KATHMANDU, Aug 1: Five years ago, twelve years old Rina Dahal (name changed) of Dhading ran away from home and came to Kathmandu along with her friends. Though she used to work in a Thamel-based restaurant, she didn't earn enough to pay the rent of her room. This ultimately pushed her to the street life. The ill-treatment of the hotel owner and other staffs compelled her to quit her job.
As she had no income source, she often had to sleep on an empty stomach. Unlike her friends who at least had the money to pay rents and buy food. Following in the footsteps of her friends, she was lured into prostitution. According to most street kids, that is the last option left for most of them. She started buying food by selling her body.
Ramesh BK (name changed), 26, is a street man who was a bit better off than most of the street kids. He was pick-pocket who sometimes staged 'magic shows' to earn money. Rina and Ramesh met and fell in love with each other and decided to move in together in a rented room. After two years, fourteen years old Rina gave birth to a daughter.
Once, Rina had gone to her hometown on the occasion of the Teej festival. When she returned, she brought her twelve years old sister Seema (name changed) along with her as she was not happy with the kind of life that she was living in her village. Life was pretty much good for some time but things started to sour soon. As her sister started looking after daughter, Rina and her husband had to struggle for two square meals. Situations again landed Rina on the street and she began doing drugs and prostitution.
This badly affected her marital relationship. The couple often had disputes. As she always wanted to live a life of freedom, one day she left home and didn't return for months. At that time her younger sister did not just have to take care of her sister's daughter but also fulfill the sexual needs of her brother in-law who would often threaten to kill her if she refused his sex proposals. Few months later, thirteen years old Seema was impregnated by her own brother-in-law.
This is just a representative case of many such cases of the street. There are so many street girls who are not just experiencing early pregnancy and motherhood but are dealing with serious health problems due to the unhealthy lifestyle, underage pregnancy and abortions. Stillbirths and newborn deaths are very common on the streets. "They give birth to premature or unhealthy babies and even if they give birth to healthy ones, they are too young to take the responsibility of babies," said Chitra Poudel, program coordinator at Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), adding, "Due to which a lot of them go for abortions." This has been rising as a major health concern.
It has been around a year since the government launched a street children rescue, protection and management program. As per the records of CCWB, six pregnant girls aged 13 to 16 have been rescued under the program while many are out of contact. "We try our best to rescue them all but street life is so much happening for them that they feel trapped in organizations and rehabilitation centers and always run away from us," said Poudel.
Most of the street children are unaware of the effects of sexually transmitted diseases while some are still ignorant. Despite knowing that their partners or so called husbands or wives have HIV, they still have physical relationship with them. Recently, as a part of an interaction and awareness program, CCWB program coordinator Poudel interacted with some street guys. "I asked one of the guys why was he still living with a partner who had HIV and he replied that it's better to be mad than be dead. I was shocked,” Poudel said.
But there are many of them who are living such lives. As many as 26 HIV positive street children have been cremated by the Child Protection Centers and Services (CPCS) till now, as informed by Bijay Shrestha, chairperson of CPCS.
A survey conducted by CPCS in 2012 among 302 street children showed that they are quite vulnerable to sexual diseases.
In recent days, the stakeholders concerned say, underage pregnancy among the street children has been rising as a major health concern. However, not many are aware about it. This problem is becoming prevalent in the city areas especially on the streets of Thamel, Jyatha, Pashupati, Patan, etc.