Unable to trust adults, rescued children end up back on the streetsWhile on the streets, children are often physically and sexually abused and end up addicted to drugs, which can cause them to relapse once rescued.
Eleven-year-old Shanker meticulously drew two lines on a blank sheet of paper before erasing them to start all over.
“I am trying to draw a house, like the ones that we can find in my village in Kavre,” said Shanker, before turning his attention back to his drawing.
It was the time for art and crafts at the drop-in centre for rescued children in Lubhu, where Shanker is living along with 33 other boys who were rescued from the streets of Kathmandu.
The boys, aged between 5 to 18, were on the balcony, soaking up the mild winter sun and drawing.
Four months ago, Shanker, whom the Post is identifying only by his first name as he is a minor, was rescued from the streets of Kalanki by the National Child Rights Council (NCRC), a governmental agency that deals with child rights, and was referred to the drop-in centre run by Voice of Children, an organisation that works to rehabilitate and reintegrate street children. However, after spending just a month at the centre, Shanker ran away, only to end up back on the streets.
Shanker was rescued again and referred to the same drop-in-centre a month ago, in January. Shanker said that he does not intend to run away this time.
“I will stay here,” said Shanker.
Although the Constitution of Nepal has enshrined children’s rights to life, education, health and proper care, and their rights against exploitation, a 2015 governmental report on child protection mapping conducted jointly by the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare and the Central Child Welfare Board estimated that around 469 children were living on the streets of Kathmandu, mostly begging for money.
Following the report, the Central Child Welfare Board had issued ‘Directives on Street Children Protection and Management,’ which outlined plans to work with non-governmental organisations to rescue street children and provide them with safe spaces for rehabilitation. Intervention programmes started in the Kathmandu Valley in 2016 while rescue programmes started in Dharan, Surkhet and Jhapa in 2019. Intervention programmes include rescuing, counselling, protecting and reintegrating street children into society.
According to the data recorded by NCRC, the council has rescued 1,338 children from the streets of Kathmandu since 2016. Most of these children were rescued with the help of Nepal Police, Kathmandu Children Search Coordination Centre, and various organisations working with street children, according to Ram Bahadur Chand, NCRC’s information officer.
After being rescued, the children are taken to the drop-in centres, where they spend three months before being transferred to socialisation centres. In socialisation centres, children are introduced to vocational training programmes and education for one year. Those children who are addicted to substance abuse are referred to Recovery Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centre for six months.
According to child rights organisations, rescuing children from the streets is a temporary stop-gap, and it is impossible to prevent children from ending up on the streets until the root causes of their problems are addressed.
According to Bimala Tiwari, field officer at CWIN Nepal, an NGO working with child rights, the primary reasons that children end up on the streets is a lack of love and affection from their family members, followed by poverty, disintegration of the family and peer pressure.
“About 90 percent of children who end up on the streets come from abusive, dysfunctional families where they have been emotionally separated from their parents,” said Tiwari.
Shanker too said that he ran away from home after being unable to tolerate physical and verbal abuse from his father and stepmother.
“My father married another woman after my mother eloped, leaving me and my siblings to suffer. I couldn’t take the beatings anymore so I decided to come to Kathmandu with some villagers,” said Shanker.
Krishna Kumar Thapa, executive director of Voice of Children, said that the majority of street children long for the love and affection that they have been deprived of from their families.
“We have also rescued children from wealthy families who had run away from their homes due to lack of love,” said Thapa.
Once they end up on the streets, children fall victim to a variety of abusive relationships—physically and sexually abused by adults or hooked on drugs, according to Thapa. This is why a majority of street children don’t trust adults, he said.
The 2015 government report found that sexual abuse was largely unreported among street children while a 2010 study conducted by CWIN showed that 75 percent of boys living on the streets had been victims of sexual abuse.
Even after being rescued from the streets, children relapse and run away from rehabilitation centres because they have problems building trust with their caretakers, said Thapa.
“They feel suffocated following rules and regulations since they have been on their own and free on the streets for a long time,” he said. Every month, at least two or three children run away from Voice of Children’s drop-in centre.
Government data from 2019 shows that there are currently 610 rescued street children in various drop-in centres, socialisation centres and drug rehabilitation centres. Fifty-one of these children have run away so far.
Many children also run away because they are addicted to various substances, especially cheap solvents that can be inhaled, according to Bijaya Shrestha, director at Child Protection Centers and Services (CPCS), an organisation that operates a drop-in centre in coordination with NCRC.
All street children have been exposed to substance abuse in one way or the other, said Shrestha.
According to Thapa, child rights organisations themselves are contributing to the existence of street children. As many organisations provide food, health check-ups and entertainment activities to children, which only encourages them to stay on the streets, said Thapa.
“Street children should get the message that the street is not their home but rather a dangerous place to live in,” said Chand of NCRC.
In addition to rehabilitation and reintegration, a long-term solution to prevent a relapse among street children is to provide them with an education or vocational training, say activists. Society at large also needs to change the way street kids are looked at.
“People are quick to refer to them as khate or as a disgrace to society,” said Thapa. “However, people tend to forget that they are just kids searching for love and acceptance.”