The first time I saw K, she was standing outside the tea shop where she works. She was looking at a little puppy walking about and sniffing the ground. I pointed to the pup and then back to her, asking if it was hers. She didn’t say anything, smiled shyly, and then walked back into the tea shop. For a girl around ten years old, I didn’t understand why she wasn’t in school in the middle of the day.
Our office receives its daily rounds of tea from this shop. Today, K brought up tin cups of boiling hot tea on a tray. With help from one of the workers at COCAP, I talked with her. K is from a village outside Kathmandu. She doesn’t know her age. She had stopped going to school at level four (approximately third or fourth grade in the US). At that, she quickly left to distribute the rest of the tin cups around the office.
K’s situation is not unique in Kathmandu. According to a 1996 ILO statistic, nearly 42% of all children between the ages of five and 14 regularly work in Nepal. Within shops, restaurants, tea shops, and even on buses collecting fares, there are children as young as nine or ten (in my approximation) working. As a foreigner, as a tourist and as a person with a soft spot for kids, this is sometimes difficult to watch. But is this some kind of Western notion that all children should be in school?
Nepal ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, and even enacted several national laws – namely, the Children’s Act in 1992, the Labour Act in 1992, the Labour Rules in 1993, and the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act in 1999. These explicitly stipulate provisions against child labor. The Children’s Act specifically mentions that no child under the age of 14 should be employed as a laborer.
Since 1975 there has been free primary education in Nepal. However, with the education system in shambles, particularly in the rural regions, public education is hardly comparable to what’s offered in the private schools. The conflict Nepal has faced the past decade has caused spending on education (along with other development activities) to be, as one Nepali journalist commented, “collateral damage from the insurgency.”
But the reality is, there is little alternative for a poor family. Private school fees are out of the question, and the work a child performs may bring in enough to feed them for the day. With the rampant unemployment in Nepal (around 47% nationally) education isn’t a guarantee of the future either. Additionally, what’s the incentive for the Government to curb child labor? It is approximated that child labor contributes 6% to the national GDP (CONCERN-Nepal statistic).
But there is also a second reality that children are the future of Nepal. As contrived as it may sound, investment in them in terms of rights protection and education is paramount to continue to build on a new democratic Nepal. With the political transitions Nepal is facing, these facts should not be forgotten.
Posted By Lori Tornoe Mizuno (Nepal)
Posted Jul 5th, 2006