Sunday, August 19, 2001

Breaking chains of tradition

By Razen Manandhar

Anamika Nepali loves her friends but can’t be friendly with their parents. She knows numerous parents from her locality who force their small daughters into prostitution, shutting off all doors to prosperity.

Fourteen year old Anamika from Jaynagar, Bardiya is closely related to the Badi community that prefers to practice prostitution. Though this community has left this traditional occupation to a large extent, there are still women who continue to live as cheap sex workers even wanting their daughters to follow them.

She has seen family members urging their 14 year old daughters into the sex trade. Many parents do not enroll their daughters into schools so as to enjoy their "earnings".

She argues flatly, "Why should the little children suffer just because their parents do not want to do any other work?"

Anamika now studies in the 8th standard and lives in a hostel provided by an NGO called SAFE Nepal at Nepalgunj a city in the midwestern district of Banke. She is the treasurer of Bal Chetana Samuha and is aware of the child rights activities going on throughout the country. By talking with the local children and guided by the facilitators of the group, she has built up a kind of self-confidence when arguing with any adult she meets over these issues.

"The elders come and teach us what we should do on these issues. But, I can bet, we know the issues more thoroughly than those guides, " she claims.

She blames the tradition, started by ‘mistake’ by their parents, as to why the children have been stigmatized by society. A few Badi children now in schools also suffer from social discrimination.

Anamika is too young to know what the government is sending to Geneva as a national report on the condition of child rights in Nepal. But unlike the activists, she speaks from the heart.

"Discussions with fellow children have put up lots of new ideas. We often argue over one issue in various angles with our club members. Sometime we come up with quite new ideas."

The situation faced by girls also troubles her young conscience. She wonders why only girls have to quit school just to take care of the younger siblings, the cattle and the farm.

She is determined to work for child rights when she grows up. "The world has realized how important the freedom of children is but only our parents have yet to understand it," she says.

Likewise, Bishal Rana Magar is another boy of the mid-western region who can challenge the adult facilitators in child rights issues. This 13 year old boy from Banke, though small, is candid enough to express his dissatisfaction about child rights and the adult activists.

The youngest son of a peasant family in Kaushila Nagar, Bishal never minds riding his bicycle to and from his school Tribhuwan High School at Kohalpur, 5.5 km away from
his home.

Three years ago, members of the Rural Development Service Board of Nepal visited his school and formed a children’s club, the Progressive Children’s Group. He presides over the group which has round 30 members.

"We often discuss various problems related to children that the elder people do not want to heed. We find out the problem, discuss it and even plan what we can do to stop elders from being cruel to us," he said.

Bishal is a poet too. He can also quickly compose rhymes. His favourite theme is the fate-stricken children.

He worries that thousands of children in the mid-west region who work in cities as domestic workers or dish washers in restaurants etc. are not allowed to go to school. "The children do not have rights even to be organized. We have no platform from where to express our voices, from where we can expect justice," he says.

Both Anamika and Bishal took part in the public hearing of the first periodic report on child rights in Nepal being sent by the government to Geneva. Around 60 children discussed the draft report.
[Kathmandu, Sunday, August 19, 2001 Bhadra 03, 2058.]