Nepal is a land of many incongruencies. Beneath the bright, summer sunshine, the women’s salwar kurtas sparkle and snap with brilliant colors, sequins, and embroidery. The ubiquitous music, incense, and spices can make daily life seem more like a Bollywood set than genuine existence. But then the monsoons chase away the sunlight, and at nighttime, the electricity disappears as an impoverished nation resorts to daily load shedding for at least a couple of hours. Nepal quite literally becomes a land of darkness that just dresses herself with a bright façade.
Unfortunately, Nepal treats its children with the same carelessness as its electricity generators. Most of the time, they are happy, funny, cherished lights in their parents’ lives. But if some impoverished parents become too desperate, they send their children away to work for food and clothing. Like load shedding, nobody likes it. But also like the blackouts, child labor practically becomes necessary for these families unless they receive aid from the outside. But these children do not disappear for a couple of hours—they face years of separation, exhaustion, and deprivation during the most formative times of their lives.
I had the pleasure and the pain of speaking with returned child laborers for the first time while on a recent field visit to the Bardiya district in southwestern Nepal.
Sarbourati Chaudhary was terribly shy. Although she is fourteen, she would barely mumble her answers to my simplest questions, such as “what is your favorite food?” (apples, oranges, and mangoes) or “do you have any brothers or sisters?” (lots of brothers). When I asked about her favorite thing to do for fun, she couldn’t supply any answer at all. (Fun? Incomprehensible.) But at least Sarbourati’s broken life is on the mend.
She worked in a private home in a bustling metropolis of 64,000, Nepalgunj, for two years because her family was very poor. Although Sarbourati was sent away, her older and younger brothers stayed at home and attended school. Like many daughters of impoverished families across Nepal, Sarbourati was singled out from her male counterparts to become the child laborer who left the family.
Sarbourati told me that she missed her family very much while she was working in Nepalgunj. When Child Friendly Village committee members asked her if she wanted to go and live at the Girls Rescue Hostel and attend the Aansubarma High School, she jumped at the chance to stop working, travel to a new place, and gain new knowledge. Sarbourati still misses her family today, since they do not live near her new school. But she wishes to study science and become a doctor, and she knows that a good education is the only way for her to achieve her goal. Despite missing two years of school, Sarbourati is already in class 5. I have no doubt that she will make a fine doctor someday, even though she’s not yet sure how she feels about blood!
Child labor in Nepal is a crisis. It is easy to become overwhelmed and to feel helpless in the face of such a complex, sobering situation. But then brave, persistent girls like Sarbourati cut through the hopelessness like pinpricks of light on the far side of a darkened city. So let’s light up this entire, load shedding landscape with the smiles of the 2.6 million other Nepali child laborers who still need rescuing.
Posted By Karie Cross
Posted Aug 18th, 2010