At a time when a disproportionate share of state’s attention has gone into getting the political process right, understandably so in the middle of a transition, other vital areas are being overlooked. Sadly, this includes the upkeep of thousands of homeless children who are struggling to build their lives in the absence of family and social support. How dismal the situation is can be guessed by the sorry state of Nepal Children’s Organization (NOC), a non-governmental body which “focuses on child care and education for orphaned, abandoned and conflict affected children.” The 65 children housed at its Siphal chapter, one of 11 in the country, have been deprived of proper meals for the last three months. Shortage of funds has also hit their education hard. The center is struggling to meet the needs of school going children; it already owes more than Rs. 600,000 to various government schools in which the children are enrolled. For the time being, a monastery pays for their uniforms and foreign donors for their ties and belts.
Pretty much the same fate befalls all of the 411 children now living with NCO centers across Nepal. In the last three years, owing to severe financial crunch, the center has had to send back 300 children to their relatives, even though it was aware that the families might not be able to provide for the children. One would assume that NOC’s illustrious history of serving the poor and orphan children since 1964 would prompt the state to loosen its purse strings a wee bit. But that is clearly not the case. When NCO approached the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, they were sent back empty-handed “as the government has no policy of assisting NGOs.” Vital funds continue to trickle from foreign donors, but as the dismal state of NOC centers make it clear, they are nearly not enough. Another major income source was inter-country adoptions, which have been suspended following allegations of malpractice from childcare homes and rampant corruption in adoption process.
Interestingly, NCO used to receive grants from the erstwhile royal family, in addition to getting a regular government budget. But when monarchy was abolished in 2008, this income source has completely run dry. It is strange that following a democratic wave that swept aside centuries-old institution of autocratic monarchy, the country’s most needy citizens should be left to fend for themselves. Even considering the severe financial straits the country finds itself in—the massive CA election scheduled for Nov. 22, if it goes as planned, could alone cost the country billions of rupees—there is no getting around the fact that children, who cannot look after their own interests, should be among the first priorities of any democratic system. The level of commitment of NCO employees towards the children under their care is such that they are working without salaries for last nine months. In contrast, the level of the commitment of the state, the chief guardian of all citizens, leaves a lot to be desired.