By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Police in Nepal have charged an American man of luring boys from villages and taking them to the capital for sex, an official said on Monday, amid concerns that last year's devastating earthquakes have caused a spike in human trafficking.
The Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) official said Kenneth Joseph Coombs, 48, was arrested on Friday at a hotel in Thamel, a popular tourist district in Kathmandu, where eight boys aged between 12 and 16 were with him.
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Nawaraj Silwal, CBI Deputy Inspector General, said police rescued the children from a hotel in the center of the city after their parents reported them as missing.
"He (Coombs) has been charged with child sex abuse and a court has remanded him to police custody," Silwal told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "He would force (the children) to do everything a pedophile does."
A Nepali associate was also arrested and charged under similar crimes, said police, who seized a laptop, camera and mobile phone at the scene.
Child welfare officials they were not surprised by the arrests as there has been a surge in human trafficking cases following devastating earthquakes in April and May last year that killed almost 9,000 people in the Himalayan nation.
Silwal said Coombs and his Nepali associate had allegedly lured the children from impoverished villages around Kathmandu with the promise of good jobs, clothes and food, but instead they were enslaved, exploited and raped.
Lawyers representing the two men were not immediately available for comment. An official at the U.S. Embassy said the embassy could provide details due to issues related to privacy.
Coombs, described as an app developer from Illinois, was a frequent visitor to Nepal, said Silwal.
Last year's earthquakes left hundreds of thousands of families homeless and raised concerns among rights groups that trafficking rings would take advantage of the vulnerable.
Nepali officials say more than 40,000 children either lost their parents, were injured, or were placed in a precarious situation following the disaster.
"There were increased incidences of trafficking in children after the earthquake last year, but we do not know many cases of sexual abuse like this," said Tarak Dhital, head of the government's Central Child Welfare Board.
"Disasters like earthquakes make children vulnerable to such crimes. We have to be alert against this."
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma, Editing by Nita Bhalla and Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)