A story of homelessness and battle for citizenship

Once a homeless kid, Rajesh has found home and has his own family but the battle for citizenship for himself and his kids is taking a toll on his hope, positivity and confidence.

Anjali Subedi

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: His two boys Pratik and Rijish do not have a birth certificate. Neither his wife nor he has any, robbing the couple of citizenship certificates as well. “We’re stateless, kids don’t have birth certificates, we don’t have citizenship certificates,” says Rajesh Thakuri in a faint, nervous voice.

His story is heart wrenching. Kathmandu streets know him the best than any human. The streets of Thamel have seen him live and grow. He smiled, cried, begged, and sometimes even stole stuff for survival in the cold pavements during his childhood. When people chased him away, he took shelter around Mahankal and at times, Basantapur. “There were a few other boys, but today we’re not in touch,” he sounds nostalgic though the days were cruel. “We’d not trust elders even though some people or organizations would try to give us a helping hand.” 

It was around a decade and a half ago. Children abandoned by their family or turned homeless for other reasons would often take refuge in streets and live an unprotected life. While Kathmanduities commonly called them ‘Khate’, such boys (sometimes even girls) would be seen hooked to many wrong habits including sniffing plastics (drug) around the main streets of the capital. 

Organizations would sometimes arrive to take them ‘home’. But bringing the kids’ life to track wasn’t easy. While the free, anarchic lifestyle they ‘enjoyed’ back in the streets would make them unwilling to be regulated, coming across empathetic staff or management was also rare for the kids. 

Rajesh has lived through all this. 

He knows both ‘good people and bad people’ in shelter homes and in neighborhoods. “Street child means, everyone judges us and nobody trusts us. Even our trivial mistakes draw their intense hatred.”

There are many sub-plots in his story, which subtly expose different dimensions of the city, people and the authority. Rajesh calls it a city of cruel hearts.

Trials and troubles 

Unknown of his own exact age and birth place, his memory tells him that his mother was a gentle lady and father, a ruthless drunkard. The family, reeling under extreme poverty, used to live in a hut in the Balkhu area near Ring Road. Life turned worse for him when the mother one day eloped with someone else. 

“We were three boys and I was the youngest. In her absence, father would thrash and beat us even more.  My brothers decided to leave, they took me along. They already knew how to collect sellable iron wastes from garbage and we got into the job instantly,” he recalled. 

But on the very first day of leaving home, Rajesh and his brother lost the middle one to an unknown factor. According to him, they were all picking wastes in a garbage site around Balkhu and the brother simply went missing. Rajesh is still clueless of what happened to his brother that day and whether he’s still alive. 

Rajesh’s eldest brother also disappeared the same evening. This happened in Ratnapark area where the two had reached just strolling, wandering and collecting wastes. “In the very crowded junction, a man came around, asked my brother if he wanted to be a bus conductor, they talked for a while and then he was gone.” 

It feels like a movie scene when Rajesh paints the picture of those blurry days of his life. His family members disappeared from his eyes, one by one. He was just around 7 or 8 (not sure) when he was all alone in Ratnapark that day. 

A couple who used to sell stuff in the streets took him home, ‘to raise as a son’ (this was from where he stole the surname ‘Thakuri’). But the new found family soon forsook him over some allegations. He came across shelter homes as well. But the association wouldn’t last long. Rajesh’s life landed in streets on and off.  

Battle for citizenship 

Today, he’s an adult seemingly in his mid-20s, blessed with a wife and two children. Now he feels there’s a purpose in life. But statelessness gives pain and hassles at every step and he fears his kids would be stateless too. The nightmare has taken a toll on his fighting spirit, positivity and confidence. 

“My wife comes from a similar background as mine. She loved me and life became different. We want to work hard and ensure a bright future for our children, but without citizenship we see our hard found happiness crumbling,” said the young man, who works as a security guard for a school in Kathmandu.  

Half a dozen girls and boys were listening to the story with a heavy heart when Rajesh was narrating it at a tiny hall of a child centric organization called Sath-Sath last month. The youths could fully relate to the sagas as they were from the streets too. ‘What if the country doesn’t provide them citizenship under whatever pretense?’ The fear was common. 

The constitution of Nepal doesn’t deprive homeless children of birth certificates and citizenships. But it’s not easy for everyone, according to Kabita Rajya Shah, Resource Executive of Sath Sath, arguably the only organization that works for helping make legal documents for homeless children. As per its record, Sath-Sath has come in connection with 540 cases of such children so far. Citizenship of 174 of them have been obtained while there is no trace of document regarding 143 children.

“Talking about Rajesh, we did see him when he was just around 8 years old, and in between. Even others here are not unknown to us,” said Kabita. “But since they didn’t grow up in any child protection center, they’ve no documents.” 

The management of homeless kids and coordination between the government and the child care centers have become better with time, according to Kabita. “We see fewer kids in the streets these days. The rescue process is more effective. But earlier, there were many and most of them have become adults now. Neither the government nor other institutions have exact data of this group,” she marked. 

Meanwhile, the National Children Rights Committee (NCRC) stated that they cannot help Rajesh and his likes. “We are responsible for those below 18 years of age,” NCRC information officer Ram Bahadur Chand said. 

In the government’s record, there are no homeless kids in Nepal as ‘they are immediately handed over either to family or child care centers’. In the last 16 years, the National Center for Children at Risk (Balbalika Khoj Talash Kendra) which has its branch offices across the country except in Mustang district, handed over around 4500 children back to their family and nearly 1500 children have been sent to child care homes, according to Chand. 

Meanwhile, Rajesh, who dreams to go to a Gulf country and work hard for ‘better future of family’ has sent his elder son, aged 8, to a boarding school run by a Christian missionary after they excused his birth certificate and even school fees. Another child goes to a school nearby home in Hattiban, Lalitpur, which expects the parents to produce his birth certificate without a delay.

Anjali Subedi is a Kathmandu based freelance journalist for climate action, human rights and social justice.