September 10, 2012
KATHMANDU, NEPAL – For the last three days, neighbors and relatives have gathered in Anju Acharya’s house north of Dharan, a city in eastern Nepal. Everyone who comes in looks sad or is crying. Acharya herself has been in the hospital, traumatized from the abduction and murder of her only son, Raj Acharya.
“After Raj’s death, [the] whole Dharan [townspeople] are in great shock,” says Abhiyandra Niraula, a local attorney.
Raj, 9, was in third grade at Sagarmatha Boarding School. With his father living in Saudi Arabia for work, his mother used to hold his hand and walk him to and from school every day. But one day, she got busy with housework and let Raj walk to school with his friends. But Raj didn’t make it to school that day. He was abducted and killed.
“All parents in the town are now worried and alert,” Lekh Nath Trital, a neighbor, says.
Raj left for school around 9:30 a.m. and was found dead in the jungle area around 11 a.m. by a jungle security guard, according to police. Deepak Regmi, a local policeman, says that Raj’s body had bruises, his head had an injury caused by a sharp object and his mouth was stuffed with his school shirt.
“We are doing further investigation to find more about this abduction,” Regmi says.
Trital says Raj’s mother remains in the hospital and father will be home from Saudi Arabia in a few days. But they are not alone in their grief as Raj is just one of the many children abducted daily in Nepal.
In Nepal, where poverty affects the majority of the population, abduction has become a popular way to make money by demanding high ransoms for a child’s return. Police say most abductors are relatives or family friends of the children they abduct. While abductors who kill children are subject to life in prison, many families don’t report abductions for fear their children will be harmed or killed. The recent spate of abductions has some advocates calling for the death penalty, which is illegal in Nepal, while others say the law enforcement should do more to prevent abductions from happening in the first place.
Five to seven children are reported missing daily in Nepal, according to Bhirkuthi Mandhap, a government research center in Kathmandu. From January to September 2010, there were 71 abducted children reported in Nepal – 19 of whom were killed, according to Child Workers in Nepal, CWIN, a children’s rights advocacy organization. Rashmila Shakya, CWIN program coordinator, says that the actual numbers are much higher but that many cases go unreported.
Although most of the children who are abducted come from low-income families who don’t have much to offer, kidnappers abduct them in order to receive ransoms. Advocates working on the issue say kidnappers here typically face financial problems and feel they have no other option to make money, says Arun Singh, a sub-inspector in Kathmandu’s central police station.
More than half of Nepalis live below the international poverty line of $1.25 USD per day, according to UNICEF.
Last fall, a kidnapper abducted two teenagers, Kapil Diwaydi, 15, and Lila Dhar Bhatt, 16, while they were riding their bicycles after school in order to demand a large ransom. Kapil’s mother, Richa Diwaydi, says the kidnapper called the families and threatened to kill their children if they didn’t pay him 5 million rupees, $110,000 USD. They negotiated the price down to 2 million rupees, $45,000 USD, but the families, who both had financial problems, could only come up with half.
The teens’ bodies were found dead three days later. Bhatt had been beheaded.
Adults are also abducted in Nepal for the large sum of money kidnappers can earn for their return. In the past three years, kidnappers have made at least 200 million rupees, nearly $4.5 million USD, from ransoms, Singh says.
Attorney Raju Thapa says that abductors see kidnapping as a means to gain leverage over families after the abduction of many children during Nepal’s civil war, which ended in 2005. He says kidnappers learned this behavior from Maoist insurgents, who he says used to abduct children from their homes and force them to become soldiers.
“Everyone believes that with the help of power anything can be done in this country, and due to this reason, crime is increasing,” Thapa says.
While it has become common knowledge that abductions are increasing, police say underreporting makes it hard to stop this crime. Kidnappers routinely threaten to kill their abductees if the family reports the abduction to anyone.
“[Family] member[s] in fear of losing their children usually follow whatever the kidnappers say and will agree to pay ransom without informing the police,” Singh says.
Bhatt’s and Kapil’s families say they did not inform police about their children’s abductions. Bhatt’s father is even a policeman, but he says he didn’t report his son missing because the kidnapper said he’d kill his son if he did. The kidnapper killed the boy anyway.
“Even though the family did not report about the abduction, we found out later after finding [the dead] body of his son,” Binod Ghimire, a policeman, says.
But other children are never found, as police believe that several days after their abduction they are usually forced into the sex business, drug trafficking, or child labor in hotels and restaurants, or their organs are sold.
Singh says that if families inform police of abductions on time they guarantee that they can find their children. But some say that enforcement of abduction laws is weak and that sometimes corruption prevails.
Police say the majority of abductors are relatives or family friends who have access to and the trust of the families – not strangers.
“If it was not relatives or family friend[s], then it is not easy for them [to] get information and abduct the children,” Ghimire says.
Sanjay Diwaydi, Kapil’s father, says that his son’s kidnapper must have been familiar with their family and invited Kapil to ride somewhere.
“If he didn’t know him, then he would have never left home without informing us,” Diwaydi says.
Another mother, Mina G.C., says her neighbor abducted her 2-year-old son while he was playing in their garden. He was still breast feeding.
The neighbor told her and her husband that he would kill their toddler if they didn’t pay him 1 million rupees, $22,000 USD. Her husband, who is a tailor and doesn’t earn much money, told the kidnapper he would sell his kidney and use the money saved for the treatment of his wife, who has uterine complications, to pay the ransom. But police found the baby first, returned him to his parents and took the neighbor into custody.
In recent years, police have also noticed a rise in the use of technology used by abductors. Thapa says kidnappers try to elude police by using different phone numbers or registering numbers under different names.
Under Nepali law, kidnappers receive seven- to 15-year sentences in prison with bail ranging from 50,000 to 200,000 rupees, $1,100 to $4,400 USD, Thapa says. Kidnappers who murder their abductees are subject to life in prison. But Thapa says another reason that families don’t report the cases to the police is because they fear that kidnappers might retaliate after their release.
“Life in prison is the biggest punishment given to the criminal in Nepal,” Thapa says.
In 2009, a teacher, Birendra Pradhan, received life in prison for abducting a student, Kyathi Shrestha, after finding out that her family had saved 25 million rupees, $55,500 USD, for her to go to pilot school. He took her to his apartment, and she passed out after he drugged her coffee. He killed her, chopped her body into pieces and disposed of them in various locations, according to police reports.
Niraula says the death penalty should be given for brutal murders like this, but Nepal outlawed the death penalty for all crimes in 1997. Others say the solution is prevention and that the government needs to do more to reduce abductions in the first place.