What happens when you run up against the deep problems of life and the mystery, you find that they aren’t any easy answers. This week, I was again reminded that it only takes a small number of dedicated people to effect change. Regardless of the adversity that the children in this community face, they are committed to encouraging each other and to break this vicious cycle of relying on child labor practices as the only source of income. These families are often landless and marginal farm households and cannot afford to send their children to school. The irregularity of the parents’ employment often see the children’ labor as an additional or more stable income source for the family. Even when the children do attend school, they are still expected to contribute to the family’s income. The fellowship with BASE takes me different districts every other week, to the hardest places to reach in an effort to gain great insight of the causes of child labor practices. This community-based approach allows me to understand the factors that affect child labor recruitment and to formulate prevention strategies. Below are the stories of Amina and Dipak Chaudhary. I was caught off guard when I found out that they were siblings. Their last name is a common last name in the Tharu community.
Dipak Chaudhary is the oldest of four children, two sisters and two brothers. Dipak’s father died long time ago and the family is now being raised by their mother. At age 14, Dipak ran away from home to Kathmandu. His mother could not afford sending him to school and they do not own any land where he can at least work. For two years, he worked in Kathmandu in the carpentry business. His masters enrolled him in school, in Level 1 instead of Level 3. For two years, he was pushed back in his education and for his labor, he was paid a mere 5000rps ($71) a year. Most masters tend to enroll the child laborers in a lower grade because the enrollment fees are cheaper. When Dipak returned to his village for a visit, the Shanti Citizenship Child Club intervened and convinced him to stay and go to school. Dipak agreed to stay but later dropped out of school. He felt embarrassed that he was attending classes with students two years younger than him. Again, the child club came to his side and attempted to find an alternative than Kathmandu.
The work of the Shanti Citizenship Club should be admired. The current child club president, Ginesh Chaudhary along with the other members thought that Dipak could build up on the skills learned as a child laborer and utilize them to build a career. The club wrote a proposal to BASE asking for funds to cover Dipak’s apprenticeship program. His proposal was approved for 5000rps. Dipak is now a certified carpenter, earning 250rps ($3) a day. To put it into perspective, as a self-employed Dipak makes $93 a year, $22 more than he was earning as a child laborer. He helps his mother to provide for the family.
His sister, Amina Chaudhary is now sixteen years old. She was sent to work in Gorahi, a nearby village, at the age of five. However, she ran away after few months as the living conditions were intolerable. Upon her return, her mother sent her to another landlord. Amina worked from 6am to midnight every day cleaning the dishes, washing clothes and taking care of the landlord’s children. In addition, Amina, who was six at that time, took care of the landlord’s one-year old by feeding and bathing her daily. She spent three years at the house until she was rescued by BASE in partnership with Friends of Needy Children (FCN). Her rescue came at a time when FCN was starting to provide financial help to children, those at risk of becoming child laborers. For now Amina is in school, after spending six years of her life as a child laborer and not attending school. However, she also goes to work to the same landlord every weekend along with her mother. Their double income along with Dipak’s carpentry position allow them to live comfortably.
So, yes.., there are no easy answers. For now, these stories illustrate the courage of a child club. It took 22 members of the child club and $71 to save Dipak and to encourage him to use his skills to advance his career. They helped him realize that he was capable of more and that he can use his skills to pursue a profession that will generate an income for his family. Ginesh and the club members I met are incrementally saving children from exploitation. The feeling of hopelessness that overcomes me is often due to my inclination of looking at the problem as a big and almost impossible one to tackle. However, I cannot succumb to pessimism, as I believe my reaction would be a dismissal of the time and resources that these children put in to saving each other from exploitation.
Posted By Chantal Uwizera
Posted Aug 7th, 2011