The pandemic has further increased Nepali children’s vulnerability to forced labor and trafficking

In a recent incident, a total of 12 Nepali children who left for work to India after pandemic canceled classes were rescued by human rights organizations.

Rhishav Sapkota

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: On October 2, a total of 12 children aged between 13 and 17 who were rescued from Mumbai and brought to Kathmandu met with their families. The children had left for Mumbai from their respective homes in Rautahat, Sarlahi, and Mahottari districts, looking for jobs after the Covid-19 pandemic left them without schools to attend. The children got stuck in derelict conditions in different parts of Mumbai until a group of organizations in Mumbai worked together to rescue and rehabilitate them.

On the other side of the border, in Nepal, the National Child Rights Council took up the mantle to reconcile the children with their families. Namuna Bhusal, head of the Child Protection Department at the National Child Rights Council, informed Nepal Live Today about the situation. “Few Mumbai-based organizations working for the welfare of children notified us about the case,” she said. “We received them after they arrived in Nepal, located their families, and coordinated with the local law enforcement agencies to reconcile them with their families.”

Of the 12 children, 10 were from Rautahat, 1 from Sarlahi, and 1 from Mahottari, Bhusal confirmed. Most of the parents hadn’t lodged a complaint regarding the disappearance of their children. “All of the children were from a poor background,” Bhusal added. “They didn’t have adequate resources to join online classes. When children like them didn’t get to go to school owing to the pandemic they chose to try to earn money instead.”

According to Bhusal, the Council doesn’t yet have any completed research on the effects of the pandemic on children from a poor economic background, one of which is the shift of children towards child labor. Bhusal said that the Council is currently carrying out research on the subject.

Child labor and trafficking, however, are not new phenomenons in Nepal. The National Human Rights Council in 2019 released a report that estimated that nearly 35,000 Nepali citizens—5000 of whom are children—were trafficked every year.

Gauri Pradhan, Child Rights Defender and former Commissioner for the National Human Rights Council, said that, for Nepali society, child labor is a vicious cycle. “Poverty forces children into child labor while child labor also forces families into poverty because it reduces their net income and bargaining power,” he said.

Pradhan explained that there were two kinds of child labor prevalent in Nepal, in the organized and unorganized sectors. He further added that except in brick kilns, child labor has drastically decreased in Nepal. Pradhan, however, professes ignorance about whether these rescued children have joined schools and are out of the labor market, or have joined the informal unorganized labor market.

“We’ve seen a gradual decrease of children below 14 years of age being used for their labor in the informal sector but we’re still seeing an increase in children between 14 and 17 active in the labor market,” Pradhan said.

In Save the Children’s 2019 End of Childhood Index, Nepal ranked 134 while India ranked 113. The index took account of eight indicators, including child health, education, labor, marriage, childbirth and violence.

The government recently prepared an Action Plan to help implement the 10-year masterplan to abolish worst form of child labor in Nepal by 2028. However, there is a lot of work to be done to implement this policy, Pradhan says.

“India has the largest number of child laborers in the world. As Nepal shares an open border with India, most children who end up in the clutches of child labor end up there,” Pradhan said. “Except in brick kilns, where children from India arrive in flocks in certain seasons, it is generally Nepali children who go to the other side.”

He also added that certain children go to India to work with middlemen posing as their guardians. “Nepal has vowed to end child labor in its policies, and its international and national commitments are also along the same lines,” he said. 

The government recently prepared an Action Plan to help implement the 10-year master plan to abolish the worst form of child labor in Nepal by 2028. However, there is a lot of work to be done to implement this policy, Pradhan says. He explained that general child labor takes place when children are forced to work while also attending school and live with their parents; whereas, the worst form of child labor is when children are made to work without letting them attend school and providing them other basic amenities of life.

 The National Human Rights Council in 2019 released a report that estimated that nearly 35,000 Nepali citizens—5000 of whom are children—were trafficked every year.

Bhusal, the department head for Child Protection at National Child Rights Council, and Pradhan, the child rights defender, both agree that coordination between local level governments and the federal government is a must when it comes to solving a perpetual problem like child labor in Nepal. “The previous arrangement where there used to be Child Welfare Boards in the federal and district levels should be effectively replaced by proper arrangements in the local level government,” Pradhan said, urging that anyone who suspects that children have been trafficked for labor and other purposes to contact the helpline 104 at the Children Search Coordination Centre.

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