How local governments can safeguard children’s rights

It is the duty of the local governments to create trustworthy and functional mechanisms so that children facing abuse can report incidents without fear.

Photo: Valmiki Foundation

Helina Rai

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Nepal’s constitution and other laws clearly mandate governments to safeguard children’s rights and ensure that they are safe. But these provisions are yet to be materialized in action.

In fact, the majority of the government actors seem to be unaware about their roles and responsibilities in terms of protection and promotion of child rights. This situation demands a clear action from the governments–local to federal–to ensure that child safeguarding is not compromised.

In Nepal, there are laws that oblige the government to take child protection measures. As per the Act Relating to Children (2018), local governments can formulate the procedures relating to the protection and promotions of child rights, set up a child fund, form a local child rights committees, and appoint child welfare officers to take care of children’s issues.

But the reality on the ground shows that the provision is not effectively implemented. Thus the government should come forward with a clear roadmap to implement the existing laws in order to keep the children in a safe environment.

Children at the local level face problems in the absence of credible mechanisms to protect and safeguard their rights. It is the duty of the local governments to make trustworthy functional mechanisms so that children facing abuse can report without any fear. The Child Rights Committee can be a crucial mechanism to ensure that children are safe at the local level.

Equally important, such mechanisms should be child-friendly. If a child-friendly environment is not guaranteed, local children cannot approach such a mechanism out of fear of isolation from the society and the family. Then the Child Rights Committee should not overlook the importance of confidentiality. Similarly, Child Welfare Officers should also carry out regular interaction with vulnerable children so that an environment of confidence will be created.

I personally feel that local government representatives are more focused on implementing infrastructure projects at the local level. They think that physical infrastructure projects such as roads, public buildings, and view towers will help them secure more votes in the next elections.

This mindset needs to be changed. Local representatives should make the locals aware about the importance of investing in children. In fact, children are the ones who will lead the society in the future. Children are equally important members of society. 

Needless to say, a child from Nepal’s rural part will be competing with a child from elite class. In this context, our local governments must include their empowerment initiatives in their program so that children will not only be familiar with their rights and protection issues, but also can be saved from any kind of violence and abuse.

To meet the requirements, local governments should rigorously plan their activities with regard to child protection and implement it accordingly. In the meantime, the governments must localize the context. For example, the issues that are important in Kathmandu may not be relevant in the far western region. In some parts, trafficking may be the most pressing issue, while prevalence of domestic violence can be a matter of greater concern in other parts of the country.

There are a lot of issues children should know to keep themselves safe. Local governments should identify such issues and carry out regular orientation programs to make children aware about situations where they can be unsafe.  Let us make a society where every child can protect herself/himself from any kind of possible harm and danger.

[Related: When will Nepal become a child-labor free country?

Helina Rai is a Kathmandu-based development communication professional. She can be reached at [email protected]