Gauri Lama* and Rajesh Lama*, siblings from Rukum, were brought to Kathmandu sometime in 2018 by a relative, with a promise of better health care and education. They were sent to one of the child care homes in Bhaisepati, Lalitpur, along with five other children from various districts. The place fed leftovers to the children and forced them into labor.
All of them ran away from the orphanage two years later, and were reintegrated in their families through Future Generation Nepal (FGN), a non-profit organization working for the protection of children and their rights.
Krishna Thadera* from Humla came to Kathmandu in 2017. He was brought by someone from his village, who took money from the family after promising to send their child to a good school. He dropped Thadera off to an organization, who paid him off for bringing him in. Thadera was around 10 years old. During the Covid-19 lockdown, shelter was shut and, in 2020, Thadera, was found begging on the streets.
Ram BK* from Bajura was 14 when he came to Kathmandu with his uncle, a politician, who left him at an orphanage in 2018. His paperworks showed that his parents were dead. He was back on the streets during Covid-19, and rescued by Voice of Children (VOC), who later on found that his parents were alive, and his uncle had made a fake death certificate and received a commission from the organization for bringing in the child.
These are just a few representative cases among all the other cases they have encountered so far, says Bashu Phuyal, program coordinator, FGN. He says that this has been going on for a long time. Most of the children brought to Kathmandu belong to rural parts of Nepal, especially from Karnali province. They are brought through agents who take money from the family to find their children a good home in Kathmandu. “Most of these children either run away or suffer terribly in these institutions,” he adds.
Raja Ram Yadav from Pranavananda Ashram and Vidhya Mandir verifies the claim. He further mentions that he was contacted by one of the agents who offered to bring a child with fake paperwork, and also provide a commission for taking in the child. “I said no, but I know for a fact that there are many institutions who have been doing so,” he says.
Raju Ghimire, deputy director, Voice of Children (VOC), says that most of the children who run away end up om the streets. Among the children VOC has worked with, Ghimire says most of the runaways from orphanages have a family member in their villages and are not actually orphans.
The Act Relating to Children (2018) says that Child Care Homes (CCH) should be the last resort for a child. It states that in case a child does not have at least one living parent, his/her caretaker must be an immediate relative. If not, then a child should be handed to an organization that facilitates foster care. Only if none of the above mentioned options are viable, can a child be placed at an orphanage. But that’s not the case.
In the fiscal year 2021/2022, Nepal has 417 CCH in 43 districts, among which most of them are located within the Bagmati Province, according to the report of National Child Rights Council (NCRC). There are a total of 10,905 children living in these orphanages. According to UNICEF, around 85 percent of them have at least one living parent, or a guardian.
Phuyal further mentions that those numbers are just in the orphanages that have been registered in the NCRC. “There are many others that are running illegally, and are receiving children from agents deployed in rural parts of Nepal,” he says, “This has become a solid source of income for many.”
Namuna Sapkota, a field researcher for one the research published by Center for Legal Research and Resource Development (CeLRRd) on the working modalities of CCHs, says that it was quite evident from her visit in around 11 orphanages in Tokha and Kageshwori Manohara Municipality in Kathmandu, that most of the children had at least one living parent.
“I was skeptical at first, but after talking to the children I was sure of it,” she says. While the municipalities have been working on monitoring the works of these CCH, most of the cases are hidden with no proof to prosecute the orphanages, she adds.
Rammani Gautam, director, CeLRRd, further mentions there are several other CCHs that have registered in the name of non-governmental and nonprofit organizations, and have used children to get funds and donations. Here, he says, there is no guarantee if a child is actually an orphan.
Mahima Pokharel, founder, Happy Home Orphanage, says that even when they know that the children have someone to take care of them, they are in no position to send them away. “It’s difficult to send a child home knowing that he will not be taken care of,” adds Pokharel.
But to abide by the existing law, she further mentions that her institution has tried to reintegrate some of the children back home once the family’s condition has improved. “But we don’t take in anyone who does not have an official recommendation from the government,” she says.
The majority of responsibility of monitoring the works of orphanages falls under the local government. Each local government must have a Child Welfare Officer, who is responsible for approving if a child needs to be in a CCH. “Officially, an orphanage can only accept a child if he/she has the recommendation, or has been handed over by the police or other authoritative government agencies,” says Sarbindra Thakur from Sertshang Orphanage Home.
In case a child does not have any sort of document, it is up to the CCH to find out about his/her family background and submit a report to the NCRC. “But the problem lies at the beginning of this entire process,” says Santosh Maharjan, project coordinator at CeLRRd.
Out of 753 local governments, only around 200 of them have appointed Local Child Rights Committee and Child Welfare Officers, informs Chand. On top of that, none of these officers are assigned a psychosocial counselor and a social worker needed to make proper assessment on whether a child should be at an orphanage.
Ram Bahadur Chand, information officer, NCRC, mentions that every municipality will have a Local Child Rights Committee and Child Welfare Officer within the next two years. “NCRC has been working on the matter,” he says. He further mentions that NCRC was able to reintegrate around 1200 children into their families last year.
“Whatever is happening with these children at orphanages can be considered orphanage trafficking” says Amrita Poudel, head of programs (South Asia), ECPAT Luxembourg, “But the government has failed to recognize the term and only looks at it as illicit transportation.”
Nepal became the 176th country to ratify the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, commonly known as Palermo Protocol in 2020. The current situation of CCH in Nepal can be considered as orphanage trafficking, according to this protocol.
But the government has not shown any progress to amend the Human Trafficking and Transportation Act that aligns with this protocol, says Kapil Aryal, researcher and associate professor at Kathmandu School of Law. Nevertheless, the accused could be prosecuted under the Act Relating to Children (2018), but he says that almost none of the government lawyers have worked on a case like that.
On the other hand, Chand does not agree with Aryal. He believes that the term orphanage trafficking misrepresents the problem, and should not be used to describe the current situation with children in CCH. “But we have been taking necessary actions to monitor and mitigate the illicit transfer of children,” he adds.
Bikram Prasad Pandaya, information officer, Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens (MoWCSC), says that the ministry is also working in coordination with NCRC to go on field visits to see if the orphanages are working as per the policy. “I agree when the organizations say that there is a problem at orphanages, but bringing change is a gradual process,” he says. “Right now, the ministry’s main focus is to advocate child rights and make CCH founders aware of the current child rights policy.”