I’ve been in Nepal for two and a half weeks now and am getting used to my new surroundings; the monsoon rains, pervasive dust and soot, cars driving on the left side of the road, and constant power cuts. There are other things however, that I hope never to grow accustomed to, like exploitative child labor. I see them everywhere I go in Nepal, children hard at work. But one question keeps popping up in my mind; are these children helping out their families doing chores, or forced child laborers?
Like some of the previous Peace Fellows, I find myself struggling with the concept of child labor in Nepal. What exactly constitutes child labor? Those who benefit from child labor might argue that it is necessary for a child to work in order to pay for their school fees or help buy food for their families. As someone who started working fairly young, at age 14, I can see how there may be some validity to this argument. However, this cannot be applied to all cases, especially when children are transported far away from their families to work in distant towns or cities, where they are extremely vulnerable to physical and sexual abuse. Where is the line between a child working in order to support their family and help prevent them from falling into absolute poverty, and a child being exploited by being forced to work?
I’ve been trying to imagine some of the children I’ve seen here in a different context. Imagine passing a construction site in America and seeing a twelve-year-old hauling heavy cement sacks on their head, a six-year-old girl scrubbing floors, or a ten year old covered in grease working under the hood at a local mechanic’s. If you’re like me I’m sure these sights would prove both devastating and enraging. Though there has been increased awareness of the issue of child labor in Nepal (following recent protest as discussed in my previous blog), these sights are far too common and too readily accepted throughout Nepal.
Nepal endorsed the Convention on the Rights of Child (CRC) in 1990 which states that all members “recognize the right of the child to be protected from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely […] to be harmful to the child’s health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social development.” Nepal further indicated their commitment to protecting Nepali children by raising the minimum age for hazardous work from 14 to 16 in 2000, prohibiting children under 14 to work, and signing onto ILO convention number 138 pledging to “pursue a national policy designed to ensure the effective abolition of child labour”
Unfortunately these good intentions have yet to lead to effective enforcement of these laws. To date there has yet to be a single successful case prosecuting an employer for violating these laws. Many cases have been reported, however, for a variety of reasons the cases end up getting dropped or thrown out before going to court. I look forward to working with BASE and exploring this issue in depth to discover why enforcement of child labor laws and prosecution remain elusive and will be writing more on my findings in the next few weeks.
Posted By Emily MacDonald
Posted Jun 21st, 2013