KATHMANDU, Oct 11: The state of the girl child in Nepal is bleak. While the urban girl child has her share of problems, the problems of girls in smaller towns and remote areas of the country are of an entirely different matter.
Leela Gautam, Rama Khadga and Ranjana Karki from Kathmandu, Ram Kumari Chaudhary from Kailali, Sita Chaudhary from Banke and Ishwori Pyakurel from Nuwakot sit in a semi circle on the floor at Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) office. Most of them have experiences of working to support themselves as domestic help. All of them know the dangers and problems in their working world.
Leela Gautam is studying in class 9 at Shivapuri Higher Secondary School, Maharajgunj. She worked as domestic help for six months in Sundhara, Kathmandu, for Rs 1,000 every month. Yet she never saw any of her promised salary. “I was told that my parents had received my pay. But when I went home during Dashain, it turned out that they had never collected it. My employers refused to pay me, so I quit,” she says.
It was not the only problem she faced. During winter, there was no warm water to work with, meals were not provided on time, and she wasn’t informed of her parent’s visits.
Kamlari (bonded labor) is a long tradition that continues to the present day. Children from nine to 16 years in age are put as domestic help. The maximum they are paid is Rs 1,000 per month, and a Kamlari is given little or no holiday at all.
Sita Chaudhary, 16, from Baijapur in Banke District, says, “Most of us in my village work as Mukta Kamlaris (freed laborers). My employers in Nepalgunj promised that I would be sent to school but I had to look after the children in the house and I never got the opportunity.”
When she asked to be sent to school, they told her that she would be taught at home. “But the aunty said that it was enough that I know how to write my name,” she states. She recounts the time when her employers threatened to send her to jail if the children fell ill.
According to CWIN, most household chores and childrearing activities are the responsibility of girls. Girls aged between 10-14 years work double compared to boys in the same age group.
Yet, when it comes to getting paid for the work they do, the low salary of Rs 1,000 or even Rs 300 per month is not easy to wrestle out of the hands of the employers.
When she was six years old, Ranjana Karki went to work for a family in Koteshwor. She stayed for five years, suffering from verbal, physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her employers. Her father, who remarried after the death of her mother, never came to visit her. She never received pay for her work.
After she started work with another family, she attended classes at Shiksha Nepal. However, when the abuse started again, she told a friend who brought in help from Saathi Shelter. “I was rescued by Saathi Shelter and now for the past four years, I’ve been staying with them,” she shares.
Ranjana had no friends before she started classes at Shiksha Nepal. Hence, she could never tell anyone of the abuse she was undergoing.
Ram Kumari Chaudhary, 18, studies in class 12 at Shree Khadga Smriti Higher Secondary School in Tikapur, Kailali. The calm, quiet girl never worked as a Kamlari though she says that it is almost a traditional way of life for Tharus. “Though it has reduced to some extent, the problem is still remains,” she says.
As Chairman of Pariwartan Kamlari Pratha Unmulan Club, she participates in door to door awareness programs, group discussions and even goes to rescue many Kamlaris. As many as 13 young girls have been rescued by the Club.
Of the rescued, those willing to go to school are taken to the organization called Mukta Kamaiya Mahila, which passes their names to the district office. They are then able to attend school.
A girl working as a Kamlari never gets the pay she deserves. She is overworked yet beaten up because her employers accuse her of not working enough. In many instances, there have been rapes and even murders. “In Dhangadi, an employer raped his Kamlari and hanged her. It was passed as suicide. There was nothing her family could do,” states Ram Kumari.
From L to R: Leela Gautam, Ranjana Karki, Ishworki Pyakurel, Rama Khadga, Sita Chaudhary and Ram Kumari Chaudhary.
The girls have many expectations from the government. Foremost is their desire that scholarships be provided for the economically weak. Education is very important; they are unanimous in their belief. They tick more things off their own lists:
Ram Kumari wants that the government strictly prohibit bonded labor.
Ishwori thinks that only those children who can work should be hired, and then too, only given light work.
Leela asks that the government open hostels for orphans and handicapped children.
Rama says, “The government should take full responsibility to provide for every child’s food, shelter and clothing.”
Further, Ram Kumari says that putting across a law banning bonded labor is not enough. An alternative should be available to the Kamlaris. Vocational training or skill development training should be made available by the government instead of the organizations. “This way, a girl can always make a living and won’t have to return to being a child laborer,” she says.
All of them are studying and have plans of their own. Rama, 17, wants to study to be a nurse after she finishes her +2 exams. Social work is the calling for Ranjana, Sita, Ishwori and Ram Kumari. And Leela, 16, has decided to be a tourist guide. “Of course, I will also be involved in social work,” she says.
• 23.1% of the total population constitutes adolescents (aged 10–19). (2010)
• 10% male and 32% female adolescents aged 15-19 are currently married or in union. (2000-2010)
• 23% women aged 20-24 gave birth before the age of 18. (2000–2010)
• There are a total of 106 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. (2000-2010)
• The youth literacy rate of those aged 15–24 years is 87% for males and 77% for females. (2005–2010)
• A net attendance ratio of 82% for females and 86% for males can be found in primary schools (2005–2010) while for secondary schools, it’s 38% for females and 46% for males.
• 38% females and 30% males are engaged in child labor in Nepal. (2000–2010)
• 10% are married by the age of 15 while 51% are married by the age of 18. (2000–2010*)
Lessons in dealing with peer pressure
Children Workers in Nepal (CWIN) conducted a three-day training of young girls prior to the celebration of the International Day of the Girl Child. Held from October 8 to 10, the training, Life Skill Based Risk Reduction Training, focused on peer pressure and HIV.
Sharada Rijal, Gender Officer at CWIN, said, “At present, one of the most pressing problems faced by the girl child is peer pressure. During the course of the training, we tried to teach them to be aware of the dangers that can arise from it.
From getting influenced to fights, cutting class, or being pressurized into child marriage or even lying, the problems are many. We teach them how to say no, to refuse getting into bad company.”
Why International Day of the Girl Child?
On December 19, 2011, the UN General Assembly declared October 11 as International Day of the Girl Child as a way to recognize the human rights of girls and the challenges they face around the world. This year, for its first observance, the Day will focus on child marriage, a fundamental human rights violation that impacts all aspects of a girl’s life.
Content Courtesy: UN
The theme for the first-ever observance of the Day will be “Ending Child Marriage,” chosen because child marriage is a phenomenon that violates millions of girls’ rights, disrupts their education, jeopardizes their health, and denies them their childhood, limiting their opportunities and impacting all aspects of a girl’s life.
Content Courtesy: UN
What, according to you, should be done to lessen problems of the girl child?
When we go around our villages telling people about the consequences of child marriage and other problems of a girl child, they usually push us away saying that small ones should be playing and having fun, not teaching adults. This mentality has to change. There should be campaigns to teach adults about our problems.
Sarita BK, 16, Argakhachi
The National Action Plan that is to be drafted for our benefit, should benefit us and not others. When it comes out, it should be implemented and not just stacked somewhere. Issues of child marriage, untouchability, child and bonded labor, equal rights to girls among other issues discussed should be dealt with.
Rojina Khatun, 15, Makwanpur
When VDC Chiefs and teachers are allotted places by the respective authorites, they should be trained about various problems and how to deal with it. One of the problems should be that of adolescents and girl child. This way, they can take prompt decisions and help lessen the issues, especially of adolescents and girl child..
Seema Chaudhary, 18, Kailali
Once the National Action Plan comes out, the people should know about it, most importantly and it will automatically work. Populations in remote places have no clue what is happening and what action plans have been created. People need to be aware of it; hence, I think there should be campaigns which alerts people about it.
Pawan Kumari Mahara, 17, Siraha