Children in domestic labour trap

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The effort of two ward chairpersons of Gaumul Rural Municipality in Bajura who started collecting information on the status of children from their wards working as domestic helps holds promise

-Nimendra Shahi: Centre for Investigative Journalism-Nepal

A different topic came to be discussed during the local level elections held in June last year at Gaumule Rural Municipality in Bajura. The issue of numerous children from the village being taken to other far-western districts and some even to faraway Kathmandu to do domestic works was occasionally deliberated on during the civic polls. After formation of the village council, chairpersons of wards 4 and 5 and the chief and deputy chief of the rural municipality enquired about the whereabouts of the children taken out to do domestic chores.

Chairpersons of wards 4 and 5 collected details from their areas immediately and submitted the information to the rural municipality while others are in the process of submitting their reports. By gathering information until November 2017, the “Details of Children from Gaumul Rural Municipality Gone out of the District for Domestic Works” has been prepared. The report reveals the name, age and address of the children, the house they were taken to, name and address of the house owner and the name of middlemen who helped in the children’s movement.

Ten-year-old Seema Rokaya is one of those domestic workers. Middlemen have taken her to Kathmandu. Here is the telephone conversation we had with Seema of Gaumul-4, who works as a domestic help at the Basbari-based house of former Nepali Police SP Ram Kumar Thapa.

Seema: Hello

Journalist: Hello

Seema: Yes!

Journalist: Do you know me?

Seema: Who are you

Seema: Greetings brother! Are you fine?

Journalist: I’m ok. And you?

Seema: I’m ok too.

Journalist: So what are you doing?

Seema: Nothing. Just sitting.

Journalist: Which school do you go to?

Seema: Bansbari Secondary School

Journalist: Which grade you said you are in?

Seema: Four.

Journalist: What tasks do you do at home now?

Seema: Arranging clothes, watering flower pots,

Journalist: How did you get there?

Seema: (Brought by) maternal uncle

Journalist: I want to ask you a question. Please answer honestly.

Seema: Yes, ok.

Journalist: Do the family members scold you sometimes or not?

Seema: Sometimes, saying ‘do your work’, ‘Don’t forget!’ Sometimes I also do works beyond my capacity.

Journalist: What chores do you do? Please repeat.

Seema: I clean the rooftop, water plants, sweep the kitchen floor, do evening dishes, mop and brush the floor, arrange cushions and sofa, collect dry clothes and fold them.

Journalist: Who scolds you if something goes wrong while doing so much work?

Seema: Nani tells me to be careful.

Mothers from Manakot,Goumul-5, whose children are house workers in capital city.

Three years ago, Seema’s maternal uncle Bharat Dhami brought the eight-year-old to Kathmandu saying that he would find her a good school there. He also brought Seema’s elder sister Kamala, 12, along. In Kathmandu, he left them at the Dhobichaur-based house of Kiran Gautam, a Yamaha dealer. The girls stayed there as domestic helps. Later Kiran sent Seema to the Bansbari-based house of Ram Kumar Thapa, the husband of his sister. “Sister and me do similar work,” said Seema, adding that Kamala is still in Dhobichaur.

Their parents have no idea where the girls have been staying since Bharat took them away. “We sometimes talk on the phone. I don’t know what condition they are in,” said Bhakta Rokaya, the father. He said Bharat had taken them away while he was in India without his knowledge.

Bharat, who ‘supplied’ young village girls as domestic workers, is currently in Qatar. He also sent 12-years-old Sharmila Dhami and Kavita Dhami of Gaumul-4 to Nepalgunj saying that he would find ‘rich families’ under whose care they would study.

Many others like Bharat are active in Bajura now who turn village girls into domestic workers in cities, luring them with the promise of good education. According to details from the rural municipality, teachers and some traders in the village are among those who ‘arrange’ children for ‘well-to-do’ families in cities as domestic workers by luring economically deprived families.

Besides teachers and traders who are influential in society, relatives are also among the middlemen who get deals by persuading families. They are driven by the motive for profit from people in search of domestic workers by getting them children they like. Economically deprived local residents are easily duped to send their children to cities, leading to exploitation of the young ones.

Ramananda Joshi of Gaumul-4 is a person who ‘sets’ village children to work for rich families in cities. He is a former headmaster of Kritichaur Secondary School. Known to be an intellectual in the village, ‘Ramananda Guru’ has helped five children end up in other people’s homes. Citing the details collected by the rural municipality, Gaumal-5 Ward Chairman Birendra Rokaya had no hesitation to say: “Ramananda Guru appears to be at the forefront of trafficking children.”

Suresh Rokaya with mother and father who fled from a house owner because of overwhelming chores situated in Tikapur, Kailali

According to the details, Ramananda has “supplied” many children to Kanchanpur and Kailali districts. Most of them work at teachers’ homes. He sent a child each to the homes of Durga Bhawani Secondary School teacher Reshmi Shah in Attariya, Kailali; Mahendranagar Secondary School teacher Chandrakala Panta in Kanchanpur; and Shanti Niketan Secondary School teacher Pushkal Bhatta in Kanchanpur.

The details also show the role of Sharada Lower Secondary School teacher Ganesh Shah at Badyali in Budhiganga Municipality, Bajura; Durgali Primary School teacher Balram Joshi in Gaumul; Manakot Secondary School teacher Bhim Bahadur Rokaya in Gaumule; and Sharada SS teacher Shanti Singh in Dhangadhi, Kailali, in “arranging” children for other families. For instance, minor Umesh Dhami sent by Ganesh works at the home of Saraswati SS teacher Basunta Hamal in Dang.

Keshav Rokaya of Gaumul Rural Municipality-5 is known as an “intellectual” in the village. He has sent five children of Gaumul elsewhere as domestic workers. The rural municipality details show the children serve at households in places including Kathmandu, Banke and Pokhara.

Taking children away for domestic labour seems to be an old practice here. The present “supplier” Bhawindra Rokaya of Gaumul-5 used to be a domestic help himself. Until two years ago, he served at the Bhaktapur-based house of Rudra Khadka, a teacher. Bhawindra was taken to Khadka’s by Gyan Bahadur Rokaya, a former Nepal Army soldier. The municipal records show he has sent four children to Chitwan, Bhaktapur, Pokhara and Kathmandu. He also sent to Shyamji Atithi, a former District Education Officer in Chitwan, 13-year-old Mahesh, the son of Dalbahadur and Budi Rokaya of Goumul-5, two years ago.

According to the municipal details, traders in Gaumul Pune Dhami, Arjun Dhami and Purna Dhami are also among those who “supply” children. Arjun sent Shiva Dhami of Gaumul to work in the house of Nandaraj Pantha, a former district education officer.

Called to enquire about the matter, Pantha did not get in touch. His daughter-in-law said on the phone: “Shiva looks after children.” Upon further enquiry, Nandaraj’s son Gajendra snatched the phone and said: “Who are you? Why do you need [it]?” Gajendra added: “I brought him over on the basis of our relation, helped him since his family faced troubles.”

A Dhangadhi-based trader Durga Singh, former Army soldier and Manakot local Ghanindra Rokaya are also listed among the middlemen sending boys and girls to work for other families. Even Gaumul Rural Municipality office assistant Rambahadur Rokaya is named in the act.

Besides, security guard at Rastriya Banijya Bank Bajura branch Premraj Joshi, locals Khadak Rokaya, Soure Rokaya, Shankar Rokaya, Ram Rokaya, Dinesh Rokaya and Sabina Rokaya are on the list of those “assisting” in sending out children. In the neighboring district of Bajhang, the papers show involvement of Arun Singh.

Another person luring children of poor families to work for others is Balaram Joshi, a teacher at Durgauli Primary School in Gaumul. He sent Yubaraj, the son of Tanka Prasad Joshi in Manakot, to work at the Lalitpur-based house of retired soldier Suran Singh Bogati. Balaram is a relative of Tanka Prasad.

Mankot village of Gaumul-5

Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act (2000) bars use of minors under 14 as workers. Section 4 of the Act says: “No child shall be engaged in works as a laborer against his/her will by way of persuasion, misrepresentation or by subjecting him/her to any influence or fear or threat or coercion or by any other means.” Sub-section 2 of Section 19 says: Whoever commits any act in contravention of Sub-section (2) of section 3 and section 4 shall be liable to a punishment of an imprisonment of one year in maximum or a fine of fifty thousand rupees in maximum or the both.

Shanti Singh, a teacher at the Dhangadhi-based Sharada SS in Kailali, has kept Saroj Dhami of Gaumul, Bajura, with her as a domestic worker. “I brought him since there was no one to help out at home,” she said.

This issue of Gaumul that remained under wraps for long came to the fore only a few months ago. On October 10, 2017 the National Human Rights Commission wrote to the rural municipality drawing its attention to “the growing tendency of children being sent out of the district selling them dreams of study in good schools and decent jobs”. The Women’s and Children’s Office Bajura wrote to the municipal authorities and guardians on December 22, 2017 “to return the children sent out of the district as domestic workers as soon as possible”.

Since then, nine children from the two Gaumul wards have returned home. According to the details made public so far, 43 children from the two wards are still in Kathmandu and other districts, serving as domestic workers. The municipal details show 23 children from Ward No 4 and 20 from Ward No 5 are still serving as domestic helps. According to information from the Village Child Protection Committee, all of them are under 18 years.

The committee is preparing to declare Mankot in Gaumul as the village free of child labour. Village municipality Chairman Hari Bahadur Rokaya said all the children would be returned to the village before the announcement. Those exploiting children’s labour would be brought to justice immediately. “Efforts are being made to return all the children taken away illegally,” said Rokaya. “We’ll bring back all by the Nepali New Year.”

The Kamlari practice was prevalent in western districts including Kailali, Kanchanpur, Banke, Bardiya and Dang until July 27, 2013. Landlords there made children of the Tharu community indentured laborers. After the government abolished the practice, children are being drawn from the remote hills to meet domestic labour needs, Gaumul-4 ward chairman Birendra Rokaya said.

Child Welfare Committee coordinator and Chief District Officer Luk Bahadur Chhetri said he had no formal information about such children. “Children being taken away without following the due procedure face exploitation while it’s been difficult to search for them,” said Chhetri. “Those getting children lured by the promise of study to work should be tried on trafficking charges.”

Gaumul-6 ward Chairman Ganesh Bahadur Rokaya said children would now be barred from leaving for domestic labour. “Whatever may have happened until now will not repeat from the next fiscal year. Everyone will be returned,” he added.

‘I was sent to school sometimes’

Mukesh Budha with mother who fled from Army officials house because of overwhelming daily chores situated in Lalitpur.

Here are two instances of the level of atrocities meted out to children who were promised “good education”. An army official took away 14-year-old Mukesh, the son of Dhani Budha in Gaumul-4, Manakot, Bajura. The permanent resident of Lalitpur had taken Mukesh promising to enroll him into a good school in the Capital. But he did not send Mukesh to school regularly.

“They sent me to school occasionally,” said Mukesh. “I always had to do household chores.” Unable to tolerate the work pressure, Mukesh ran away during Dashain last year saying “I’ll go out to buy some goods.” His mother Dhani Budha said: “I sent him away believing he would study well. He only got trouble.” Mukesh was unable to name the Army official who had taken him away.

Sixteen-year-old Sarita Joshi of Gaumul was taken away four years ago by her uncle Balram Joshi for “good education in the city”. Her mother did not stop her believing that her daughter would have a bright future after study. Balram left her with Kamal Khanal, a teacher in Butwal who was his close friend.

Her days of trouble began when Sarita reached Kamal’s house. He did not send her to school. Instead, she had to rear animals and cut grass for them. Unable to bear it, Sarita ran away three years ago. Admitting his mistake, Balaram said: “I had taken her to my friend on his demand. She had to face misbehavior.” Sarita’s mother Kamala Joshi said: “My daughter faced atrocities but there was nobody to speak for her.” Sarita is currently in the United Arab Emirates for employment.

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