Brishkae is ten years old and works a grueling 16 hours in the carpet making factory. Many of her friends in the factory who work with her are just as old and some are even younger than her. She earns enough money to give to her parents, both of whom do not have jobs. She doesn’t go to school, and has only seen schoolhouses from the outside. She is not alone among the 1.6 million children like her in a country that has been described as one of the worst places for children in the world.
According to the Nepal Child Labor Report, about 1.6 million children in the country are working in different industries despite the fact that child labor is illegal in the country. Children of all ages work as porters, electricians, car mechanics, factory workers and as agrarian laborers. Most of these children are under the age of 14, with more girls than boys represented in the child workforce.
Many of them are employed in the carpet making, brick kiln and garment industries. Many others work as laborers on the street and on farms. Although the government of Nepal has vowed that it would eliminate child labor in Nepal by 2020, human rights activists are skeptical of this considering there seems to be no visible efforts taking place to deal with the situation.
“Nepal is one of the worst places for child labor,” says Samir Ranjan, a development worker who recently moved to Nepal to establish a non-profit school for children like Brishkae. “It’s ironic how the government has always talked about eradicating child labor in the country while they have neither even begun the work yet, nor do they let others do anything.”
Ranjan describes his frustration working with the government while establishing his Education Development Project for Child Laborers – an organization that aims to deal with the problem by paying children hourly wages to come to school and take classes.
Ruchita, 14, told The Diplomat that she is the only child working in her family. Her parents send all of her four brothers to school.
“When I was a child I could not understand why I have to work and my brothers can go to school and get to play. But now I know that I am a girl and girls are not supposed to go to school. I am like my mother, she works too. My brothers are like our father, they don’t have to work.”
Ruchita has been working in different factories for over five years now. Dr. Akmal, who is associated with the Society for PhDs in Kathmandu, says “female children are the most manipulated in Nepal. Many of them travel from small towns across country to come to Kathmandu so they can make money for the family.”
Nepal also has what it calls the National Children’s Policy, which essentially protects children from physical, mental, and sexual abuse as well as exploitation. Dr. Akmal, however, argues that this policy has no effect on the ground in the absence of compulsory education and awareness about children’s rights. The country provides no legal protections for children ages 16 and 17. This age group is one of the most manipulated by child labor practices.
While Nepal’s Interim Constitution of 2007 guarantees the rights of children, and the country has signed major international conventions against child labor, enforcement of these policies and laws remains weak.
Human rights activists say it will take much more for the government of Nepal to eradicate child labor than just passing laws and policies.