After learning about the role the Chief District Officer (CDO) plays when it comes to child labor in the district during my visit with Society Welfare Association Nepal (SWAN), I decided to pay the CDO of Dang district a visit. The CDO is the highest-level government official in a district, similar to a state’s governor in the USA, and it is his/her duty to monitor for cases of child labor, organize raid and rescue missions when child laborers are discovered and hold people who violate child labor laws within the district accountable under the child labor laws. Unfortunately, according to SWAN, the CDO often falls short of fulfilling these particular aspects of the job description.
Rabi Lal Panth, CDO of Dang, had been appointed as the CDO approximately two months prior to my meeting with him. There is no set term in office for CDOs, some serve only one or two months at their post, others two or three years at their discretion. Among their duties the CDO chairs a committee whose sole duty is to monitor the district for child laborers and organize raid and rescue missions if there are any reports of child labor in the district. The committee is composed of members of the district government and heads of NGOs in the district, like SWAN, which also deal with child labor. According to the CDO however, there is no budget available for this committee so they haven’t held meetings for at least six months. Despite the lack of monitoring within the district on behalf of the government the CDO insists there are no child laborers in Dang, a claim, which I have seen with my own eyes, that is blatantly false.
Rabi Lal Panth, Dang district CDO
The CDO bases this bold claim on the fact that in February of this year the previous CDO organized a raid and rescue after being presented with evidence of child labor by SWAN and Friends of Needy Children (FNC – another NGO based in Kathmandu that helps child laborers). The only time the CDO takes action on violations of the child labor laws is when a NGOs or prominent individuals present them with evidence of violations. This is a serious flaw in the way child labor laws are implemented leaving many vulnerable children unprotected as unfortunately the NGOs I’ve spoken with so far have limited budgets and cannot possibly monitor all districts on behalf of the absentee government officials.
Case files of the 19 rescued children during February’s raid and rescue.
During the raid in February nineteen child laborers were rescued and removed from their employers homes. The CDO then set a date and time for each of the perpetrators to appear at the CDOs office to have their case heard and punishment decided by the CDO. According to Nepal’s child labor laws violations of the child labor law must be reported to the Labor Office, or in areas without a Labor Office to the CDO, instead of going to court. Cases involving child labor only go to court if either party is dissatisfied with the CDO’s ruling or if there is an additional law(s) being violated, such as the child was physically or sexually abused by their employer. In the case of the latter the case will be tried as an assault or rape case in the court and not also as a child labor case. The CDO assures me the system is set up this way to benefit the child as court cases are quite lengthy and they don’t want the child to suffer any further.
The extant child labor laws in Nepal require that first time offenders pay a fine of 1,000 – 50,000 Rupees and/or imprisonment for 15 days – 1 year depending on the severity of the case and repeat offenders will have their punishments doubled for each subsequent offense. In this particular case each of the nineteen people found to be employing child laborers were first time offenders and fined 2,500 – 3,000 Rupees (approximately $25 – 30 USD), a small amount to wealthy landowners, and sign an agreement promising they will never employ children ever again. The CDO was quite proud of this raid, though it seems like yet another example of how the government isn’t doing its part to adequately protect vulnerable children and allowing those who violate the child labor laws to escape with just a slap on the wrist. When I asked how the CDO handles cases of repeat offenders the CDO assured me that there had not been any recidivism within the district as those who are caught employing children are so ashamed by what they’ve done that they will never do it again, to me at least this was a bit hard to swallow.
Photo above is a news clipping of the rescued children from the February raid on display in the CDO’s office. As you can see from the photo below there remains a lot of room for further action.
Though this meeting with the CDO was a bit disheartening, witnessing the inefficient/insufficient way the government is implementing child labor laws, I tried to take heart in the fact that at least 19 child laborers were rescued. It is unclear however if these children received any support from the government after they were rescued or if they were simply returned to their families and the same circumstances that led them to seek employment in the first place. I’ve heard too many stories during my time here of children rescued by the government or various NGOs who return to work after they’ve been rescued, as their families are too poor to take care of them. Without adequate support for these children they are doomed to return to work and continue to be exploited.
This is truly a daunting and complex issue that will require a comprehensive approach to tackle. As I learn more about this issue and context here in Nepal I hope to gain a better understanding of what exactly that might entail and how BASE can most effectively continue their efforts to end child labor going forward.
Posted By Emily MacDonald
Posted Jul 30th, 2013