Rachel Palmer

Rachel Palmer (Backward Education Society - BASE): Rachel graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Political Science, focusing on international relations and Islamic studies. She then spent two years as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant on the islands of Borneo and Sulawesi in Indonesia, where she taught and facilitated ESL education workshops for Indonesian teachers. After her fellowship Rachel wrote: "I learned more than I ever anticipated about child labor, working for NGOs, challenges in combating human rights abuses, and legal challenges. This fellowship has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and has shaped my academic focus for next year. I plan to apply to graduate school this fall to study international relations and human rights, focusing on women and children's empowerment."


05 Jul


Progress is a wonderful thing.

Since we arrived in Tulsipur, Alex and I have been quite productive.  For one thing, we finished editing and reformatting BASE’s lengthy 2011 Annual Report, which will be published shortly. We’re trying to keep up with blogs, but our internet connection is much worse than we thought, so we’re learning to be patient.

Living here in Nepal, I sense the urgency with which we need to work.  There are so many children in Nepal and large numbers of them are child laborers.  Although the Nepalese government outlawed child labor, there is little enforcement of laws.  Working in Indonesia taught me that even though the central government says one thing, remote districts do whatever they want.  Impunity reigns across Nepal and I sense that there is a good deal of corruption.  If you’re employing children to work in your home and your brother is a police officer, do you really think that he’ll arrest you or raid your home to free the children?

A BASE staff member told me a story about family impunity (and corruption) that haunts me as I work.  Two BASE staffers were on a bus to Nepalgunj, a town 3 hours from Tulsipur that borders India.  They noticed that two women were traveling with a child and discovered quickly that they were bringing the child to Nepalgunj to work for them.  Not only were the women violating Nepal labor laws, but they were facilitating human trafficking as well.  The BASE staffers quietly alerted authorities in Nepalgunj, who were waiting for the bus when it pulled into the station.  The police ordered passengers to get off from the bus.  The women frantically forced the child to hide under the bus seats, but were eventually caught.  Unfortunately, one of the women had a relative who was an influential member of the police force.  Although the women were briefly arrested and the case has not yet been decided, it is doubtful that the women will face punishment for their actions.

There are large numbers of child laborers across Nepal and employers are not prosecuted for hiring children.  In fact, corruption allows perpetrators to continually avoid any sort of punishment or repercussions for their actions.  How can we bring employers to justice?  Additionally, how can we go about rescuing children when we aren’t quite sure where child laborers are working or living?

You need evidence.

That’s why creating and maintaining a thorough, efficient database is so important. With Alex and my help, BASE plans to start collecting data on child laborers, their families, and employers.  Alex and I recently created a database for data collected in 2009 on children in 5 districts and 15 towns in southwest and central Nepal.  Through this database, we were able to draw conclusions about how BASE could collect data more effectively.  We created a form for collecting data that allows the researcher to identify and locate parents, children, siblings, and employers.  We included factors like age, enrollment in school, caste, ethnicity, specific information about employment, and whether the child exhibited signs of abuse.  We hope BASE can use the form to collect very specific information that will allow the organization to begin prosecutions of employers.

We then formed a new database for data BASE intends to gather this year on child laborers, families, and employers in 8 districts in Nepal.   If you can provide concrete evidence that there are child laborers in specific locations working for specific employers, such information can be used to pressure local governments to act.  Evidence is key for rescuing children and bringing employers to justice.  Evidence is crucial when you’re trying to track down and prosecute employers.  Evidence also proves that children may be trafficked victims and will help BASE discover from which regions children truly belong.

I believe human trafficking is a huge obstacle to our goals of ending child labor. Often when people hear the word “trafficking,” they immediately think of sex trafficking and visualize images of women and girls being herded across borders to work in brothels.  While sex trafficking does occur in Nepal and is a very serious matter, labor trafficking is also rampant.  Like the example of the women on the bus, employers move children away from families to new regions where they might not speak the same language and have no advocates to protect them.  Although human trafficking is not the focus of my fellowship here, I’m struck by how easy it is to move children across the country.  Internal trafficking is a very large and very serious problem in Nepal.  Imagine this scenario.  A trafficker brings a child from Tulsipur to Kathmandu, which is 14 hours away.  What chance does a 7-year-old Tharu from Tulsipur have of ever getting home once?

I am confident that the data BASE will collect over the next year will have a significant impact on the identification of child laborers and their employers.  I am encouraged by BASE’s dedication to locating and prosecuting employers and believe that the work Alex and I are doing will contribute to BASE’s efforts to combat child labor.  The fight continues.

Posted By Rachel Palmer

Posted Jul 5th, 2012

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