Society Welfare Action Nepal (SWAN) is approaching an organizational crossroads very soon! SWAN has been working on the issue of rescuing and rehabilitating Kamalaris since 1994, and has been partnering with Plan Nepal on the second phase of the Kamalari Practice Abolition Project (KAP-II) since 2005. SWAN’s sole focus on Kamalaris has left it with a dearth of working and funding partners. With the tentative end to KAP-II most likely occurring in the next few years, SWAN faces the extra hurdle of finding financial support for the continuity of its current program, and the expansion of new projects. After talking to board members, staff, and the current Social Mobilizers ( personnel who oversee Gender and Child Rights, Education and Livelihood programs on the field ) at SWAN there was a recurring and equal enthusiasm for expanding the scope of SWAN’s work to not only include Kamalaris, but any type of child laborer and disadvantaged children. The most common grievances put forth by all of the seven Social Mobilizers (SM) was their inability to financially help or support any other child laborer or disadvantaged child other than a Kamalari. Debika Gharti Magar, one of the SMs, commented on the subject, “Families and friends who have seen what SWAN has done for the Kamalaris come to us and beg to help a (boy) child laborer and/or an extremely disadvantaged kid, yet even if we want to do something for them we are not able to do anything as we do not have any funds for them.” Therefore, the need to expand the services of SWAN seems to be essential not only for the future existence of the organization, but primarily to address the worsening child labor prevalence in both the district, and the country.
As I had hinted in my previous post, as part of a probable long term goal of SWAN, I have been looking at the possibility of setting up a transit/safe house that would house rescued child laborers until they are reunited with their family or relatives, or until an alternative is found. My conversation with Child Welfare Officer Rashmi Pandey, at the District Child Welfare Board in Ghorahi, further confirmed the lack of state mechanisms and non-governmental assistance in providing a safe house for rescued child workers. However, Mrs. Pandey seemed very enthusiastic about the possibility of a partnership between SWAN and local government institutions in creating a housing structure that would help in the rehabilitation of rescued child workers. Mrs. Pandey mentioned the recent formation of a Rescue Task Force that has been overseeing some successful rescue of child workers in Ghorahi and Tulsipur municipality of Dang district. The Task Force has been working primarily with NGOs Himalayan Peace Society and Jana Utthan Samaj in Ghorahi, and Dalit NGO Coordination Committee (DNGOCC) and New Awareness Women and Child Protection (NEWCPC) in Tulsipur in rescuing child laborers and helping them reunite them with their families. Mrs. Pandey stressed the importance of handing jail terms, as per existing laws, for child employers, however she pointed out the fact that even though cases get filed against the employers most of the cases end in some form of reconciliation between the employers and the children’s family. The current fine of Rs.5,000 (USD 51) for first time and Rs.15,000, and Rs.50,000 (this amount is fined if any government employee is caught employing children ) for repeated offense has not been a deterrent for employing children. The problem of children being sent to a new employers even after being reunited with their family is still a common occurrence, and Mrs. Pandey opined that it might also be effective to start prosecuting the families who send children in order to discourage families from using children as commodities.
My conversation with Mrs. Pandey led me to believe that the government had already initiated steps to address the gap of a rehabilitation center for rescued child workers. She mentioned a “concept paper” that had been created that sought to garner support among local government institutions and NGO’s in establishing and sustaining said center. I also got a chance to speak with Mr. Navraj Lamichhane, Chairperson of the Tulsipur based NGO NEWCPC, who had run an orphanage in Tulsipur for 13 years. Mr. Lamichhane’s main point was that any form of rehabilitation center should house children for a short term, preferably no more than 3 months, until family members or caretakers could be found; he shared his experience where parents who were more than capable of taking care of their children sent them to such centers for extra financial gain, or when (either) parents want to shirk off from their parental responsibilities, in order to elope or any other reasons, “hand over” the children to child centers. He also mentioned that his own conversations with government officials had hinted in creating two separate rehabilitation centers in Tulsipur and Ghorahi that would house anywhere between 35-50 children, however no concrete plans have yet been made. On my query of the “concept paper” mentioned by Mrs. Pandey, he was unaware of any such proposal that had been tabled so far, as he is also on the committee that would review matters related to child protection.
The exuberance with which my conversation with Mrs. Pandey took place last week, has given away to busy government schedules and the delegation of the continuity of our talk with the Chief District Officer (CDO), who will have the final word in not only the probable appropriation of land for the project, but also the green light for the start of such a project given the recent scrutiny and media attention various child homes have received in Nepal. For now, I wait with bated breath to secure a meeting with the CDO in order to discuss SWAN’s future plan of advocating and supporting not only Kamalaris, but for the successful rescue and proper rehabilitation of child workers in Dang district and beyond.
Posted By Sugam Singh (Nepal)
Posted Jul 17th, 2014