being a #TRAFFICKSTOPPER, join the Forget Me Not Sunshine Coast Marathon on Sunday August 20 next year (2017). Register today!

The child pirates need to be stopped!

*Transit home = a temporary home the trafficked children are placed in while their families are located. NOT an orphanage.

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