The risk that children in earthquake-hit Nepal will be trafficked to India to work as sex slaves and cheap labour is higher now than when the first quake struck in April, UNICEF officials have warn.
Hundreds of thousands of families lost their homes after two earthquakes struck on April 25 and May 12, killing some 8,800 people and raising concerns among rights groups that trafficking rings in the region would take advantage of the chaos.
Families may also be more easily convinced to send their children to orphanages in Nepal, putting them at risk of poorly-regulated adoption, exploitation and abuse, the international body added.
Some 15,000 children lived in child care homes in Nepal prior to the first earthquake, yet more than eight in 10 of them had at least one living parent.
"Loss of livelihoods and worsening living conditions has allow traffickers to easily convince parents to give their children up for what they are made to believe will be a better life," said UNICEF Nepal Representative Tomoo Hozumi.
UNICEF said it was working with the police at 84 checkpoints and police stations across Nepal, and with local organisations to create transit centres for trafficking victims and establish interception points along the borders with India and China.
Nepal last month banned children under 16 from travelling without parents or approved guardians in an unprecedented move to deter human traffickers, and suspended international adoption to prevent children with living parents from being adopted.
The children rescued to date had been travelling with strangers who did not have an authorisation letter from the authorities, according to Radhika Aryal, an official at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare in Nepal.
"We will send back all children to their parents or families as far as possible," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"The children can be taken to child care homes only if the families are unable to take care of them or parents cannot be traced... this (child care homes) is only a last resort."
Some 40 national and international agencies that recruit volunteers for orphanages in Nepal have been encouraged to discontinue their volunteering programmes, and eight have already suspended their schemes, according to UNICEF.
"In some cases children are deliberately separated from their families and placed in orphanages so they can be used to attract adoptive families, fee-paying volunteers and donors," Hozumi said in a statement.
Nepal has banned children from travelling without parents or approved guardians in an unprecedented move to deter human traffickers who authorities fear are targeting vulnerable families after last month's devastating earthquake.