An uncertain future
- The many children who have been orphaned or displaced by the recent earthquakes need government intervention to ensure that they do not fall through the cracks
May 15, 2015-
The Great Quake of March 25 did not rattle Okhaldhunga as much as it did Rasuwa. But for Tshering Dawa Sherpa of Ragini-8, a village that lies west of Okhaldhunga’s district headquarters, Khalanga, its effects were devastating. The quake, the biggest to hit the country in 81 years, took the life of his father.
A porter by profession, and the sole breadwinner of the Sherpa family, Tshering’s father was killed in an avalanche in the Langtang Valley, Rasuwa. He had gone there with foreign trekkers. After the disaster, Tshering’s uncle brought him and three of his siblings to the Capital.
Tshering Dawa and his three siblings—Pemba Sherpa, 4; Tenuri, 9; and sister Pasi, 7— are now taking shelter at Bal Mandir, the government-run orphanage in Naxal, Kathmandu. Despite having lost their father and their home in the quake, the Sherpa siblings are among the few lucky ones who have been provided refuge by the organisation: the existing law prohibits orphanages from taking in children who still have at least one of their parents alive.
“We are taking them in on humanitarian grounds now. The government might come up with some long-term plans to rehabilitate them in the future,” says Dipak Das Shrestha, a board member of Bal Mandir, explaining the institution’s interim protection plan for displaced children, which has placed humanitarian considerations in the time of disaster above everything else. The organisation has admitted dozens of children to its orphanages throughout the country, including the one in Kathmandu, despite having lost its main building, an old Rana palace in Naxal, to the quake.
But despite having found a safe refuge in an orphanage, the long-term prospects for children like Tshering look bleak. Tshering, who has completed his third grade from a monastery-run school in his native village, is still uncertain if he will get a chance to attend school. Today, there are thousands of children like him facing a grim and uncertain future in the aftermath of the quake. According to recent data brought out by Unicef, at least 950,000 Nepali children, might not be able to return to school unless urgent action is taken to provide them temporary learning spaces and repair the school buildings damaged by the temblors. And that just constitutes one of
Various organisations working in the areas of child rights and welfare have warned that these children might be exposed to human trafficking or could even be forced into child labour. Child slavery has been a perennial problem in Nepal, as many children are forced into servitude as domestic labourers and industrial workers every year. Even before the quake, children were already working in large numbers as domestic help, in carpet and entertainment industries, and in mines, brick kilns and car/motorcycle repair workshops. Additionally, many girls were routinely trafficked to India and the Gulf with false promises of lucrative jobs by faking their age. And now if the newly displaced and orphaned children are not taken care of, many of them, fear experts, might end up as child labourers too.
Government officials say that they are serious about the safety and welfare of children displaced by the earthquake.
“We are bent on ensuring quick and efficient post-quake relief of the affected children. Those children who have lost their parents in the earthquake will be looked after by the government and their rights will be ensured by implementing special plans and policies,” said Secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, Dhan Bahadur Tamang. The parliamentary committee on children, elderly citizens and social welfare has already made inquiries about the impact of the April 25 quake on women, children, people with disabilities and the elderly. The committee also wants to prevent children’s being smuggled out of the country in the guise of adoption schemes. But despite all these inquires on part of the government, it is still uncertain what will happen to children like Tshering, as the government has yet to unveil concrete plans and polices for them.
Published: 16-05-2015 11:04