NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Disasters resulting from climate change are pushing poor Indian families into poverty so deep that they are lured by traffickers into selling their children into bonded labour or prostitution, Nobel Peace Laureate Kailash Satyarthi said on Thursday.
"I have witnessed many incidents where the children became the worst victims of environmental disasters caused by climate change and these kind of things," Satyarthi told Reuters TV on the sidelines of a conference on climate change.
"It has resulted in displacement of the parents, and eventually the children are compelled to become child labourers or even child prostitutes or child slaves because they lose their traditional livelihood."
The latest report from the U.N. Panel on Climate Change predicts a rise in global temperatures of between 0.3 and 4.8 degrees Celsius (0.5 to 8.6 Fahrenheit) and a rise of up to 82 cm (32 inches) in sea levels by the late 21st century.
Scientists say India is likely to be hit hard by global warming. It is already one of the most disaster-prone nations in the world and many of its 1.2 billion people live in areas vulnerable to hazards such as floods, cyclones and droughts.
New weather patterns will not only affect agricultural output and food security, but also lead to water shortages and trigger outbreaks of water and mosquito-borne diseases such as diarrhoea and malaria in many developing nations.
Experts say post-disaster human trafficking has become common in South Asia as an increase in extreme events caused by global warming leave the already poor even more vulnerable.
The breakdown of social institutions in devastated areas creates difficulties in securing food and humanitarian supplies, leaving women and children vulnerable to kidnapping, sexual exploitation and trafficking.
Satyarthi said traffickers are increasingly preying on children after disasters such as the 2013 floods in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand and the yearly floods in eastern Bihar region.
"What has happened in Uttarakhand ... (and) also in case of Bihar in flood time, these situations become quite convenient for the traffickers to go and steal children from there," said the Indian child rights activist.
"So when we talk of children who are missing from those areas, they are not simply missing, they are being trafficked by the traffickers and slave masters."
Satyarthi's non-governmental organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) has been credited with freeing over 80,000 child labourers in India over 30 years.
Thousands of children, mostly from poor rural areas, are taken to cities every year by trafficking gangs who sell them into bonded labour or hire them out to unscrupulous employers, promising to send their parents their wages.
Many end up as domestic workers or labourers in brick kilns, roadside restaurants or small textile and embroidery workshops.
There are no official figures for the number of child workers in India. The 2014 Global Slavery Index says the country is home to more than 14 million victims of human trafficking.
Reporting by Nita Bhalla; Editing by Tim Pearce