A few months ago, I wrote an article on the massive destruction in Nepal caused by an earthquake measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, which killed several thousand people and left over three million others displaced. In the aftermath of the April earthquake, over a million children were affected and are in urgent need of aid and assistance.
While the relief efforts are still underway, a major shift toward child protection is much needed due to the higher risks of trafficking and child labor.
Hundreds of children lost their houses and families and were forced to migrate to Kathmandu, the capital, in search of jobs. Several more have been easily lured by traffickers to leave their hometown and move to the city in hopes of a better future.
In June of 2015, a report from the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, mentioned that at least 245 children have been rescued from either being trafficked or illegally placed in children’s care homes. However, this is not the first time that the issue of child exploitation and child labor has surfaced in Nepal. Even prior to the earthquake, Nepal had made little progress in terms of protecting children’s rights.
In 2014, it was found that about 33.7 percent of the total children between the ages of 5 to 14 were involved in some form of labor. For centuries, children have been considered to be an important asset for family income in most Asian societies. They are usually considered as helping hands for agriculture and other family businesses.
Not only are children involved in agriculture, they are also involved in service and industries such as mining, working in kilns, weaving carpets, working as conductors (person in charge of collecting fares) in microvans and buses, or working in hotels and domestic households.
Some of them are also forced into the worst form of child labor: commercial sexual exploitation. Although child labor is illegal in Nepal, a staggering 2.1 million children between the age of 5 and 17 have been reported to be in the workforce. About 25 years into signing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), Nepal is still facing major challenges when it comes to protecting its children.
Amisha Lama, a resident of Kathmandu, often sees children working as conductors in the transportation sector on her journey to and from work every day. An 11-year-old microvan conductor, Kanccha Tamang (real name not disclosed for protection of identity), told Lama there are kids as young as nine working as conductors in the city. He further explained that they are not provided with housing facilities and many end up sleeping in the microvan or buses. Additionally, they work from 5 a.m. till 8 p.m. and are allowed to eat twice a day.
Lama said that it is pitiful to see child conductors working in the harsh winter as they have very little clothes on to keep themselves warm. Tamang told Global Young Voices that one of his friends died of pneumonia last year, while working as a child conductor.
Despite grim conditions, being a conductor is easy money for most kids, and they work in this field with the ambition to become a driver in the future. Most of those who end up working as child workers in the city are school dropouts and have no access to proper education. Some are forced to work, while others are lured to work by city life. Very few children who work as domestic helpers are given the opportunity to attend school by their employers.
However, most of the domestic helpers who have been forced to work due to kamlari (bonded labor in which the family sends off their son/daughter to work as a domestic helper for repayment of debt) have a hard time as they are forced to carry out every day household chores regardless of their age. There have been cases of abuse and ill-treatment, as well as suicides of domestic helpers in the city.
Growing up in Kathmandu, I have encountered numerous kids working in its streets. While I was fortunate enough to have been born in a family that could afford my education, many others my age were not as fortunate. Children are the future of a nation.
If almost half of the population of children are forced into labor and are not provided with the opportunity to access basic education, the future of my country doesn't seem so bright.
Child labor has been deeply integrated within the society, and because Nepal still lacks the resources and effective manpower to monitor illegal child labor practices, implementation of the National Master Plan on child Labor has been compromised.
In recent years, there have been a handful of organizations who have made a stride against child labor; however, there is still a long way to go for Nepal in order to fully implement child rights and have a brighter future.