Get them out of thereIt is vital to address the root cause behind why children are forced to languish in shady care homes.
Many children from remote Nepal—driven by poverty, social exclusion and lack of quality education—are obliged to live in foster/children’s homes scattered throughout the country. A recent report by the Post revealed that children from Karnali residing in such homes in the national capital as well as some other big cities were victims of frauds who had cajoled their families into giving them up by promising them they would get care, food and education. In many cases, the owners of foster homes didn’t even feed the children properly, let alone send them to school.
These children are often exploited, forced to beg and even subjected to harsh labour. They have also become victims of body transplants and child trafficking. Maiti Nepal rescued 627 children from Karnali at the Rupaidiha border in Banke in this fiscal year alone. These activities not only constitute serious crimes but also violate the rights of children to grow up in their families and have access to education, health care and protection as guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Orphanages should be the last resort for children’s care. International organisations like Save the Children working on children’s rights advocate for family-based care to keep children out of harmful institutions. The UN is lobbying to end the institutionalisation of children globally, and Nepal has also made various provisions for children in line with the UNCRC. However, according to UNICEF, in 2021, around 2.9 million children lived in care institutions worldwide. In Nepal, as per the 2016 report of the National Child Rights Council, there are 566 registered child welfare homes/children’s homes in 45 districts housing 16,529 children. The number could be more, owing to a chronic lack of data and information.
Research shows that children without parental care suffer lifelong physical and psychological harm. The institutionalisation of children in foster and unregulated care homes is a crisis that must be immediately addressed. Children can never realise their full potential when they are twice removed from care: Once from their parents and again from the institutions. Most of the time, even after being rescued from one institution, they are placed in another.
As children languish in such institutions, it is vital to address the root cause why they are obliged to live in them. The government should create opportunities for parents so that they can feed, clothe and educate their children on their own. This could prevent them from sending their children to care homes and stop their further exploitation and neglect.
Additionally, as arranged by Section 44 of the Children Act 1992, child welfare homes, orphanages and foster homes should be closely inspected, monitored and held accountable. There are international guidelines for alternative care for children which state that “where the child’s own family is unable… the State is responsible for protecting the child’s rights and ensuring appropriate alternative care…”. However, due to poor implementation of laws, childcare is not regulated, leading anyone to set up an institution as a business, with 90 percent of orphanages in Nepal receiving funds solely from outside the country. There have been calls in Parliament to close shady institutions seeking profit and have the government take care of the children. The intent to protect children is there; what is missing is the action.