Let the children playKids are being made to do hard work when they should be enjoying their childhood
I do not know if anyone has noticed the increase in child labour in the transportation sector after the earthquake. It is a serious concern, which needs to be addressed by organisations working in this field. The expertise of genuine experts is needed to solve this problem. It is sad to see children being forced to work in such a dangerous work environment.
Arjun the conductor
About two months ago, I met an innocent boy who was working as a conductor on a micro bus. His innocent eyes and honesty made me curious. I wanted to know more about him. He said his name was Arjun and that he had run away from home after being chased away by his parents. I did not question him further.
But I could not get Arjun out of my mind. I regretted not complaining to the authorities about a boy being made to work, I regretted not asking him if he wanted to return home, and I regretted not asking him if he wanted warm clothes. I was afraid that Arjun would soon be losing his honesty, be engulfed by the harsh work environment and soon be enjoying the smoke of cigarettes, the baggy jeans, the rough language, the rudeness and the life of a conductor!
After a week or so, to my surprise, I happened to get on Arjun’s bus again. He was still the same, just as innocent as before. Arjun noticed my presence and smiled back. Nothing melts the heart like the smile of a cute, innocent child. I asked him where he was from and who were there in his family. I wanted to ask more, but the crowded bus did not allow me to have a better conversation. Arjun was on my mind then too because I wanted to do something for him. So I noted down the bus number. I waited for Arjun’s bus to come to the bus stop so I could meet him. But Arjun was not in sight. Last week, I met him again. This time, he did not smile back at me. Yet, he still had his innocence. I heard something positive. Arjun was talking about returning home and going back to school. This made me happy.
This is only one instance. There are many more Arjuns who get trapped in a web of abuse and exploitation. There are thousands of them who come to the city with dreams, and do not realise that their childhood has been snatched away from them. Child labour is a widespread phenomenon in Nepal which has not declined despite the existence of laws that prohibit burdensome forms of child labour and the constant efforts of many governmental, nongovernmental and international organisations to protect children’s rights. Children have been kept in homes and deprived of education, health care and even the right to food. Every month, news reports about the abuse of domestic child labour at home appear in the newspapers and television channels. One major concern is the hazardous environment in which children work, but another more important concern is their abuse by the commercial sex industry, which is certainly one of the most brutal forms of violence against them. Though prostitution is illegal in Nepal, it is prevalent in urban areas; and many young girls are trafficked to brothels in the country and India.
Nepal’s Constitution has conferred certain fundamental rights on children to protect their interests and laid down certain directive principles and state policies. In addition, a number of laws contain important provisions for the protection of the interests of children and child labourers. As per Child Labour Act 1992, anybody employing an underage child can be jailed for up to three months. Employing children in dangerous work or against their will is punishable by up to one year in prison. The Child Labour Act was amended in 1999 to make it more abuse-specific, especially in relation to sexual abuse. The law prohibits children from being involved in the sale, distribution or trafficking of alcohol or drugs. Likewise, Nepal has ratified International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions 138 and 182 and other relevant conventions that have set the minimum age for children to work depending on the nature of the work.
However, these laws alone do not seem to be sufficient to address the complexities of the child labour situation in Nepal. It is high time the government paid attention to eliminating child labour.
A country where children are breadwinners will not have a better future. Children need to enjoy their childhood if we expect them to grow up healthily. With 3.14 million child workers between the ages of five and 17 years, and 38.8 percent of them involved in hazardous work, we can predict where the country will be in the next 15 years. According to the government’s child related indicators, 2.48 million out of the 3.14 million working children attend school. Looking at such a scenario, we have to question the working modality of development organisations, the government and each individual who wishes to see the country becoming developed in the days to come.
Koirala works as an External Relations Specialist for World Vision International, Nepal Earthquake Response Team