Boy looking out over fields in Nepal 2007. Photo: Save the Children
Nepal's decade-long conflict has hampered the delivery of basic services causing a breakdown of family and community networks. Women and children, who rely most heavily on these essentials, have particularly felt the negative impacts.
Recently, there has been some improvement in the socio-economic indicators for Nepal. Yet, children's situation in Nepal is of serious concern. Infant and maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the world.1 Children migrate from the poverty-stricken rural areas to the cities, ending up homeless in the streets. There are an estimated 5 000 street children in the cities of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Dharan, Narayanghat, Butwal and Biratnagar alone. In Nepal, an estimate of over 55,000 children work as domestic labourers; almost two thirds are aged 10 to 14 years with a preponderance of boys (57 percent).They work for long hours with little or no pay.2
Working children in Nepal are sexually exploited and abused and girl trafficking is one of the major forms of sexual exploitation. Every year hundreds of Nepalese girls are trafficked and sold into prostitution in India.3 Close to two million Nepalese children are recruited to work in factories, hotels, restaurants, domestic households and construction sites; around 127,000 child labourers work in high risk labour sectors, including mining, and4 at least 40,000 children are bonded labourers.5
The problem of structural gender inequality in Nepal makes women and girls exceptionally vulnerable to juridical and social discrimination. Girls aged 10-14, for instance, work twice as many hours compared to boys in the same age group. More than 25% of girls aged 14-18 are married and, therefore, likely to get pregnant and give birth before the end of adolescence.6 In the public education system these social and cultural practices lead to poor enrolment and high dropout rates for girls compared to boys. In Western Nepal, Badi women are descendants of traditional women entertainers – singers and dancers – who performed during marriages and other ceremonies. They and their children still live outside mainstream society. The Badi tradition forces women into sex work just because they are Dalit. In Doti (Western Nepal), the Dalit community cannot access property and serve as bonded labour to the upper-castes. This leads to greater economic stress in communities and families, leading to increased vulnerability of children to violence.7 Often Dalit children are made to sit at the back of the class or on the floor, and their homework is unchecked by teachers. They also are made to clean the yard, fill water buckets, and clean toilets– even though often Dalit girls are not permitted to use school toilets.8
Traditions and harmful practices
Cleansing and initiation abuses occur throughout South Asia, especially in Nepal. Many of these practices centre around menstruation and focus on either first menstruation and coming of age, or practices which interpret girls as polluted during the menstruation period. Although legislation prohibits the practice, many poor women in western Nepal are forced to stay in dirty cow-sheds outside the home for four days during their monthly period. These women are often not provided proper food and may suffer various forms of abuse.9 In some communities in India and Nepal, young girls are dedicated to God by their families. Deuki is an age-old custom still practised in many districts of Sethi and Mahakali zones in the far western region of Nepal. Deuki means to consecrate one’s own or a poor family’s newly born female child to God in order to gain a son, to cure a sickness, or to fulfil any other desires. It is estimated that around 2,000 such deukis exist in the various temples in Nepal.10
The use of child soldiers in Nepal is another human rights issue. During the armed conflict, somewhere between 6 000 to 9 000 children were believed to have served in the Maoist forces. As many as 3 000 child recruits are still suspected to be serving in military camps.11 Despite assurances from the government to end future recruitments and promises to rehabilitate children who have suffered from war and conflict situations, reforms to date have been insufficient.