28 June, 2004

Nepal On Tier 2

Nation Weekly magazine, June 28-June 4, 2004

Nepali parents find their children living a life of servitude in an Indian circus. But they also find out that trying to extract their own children from the circus can be dangerous
BY SUSHMA JOSHI


When four parents from Bijauna village in Makwanpur left for India on June 13 in an attempt to rescue their children from The Great Roman Circus near Lucknow, they did not know they were going to end up in jail. The raid organized by the Nepal Child Welfare Foundation (NCWF) and the South Asian Coalition Against Child Servitude (SACCS) turned violent as circus employees attacked the activists and journalists present. Of the estimated 35 Nepali children working in the circus, only one of them, Nita Lama, escaped with her parents. She too found herself held in custody at the magistrate’s office in Karnailganj, Uttar Pradesh.

The story illustrates how international and national mechanisms that protect children are strongly determined by local conditions. Laws vary from country to country and state to state, leaving local police to devise their own standards of protection. In states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh the law often collaborates with local criminal elements: trying to extract a child from a site of trafficking can be dangerous. Parents and legal guardians often stand on thin ice during judicial procedures if it is found out that they were involved in transactions where they accepted money in exchange for their children.

NGOs like Nepal Child Welfare Foundation (NCWF) are at the forefront of the anti-trafficking movement, but there is strong consensus that the government needs to get involved. Lobbying from human rights organizations has often bought the issue of international agreements against trafficking on the table. While informal accords have been floated, no strong international law has been created at a regional level. In Nepal, the Human Trafficking Control Act of 1986 criminalizes trafficking in persons, but comprehensive legislation has yet to be enacted and implemented.

Gauri Pradhan, Founder President of Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) says his NGO has a simple goal: “We are asking that all the children who have been illegally smuggled and sold into forced labors in circuses in India be provided safety and rescued, returned to their motherland, reunited with their families and helped to readjust in society.”

Earlier this month, the U.S. government underscored the seriousness with which it regards this issue when it released the fourth annual Department of State Trafficking in Persons Report in Washington D.C. The 141-country report looks comprehensively at the efforts of governments to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons. The report, which calls trafficking “modern-day slavery,” suggests various practices to deal with the transnational problem.

Nepal was placed in the Tier 2 group, a soft rating. “The Government of Nepal does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking,” says the report, which then adds, “however, it is making significant efforts to do so.” If a country’s practices land it in Tier 3, it faces sanctions, as Bangladesh and nine other countries found out.

A porous border that allows traffickers to transport their victims with ease compounds Nepal’s trafficking woes. Across the border are Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, two states whose police and law are some of the most corrupt in the world. Nepali victims often end up farther away in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, where they remain due to economic constraints and vulnerability.

The case of the 35 girls in the Great Roman Circus is hardly unique. Estimates vary, but activists say about 500 Nepali girls are working in major Indian circuses. Most of these girls come from Makwanpur. Like Nuwakot and Sindhupalchowk, other districts close to the capital that suffer the most poverty and from where large numbers of women get trafficked, Makwanpur is also a district whose economy has been impoverished with its proximity to the capital.

The U.S. report suggests various practices for ending trafficking, including linkages amongst diplomats, diplomatic protection for victims, using surprise inspections on labor agencies, discouraging the sex industry, intercepting potential victims and cooperation between transit and destination countries.

Cases include those of Panama, which enacted a new anti-trafficking law that addresses trafficking and takes child pornography, sex tourism and the use of the Internet into account. Among other stipulations, the law obligates airlines, tour agencies and hotels to inform customers in writing about the prohibitions of the new law.

Laws of this nature would warn potential customers who see the South Asian region as easy game for child prostitution. Interestingly and perhaps predictably, cases of street children being molested in Thamel has not raised the same ire in child rights activists as cases of children being molested in Indian brothels. Individuals who have busted child sexual abuse amongst the expatriate community have been ostracized in the past, pointing to a deeply entrenched culture of silence.

The other case is that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) of the Dominican Republic, which has created four “anti-trafficking networks” among diplomats in its embassies in countries that are major destinations for trafficked Dominican women. These networks encourage diplomats to be proactive in addressing trafficking issues. They work with host governments to identify and assist Dominican victims, many of whom have escaped their traffickers and fled to their consulates for help, to collect information on trafficking patterns and to identify traffickers. This information is reported back to the MFA’s consular affairs office and is shared with the Dominican Republic’s allies in the anti-trafficking fight. A network of this nature, established by the Nepali government, is sorely needed in the Gulf countries.

Nepalis stranded in Malaysian jails seem to make the front page on a regular basis. They would greatly benefit from shelters like the ones the Indonesian Foreign Ministry operates at its embassies and consulates in a number of countries, including Malaysia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Over the past year, these diplomatic establishments sheltered thousands of Indonesian citizens, including potential trafficking victims. In coordination with government agencies, the embassies also assisted with repatriation of victims.

These are some of the best practices followed by other countries. Until comprehensive legislation comes into place in Nepal, victims like Nita Lama might find themselves stranded in jail in a foreign country while they await justice. For Lama, who has filed a case of severe abuse against the circus employees, the wait for justice might take a while as the police investigate her claim. Her parents will stay with her until she is allowed to go. For other girls in the circus, the moment of freedom is still far away.

CWIN’s Pradhan says that the fight against child labor is not yet as organized as the drive against girl trafficking. He quickly adds, “But we are only beginning our fight against this sort of exploitation. I do believe affirmative action will be taken, but it depends on the pressure we can create.”

Nation Weekly staff reporter Yashas Vaidya interviews Gauri Pradhan.

Bureaucratic Red Tape In The Way
Gauri Pradhan, Founder President of Child Workers in Nepal, spoke to Nation Weekly’s Yashas Vaidya about the current protests over the Great Roman Circus incident.

What is the aim of this protest?We are requesting our government, the Indian government, the UN and the SAARC Secretariat to help rescue the Nepali children trapped in the circus and their return home and to punish those accused of exploiting the children and attacking Mr K Satyarhti and the human rights activists who tried to rescue the children. We are also asking that the Indian government to take responsibility for the security of Nepali members of the rescue team and Mr Satyarthi.

What has been the response to your demands?The Indian Ambassador to Nepal informed us that he had not yet received an official request from the Nepali government asking for the return of the missing children. On the other hand, we did approach the Nepali prime minister who gave us his assurance that he would look into this matter immediately.

The botched rescue attempt took place on June 15 but there have been no developments since. Can’t the two governments do something?Nepal’s prime minister is now aware of the situation. The Indian government states that it will not hand over the children directly to the INGOs. There is a lot of bureaucratic red tape getting in the way and slowing down the process. Other than that, it’s a fact that there is a big Indian crime network involved. We believe that the local police and the magistrate are in league with the circus owners. Also, there is a big syndicate that has been bringing Nepali children from villages and selling them into forced labor in Indian circuses, going a generation back.We plan to create more pressure for the fulfillment of these demands. This protest rally is by various organizations that stand united on this issue. The Global March Against Child Labor, with offices in 150 countries is also involved in this. We plan to approach Indian embassies all over the world though the organization and thus create more pressure on the Indian government to take some sort of action. We also aim to create international pressure about this issue.

So there is a larger focus than just this single case?There is a bigger issue at hand. The drive against girl trafficking may be successful, but now children are being trafficked and taken to India to work as domestic laborers or in circuses. There they are forced into labor and become the victims of sexual exploitation in many cases. It is just like old wine in a new bottle. We do still face the problem of sexual exploitation. Also, we are making an attempt to classify circus work as hazardous and not appropriate for minors aged below 18. This is not the case now. Our aim is to create legal restrictions and stop children from being exploited.


‘Indian Authorities Are Corrupt’ For the past one year or so, Khem Thapa, head of the Hetauda-based Nepal Child Welfare Foundation (NCWF), has been at the forefront in rescuing Nepali children from Indian circuses. But it was only after the circus owners attacked rescuers in Karnailgunj in Uttar Pradesh that the plight of Nepali children came to light. Thapa talked with John Narayan Parajuli of Nation Weekly over the phone from Karnailgunj (near Lucknow) where he, alongside Indian activists, has been waging a courageous, and often dangerous, battle to rescue Nepali children from The Great Roman Circus.

What is the situation on the ground?From the very beginning we knew it would be difficult due to the notoriety of the circus owner. The raid which was conducted in the presence of the local authority, that is, the Sub Divisional Magistrate Mr. Havaldar Yadav and an inspector of the police station in Karnailganj, (but) the thugs from the Great Roman circus started to beat up the activists and parents who were there to release the children while they (the local authorities) were mute spectators. Then onwards, a lot of pressure was applied by the concerned citizens and numerous social organizations but the local authority has turned a deaf ear. There is a great danger from the circus owner who is freely roaming around Gonda and Karnailganj with his hoodlums. We know they are armed and many death threats have been received by the activists of the BBA.

There are reports of missing children, how many of them are missing?We had affidavits from the parents of 11 children of whom four accompanied us to Karnailganj. Only one child was rescued on the 15th of June. Although seven other children were also present during the raid (according to the girl who was rescued) of which one was snatched away by the goons of the circus from her father. Now the circus people are saying none of the girls whose affidavits were presented are there. It appears they got the names from somewhere and the girls have been hidden away from the circus. So, 10 girls are now missing.

How do you describe the mental and physical condition of the children?Unfortunately, I cannot comment on the mental and physical conditions of the children because we are not allowed to meet them at the circus. But I can safely say that they are under great threat from the owner of the circus and I would not be surprised if there are permanent or long-term psychosocial problems. The girl who is in the police custody in Gonda is also under tremendous mental and psychosocial pressure. The girl needs to be removed into a safer environment immediately.
How do you describe the role of Indian authorities?I have never seen or heard of such corrupt and uncaring authorities. They are all in league with the owner of the circuses.

And the Nepali side?As soon as the raid was conducted and the behavior of the authorities came to light, I contacted the founder President of Maiti Nepal Mrs. Anuradha Koirala and other leading NGOs in Nepal, including Mr. Gauri Pradhan of CWIN. All of the NGOs have been very supportive and they have moved heaven and earth to help our cause. A delegation from NGO Fed have already seen the prime minister of Nepal and the Indian ambassador in Kathmandu. The Nepalese Embassy in Delhi has been in contact with me since 18th of June and they are fully supportive of our cause.

What do you think must be done to secure the safe release of these and many other children trapped in the circus?We need to continuously apply pressure from Lucknow as well as from outside. Now the Nepali government is involved, I strongly feel that a representative from the Nepali Embassy must be in Lucknow to deal directly with the state government and the local authorities. In the meantime all social organizations must maintain the pressure on the central government of India as well as the local government in UP.

Indian NGOs have been in the forefront of all these. How do you describe their role?Without their involvement, it is difficult for a Nepali NGO to carry out any activity in India. That is why we formed a partnership with BBA more than two years ago specifically to deal with the problem of child labor in Indian circuses.

Are raids in circus the best way to free these kids?We have been working towards freeing the children who are in bondage in Indian circuses since 2002. We have had numerous conferences with the Indian Circus Federation where they had declared that they would not recruit children; they even made a token gesture by handing over nine children during a big press meet in Delhi on the 27 January 2004. They have repeatedly gone back on their promises of freeing children or even supplying names of children working in the circuses. Furthermore, not all the circuses are members of the federation and they have no reason to comply with the declaration made by the Indian Circus Federation. We do not believe in confrontational approach and we tried the negotiation and dialogue route for a long time with very little tangible results. Therefore it was imperative that a raid had to be conducted to free the children from the clutches of the circus owners.

What other measures do you suggest?A commission should be set up to investigate the working conditions inside all circuses. All circuses must submit the list of names of all artists working in the circuses with their details. Recruitment of children under the age of 14 in the circus must be outlawed and anyone found breaking the rules must have his license revoked.

PINK URINALS AND BROKEN PLATES

PINK URINALS AND BROKEN PLATES
June 27, 2004, Nation Weekly Magazine

Sushma Joshi

Life intersected with art as your critic came down with food poisoning on her way to Bhaktapur to see the first international arts workshop in Nepal. As I rushed past an inexplicable brick wall in the middle of the square and entered the bathroom, there it was! An urinal in that peculiar shade of pink so beloved to middle class Nepal.

When Marcel Duchamp first took that profane object, the urinal, and put it into a sacred space, the gallery, and signed it: “R.Mutt”, he was not just being perverse. He was going against centuries of history of representational Western art that insisted that the mode of realism, which sadly still rules over Nepal’s gallery scene, was the only true art. Duchamp’s contempt of the art market and its machinations, which took art objects and turned them into commodities, was another reason for his brash, in-your-face display.

If the idea of urinals as Art churns your stomach, and you’re wondering what was going on at Bhaktapur, there is no need for panic. Although the art exhibited at the historic square - clay pots arranged in nine circles on the courtyard, a brick wall with an umbrella resting inside one of the openings, origami birds flying over a dry water-tank - very clearly broke accepted traditions of realistic art within Nepal, there were no signs of profanity, transgressions or taboo-breakings. Indeed, in keeping with the Newar dominated art scene (6 out of the 7 Nepali artists were Newars), even the undertones of political protest had a civilized texture to them. No torn sidewalks and stone-throwing was in evidence, although projects about instability, militarization, and desperation of civil conflict grabbed the crowd’s attention.

The seven Nepali artists, along with seven international artists, spent ten days at the Shiva Guesthouse in Bhaktapur, creating art, explaining to the befuddled locals about their process and logic, and writing beautifully copy-edited musings about their philosophies. The art, displayed at various points along the square, draws curious crowds of Indian tourists, children in scout uniforms, and farmers. “What’s this?” says a farmer disbelievingly, pointing to the blue pots on the ground. “Art, Art!” says a volunteer impatiently, before breaking into a stream of Newari that hopefully explained to the curious woman all about innocence, and how children do not know the difference between right and wrong, and how those pots, some facing the sky, some the earth, attempted to grasp that ambiguity.

Rajesh Lohala, a thangka painter who’s waiting out the recession of the civil conflict while watching 1500 domestic tourists walk by his shop every Saturday without a blink of interest, admits that the locals initially did not comprehend how people got permission to put a brick-wall dab-smack in the middle of the famous square. “It took us a while to understand,” he says. “Its modern art, that’s what it is.”

But is it really modern? “Modern”, an easy term to stick on all sorts of phenomena, from women with mini-skirts to computer playing children, may or may not be the appropriate word. Lets rewind a few hundred years to see where we might be now.

Modern art happened in the West between 1100 to early 1900s. The phase of “modern” art of the West – the experimentation with perception, the screaming of Dada, the surrealistic melting clocks of Dali, the abstractions of Piet Mondrian, Weimar Bauhaus, Italian Futurism, Russian Constructivism –were triggered by powerful historical events like World War I and II and the Bolshevik Revolution. These movements, which included explosive changes in everything from architecture to poetry, literature to visual art, built upon, and in opposition, to each other. They were global movements, as our own modern litt√©rateurs like Balkrishna Sama and artists like Lain Singh Bangdel testify. After the end of modernism came post-modernism, with its anti-Grand Narrative drive. No grand myths are allowed, only pastiches and references of previous glories.

In Bhaktapur, it is hard to shake off the feeling that post-modernism is still very much resting on the grand narrative of Malla glory. This dramatic relationship was best demonstrated by “Bhoj”. Sitting in an open pati, Kalapremi invites curious locals to his “Bhoj” (feast) in flawless Newari. Some young men decline and move off, others jump up to sit on top of newspapers to stare at earthen plates with black and white designs on them. The plates, broken, are woven together by yellow wire with perfect craftsmanship. “You’re sitting on the news,” the artist announces. Kalapremi reads his poem, a biting elegy to the political conflict, addressing the audience in equally flawless literary Nepali. The poem and the art, explains the artist, was inspired by the greed (daridrata) he sees on the faces around him during this moment. Everybody’s plate is broken, he says. The bhoj, a moment redolent of abundance, has become one of emptiness and despair.

The process may have befuddled the art-savvy locals, but not for long. The lines between post-modernism, modernism, and tradition are not that demarked, after all, especially in Nepal where things tend to go around in circles. One of the artists, who has woven straw circles to celebrate the notion of life cycles and completeness, has added a red string to denote the continuation of time. One hopes that time will continue to take art to new and different places.

Middle Class Race

MIDDLE CLASS RACE
Sushma Joshi

My nephew had his pasni (rice-eating) ceremony a few days ago. The five-month old got, amongst other presents, eight racing cars. The brightly colored, glittering toys were inscribed with words such as: “super”, “powerful”, “top driver”, “Police”, “prowl car” and my personal favorite: “conquest”. Racing cars are not particularly indigenous to the Kathmandu Valley, so when they started to pile up I started to wonder why this automobile had taken such a special hold on the Nepali imagination.
You couldn’t trace it back to the influence of television. There are plenty of popular TV shows on boxing and cricket, but there were almost no little cricket bat toys, and no little boxing glove toys. So why the racing car?
Since children play not only for fun, but also to acquire skills useful in later life, I wondered if the racing car symbolized by nephew’s future of mobility in the Kathmandu Valley. This is a valley congested with station wagons, cars and motorbikes. Increasingly, these are private vehicles that belong to the middle class. They jostle for space in the tiny roads, trying to maintain their right of way with speed. The lowly pedestrian cannot, in all honesty, navigate Kathmandu with a feeling of ownership anymore. Only those with private vehicles, and those who can drive the fastest, driving others out of the way, can dream of surviving the Valley’s hectic roads.
Since toys that built skills acquisition were missing – no Lego for building skills, no wooden puzzles for critical thinking skills—I assumed the concern of the gift-givers had not been on building the baby’s future navigational skills. Perhaps a clue lay in the toys’ origins. The majority of the toys (and almost all the clothing) were bought from the Bhatbhateni supermarket, that institution where the aspiring upper-middle and middle class shop for consumer goods and identity.
When the supermarket first opened, the meaning of Bhatbhateni took on a subtle twist. “We’re going to Bhatbhateni” used to mean: “we’re going to the temple.” Now it meant, “We’re going shopping [at an upscale, overpriced institution where we will spend ostentatiously and buy imported goods that make us look good in front of our neighbors.”]
The culture of materialism arrived full-force with the Bhatbhateni supermarket. Although supermarkets such as Bluebird had opened a long time ago, the mall culture of seeing and being seen, the promenade of cars, the lines of causally dressed rich people buying tinned eatables did not start till the five stories of the supermarket at Bhatbhateni went up.
With Bhatbhateni also arrived a slew of brand name goods. These goods have the logos of transnational corporations, and the “Made in China” stamp that signifies the new global economy of cheap, liberalized labor. This sinification of labor has allowed countries like Nepal to take part in the same consumeristic culture that controls much of the Western countries.
You can buy status at Bhatbhateni. You can buy fluffy teddy bears (with synthetic fibre that is dangerous around an infant determined to put anything and everything in its mouth); you can buy an airplane with a “US Army” logo on it, and you can buy armoured trucks with flashing lights and loaded cannons.
What you cannot buy there is a tiny bear, made in Nepal by some unnamed handicrafts industry, made of natural fibres and which does not have any fancy buttons or noses that could detach and choke an infant. It is the safest bear to leave around a five-month old. Ironically, this lone bear of indigenous origins is gifted to my nephew by an American friend.
As a spoilsport aunt, I think one little boy can be happy with a couple of toy cars. My sister-in-law, who has lived in the Valley longer than I have, insists a roomful of toys is the minimum requirement in these modern times.
For the moment, my nephew is still ignorant that a battalion of racing cars and weaponry with US Army logos awaits him in his closet. For the moment, he is happiest with the crackle of wrapping paper, oblivious to the piles of consumer goods that surround and welcome him into the material world.

16 June, 2004

TRAPPED IN THE HIMALAYAS

Nation Weekly magazine, Sushma Joshi

Firas Al-Bakwa, a 29 year old Iraqi refugee, has been in Nepal for the last four years. He left Baghdad in 1999. The police fired into a large crowd that was demonstrating against the assassination of Ayatollah Al-Sadar, a Shia leader. Firas, who carried a wounded friend to safety, fled after he heard Saddam’s police were gunning for him. After Firas Al-Bakwa spending some time in Jordan, Firas was on his way to New Zealand when the immigration authorities in Hongkong detected his fake passport, and sent him back to his last port of arrival, Kathmandu. Firas has UNHCR status as a refugee but is unable to leave because the Nepali government insists he must pay the monthly $180 visitor visa fee that has accumulated for four years, along with fines. Firas talked with Sushma Joshi of the Nation Weekly magazine about his feelings of being unable to leave a country which has become his prison.

Why did you leave?
I was taking part in the protest against the killing of the Ayatollah. The Baathist party came and started to fire at the crowd. They killed so many people – 100 or more. There was blood everywhere. It was like the movies.

You fled to Jordan before coming here. Why did you not stay there?
In Jordan, its worse than here – they can always get you. They were always checking visas. They arrested so many Iraqi people with Jordanian intelligence and sent them back to Iraq.

How did you end up in Nepal?
I was going to go to New Zealand, where my brothers live. I had heard of Nepal, but I didn’t know where it was. Nobody knows about Nepal in the Middle East. My smuggler sent me here to make it appear like there were many steps so he could take a lot of money from me. That’s why I hate my smuggler.

How do you find this country?
Frankly, I find it the worst place to be. They don’t even recognize refugees that the UNHCR has recognized as refugees – they see me as illegal. I wanted to go to a country with dignity and rights, but instead I am here.

What happened after you were sent back from Hongkong?
They put me in prison for six months in Dillibazzar. It was the worst time. There were other Iraqis there, and they told me to apply for refugee status in UNHCR. They took two months to give that to me, after which I went in front of a judge, and he reduced my jailterm to four months and released me.

What was jail in Nepal like?
They cheated me. They told me wrong information about bail so I had to stay in jail for six months.

What has UNHCR done for you?
UNHCR is a very weak organization. It’s only for their employees, who make a good salary. There are 20 million refugees in the world, and they are able to take out only 3 per year from Nepal.

Is your family back in Iraq?
My father, my mother, my two brothers and two sisters are all back there. They want me to come back. Well, they want, and they don’t. Being a young man is risky in Iraq. My brother’s car was hit by an American patrol and they beat him up, so its not safe.

Do you want to go back?
Now that Saddam is gone, I would go back to Iraq, even illegally. But now the UN claims that they need permission from the Coalition Forces for me to go back to my own country.

What’s most oppressive about being in Nepal?
I have no family, no work. I take violin lessons, and computer lessons. But without work, its not easy. I was a student of agriculture in Iraq. I tried to enroll in Rampur College in Chitwan, and they told me I had to pay $20,000. I asked them: is this Cambridge University I am applying to?

How have you tried to leave Nepal?
I waited 18 months to hear about my visa application to Australia. They rejected my application. They said I was not a refugee, and that I am not living outside my country. Should a country torture somebody in this way? Keeping a human being who wants to learn, to work, in this state is torture. Not physical torture, like Saddam, but still torture.

What’s next for you?
I have been waiting to hear of my application from New Zealand for sixteen months. How much time do I have? That was a year and a half of my life.

14 June, 2004

Oliver Twist Finds a New Home

Nation Weekly, June 14-June 20, 2004

Oliver Twist Finds A New Home
A group of orphans rescued from an abusive orphanage finally see better days. For residents of the Light for Nation children’s home, this Dickensenian scenario was not just stories out of a 19th century novel, but daily reality until now
BY SUSHMA JOSHI

What happens when a children’s home becomes a place of abuse, where children get no food to eat and are beaten and kept in a state of acute fear? For residents of the Light for Nation children’s home, this Dickensenian scenario was not just stories out of a 19th century novel, but daily reality. “K.B. Khadga’s( Light for Nation’s founder) wife beat me and shut me in the bathroom,” says Aarati Thapa, pointing to a scar on the side of her face. Aarati, a bouncy little girl in a pink frock, insists she is 10 but looks about seven. She is one of the many children now rescued from the orphanage.

Salvation for the children at Light for Nation like Arati came in the form of nine staff members, who staged a wholescale walkout from the orphanage. Says Maiya Devi Pathak, who eventually started a new organization called Light for Nepal (not to be confused with Light for Nation) which now takes care of 35 children, “I would go from door to door to get donations, and then I would watch the chairman’s family as they ate all the food. The children would get no meat or milk. After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore. I wanted to start a better institution.”

Pathak has a personal reason for starting an abuse-free home for children: her own children were raised in Bal Mandir, which she says did a good job. Pathak, who is epileptic, did not have access to medication in her twenties, and fell into the fire while living in her village. It took two years of hospital-stay and doctors to reconstruct her face. Her children, during this time, grew up in Bal Mandir.

Ram Prasad Pandey, 10, another rescued child, says Khadga’s wife told him that if he left their home, the new folks would cut his heart out and sell it in a foreign country. Does he believe his new caretakers would do that? The question elicits a look of fear, as if the child doubts his own knowledge. But he is very definite when asked if he would like to return to his old orphanage. “No,” he says promptly. “I don’t like it there. They don’t feed us there.”

Food deprivation, say the children, was the norm at Khadga’s Light for Nation. Silas Tamang, who also claims he’s 10, says: “They only fed us once a day; chiura and sometimes rice. They would eat the meat, and only give us the bones.” The children, who were not sent to school, were made to wash the dishes and do the laundry. They were also made to take care of chairman Khadga’s four sons, including diaper changes for the infant. “If his son beat us, he would just beat us again,” says Silas. The chairman’s four sons, Peter, Paul, David and Jakob, received special treatment.

“The chairman even married his 13-year-old son to a 15-year-old orphan girl from the home,” says Yograj Pandey, who also left the orphanage after seeing the abuse. Pandey, the 29-year-old general secretary of the new home, has two gold ear-studs and sunglasses worthy of a rock star. But his commitment to the children is clear. “I can’t stay in my apartment even though I have my BBS Third Year exams,” he says. “I have to come here and be with the children. When they go away to school, it feels very quiet and empty.”

After the walkout, a showdown occurred. Ramila Gurung, 13, decided to run away from the Light of Nation to join her friends at Pathak’s apartment, where 10 children who had left with their caretakers were being housed. K.B. Khadga lodged a complaint with the police, saying Yograj Pandey had stolen his children. “You keep on stealing children from that home. If you need children, we can bring you truckloads from the street,” the police inspector reportedly said to Yograj, who was taken away in a van.

“The inspector didn’t understand that we cared about these children, and they had a bond with us. I told him that we would return the children, if they wanted to go. They started to cry and began to tell their stories, and finally the police gave us full guardianship,” says Yograj, whose ordeal opened up one good networking opportunity: the police, seeing their good work, now bring rice and vegetables for the children.

Pathak’s Light for Nepal, housed in a five storey building close to the green forest of Raniban, is now registered as an NGO with the Social Service Welfare Council. A busy hum of children playing greets visitors at the gate. The children say “Namaste!” and then dash off for their “stick game.” The rooms, stacked with double-decker beds, have the relaxed feel of a home, rather than an institution. A dresser in each room features personal photographs. Salman Khan rubs shoulders with photographs of the children’s families, many of whom still live in Dhading and Nuwakot. “They don’t know their past, or their parents. This is their home. They’re happy here. They might be unhappier if they knew their past,” says Narad Regmi, 30, a newly hired teacher who’s been in the home for only a week.

The school patches together funding from Nepali donors and international friends. Bruce Moore, an Australian donor who originally used to fund Khadga’s Light for Nation, now funds the new institution. He pays the rent for the new five-storey building, but the board remains worried that they may have to shift to a smaller place if he decides to discontinue his funding. Puruswattam Sitaula, the treasurer, says: “It’s a constant battle to keep the orphanage afloat. You can’t allow children to go hungry.” Sitaula’s job includes cajoling shop-keepers for credit when funds are low.

The home has been successful in garnering community support: local donors bring by rice, and vegetables that can be picked up for free from the wholesalers at Kalimati, mentions Sitaula. Even the Water Department co-operates by bringing by free tankers of water. Most importantly, BN Sharma, the vice-chairman of PABSON, has arranged to school all 35 children for free at CPS Godavari School. “We only have to pay the driver’s salary. They even send us a bus,” says Pandey.

Pathak says she would eventually like to have a building and a school which can house up to a 1,000 children. For the moment, however, they cannot add any more children due to lack of funding, despite requests.

Khadga’s Light for Nation, which lost its status as a social service organization after CDO Kirtibahadur Chand deemed it was unsuitable for taking care of children, has shifted to another location. Khadga could not be reached for comment either. Light for Nation continues to operate outside of official scrutiny. The organization sustains itself on funds sent by Christian donors from abroad, and has added more children.

Says Deepak Sapkota of the Central Child Welfare Board, “It’s not clear whose role it is to follow up on such cases. But when we hear of these cases, we do our best to follow it up with the Central District Office.”

The Child Welfare Board, along with UNICEF and ILO, is working to create minimum standards and guidelines for care-giving organizations that work with children. “There’s a Children Act, but there is no provision for law enforcement, and no capacity to implement them,” says Alexander Kruger of UNICEF. When a case is brought to the police, they will favor the management over the children, he says. “The situation is pretty grim.”

10 June, 2004

ZNet: Nepal in the WTO

ZNet Top More South Asia

......... by Sushma Joshi June 10, 2004
(Nepal) Nation Weekly Printer Friendly Version
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The buzz of excitement around Nepal’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), its 147th member, has been tempered by a school of thought that warns of the dangers posed to Nepal’s economy by the new international membership.

Will the WTO membership harm or benefit Nepal? This depends upon who is asking the question, and who is answering it.

“It’s a question of interpretation,” says Dr. Gopi Sedai, who is with Pro-Public, an organization that, among others, lobbies for small farmers. “Not all countries are on the same playing field. Some are stronger than others.” The basic problem, says Sedai, is that the WTO is a spin-off of the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs (GATT), an international organization whose rules were designed for industrialized countries. The least-developed countries were only allowed entry much later. The rules and regulations, therefore, are geared to help countries with stronger economies and trading systems.

A huge chunk of Nepal’s economy is based on subsistence agriculture, and is non-taxable and non-commercialized. Small farmers, who used to receive subsidies for pesticides and chemical fertilizers in the 1950s, were cut off from subsidies as the 80s brought a new era of liberalization and privatization.

The fertilizer story illustrates how liberalization might not work for countries where basic monitoring institutions are not yet in place. In the 1980s, Dr. Prakash Chandra Lohani, the current finance minister, ushered in the Nepal Fertilizer Policy, which cut off public subsidies. Private companies took over the import of chemical fertilizers. The lack of controls soon led to sub-standard products being brought in. The government then nominated individuals with no training to be “fertilizer inspectors” to make sure the products were authentic, and not manufactured at unregistered factories. A small bribe, however, was enough to get the paperwork certifying quality. The farmers had no legal institutions to complain about the sub-standard fertilizers being pushed onto them by private companies.

Nepali farmers, who today fund their own fertilizers and pesticides, are at a tremendous disadvantage vis-√°-vis multi-national corporations and even small farms from countries like the United States whose farms are heavily government-subsidized.

The industrialized nations are not averse to protecting their own domestic economies. “The WTO says its members cannot have trade barriers, but if you look at the actual practice of developed countries, they have many laws that restrict free trade,” says Sedai. He points out that raw milk, which would be very expensive to airlift from other countries, has zero tax in the United States, but yak cheese, which would sell very well, has an approximate 400-500 percent tax slapped on it.

“I cannot answer whether the WTO membership would benefit or harm Nepal in general,” says Anil Bhattarai, a community health researcher at Martin Chautari. “But I can tell you how it will affect specific groups.” The WTO, he says, would significantly benefit trading classes and people who have access to international funding. But small-scale farmers would lose. Bhattarai, who is researching the privatization of health care systems in Nepal, observes that even the rudimentary public health care system that is in place will be in danger of collapsing if the WTO’s conditionalities are to be imposed.

Small farms and health-care are not the only institutions at risk. Basic services like water, electricity and telecommunications, which are currently state-run, may have to be privatized under WTO’s arm-twisting policies. The Asian Development Bank, which is providing a $40 million loan to Nepal, has asked that the Dairy Development Program in Pokhara be privatized.

“Three to four lakh litres of milk is consumed daily in Kathmandu,” says Dr. Sedai. “Around two lakh families produce this milk. If that were to be commercialized, a multi-national could take over a village, pay a high salary to two managers, hire 30 laborers, and keep cows that are engineered to produce a lot of milk. The milk will become much more expensive. Thousands would lose their livelihood.” Sedai’s figures are not derived from highly funded research projects, but his model of lost livelihood is concrete enough.

Small business-people who see larger corporate houses taking over their traditional turf are also concerned. In Khokana, the hub of Nepal’s mustard oil industry, hundreds of small oil presses have gone out of business as industrial houses have taken over their market. “Business is not like it was before,” says Suryabahadur Maharjan of the Khokana Oil Mill, shaking his head. “We used to sell a lot more before.” Maharjan has seen the insidious work of globalization first hand, as the oil crop of Khokana has given way to those from France and Denmark.

History proves that catering to big business is not always good for the poor. After the garment factories of Kathmandu lobbied the government to lower taxes on imported raw cloth, the market became flooded with cheap cotton from India. Small handloom farmers found their woven clothes were out of reach for even middle-class families. Today, even the cotton homespun dhoti worn by Padma Kanya students are imported from India.

The gap between rich and poor gets worse with liberalization, say its critics. In Nepal, where employment opportunities are not being created, people will lose their traditional livelihoods to multi-national corporations. Thousands will end up being displaced to industrialized countries as cheap labor.

Sources at international organizations are also concerned about the impact of WTO laws on intellectual property rights, on wildlife, herbs, and traditional and indigenous knowledge.

As with any other package, the WTO one is a mixed bag—richer countries can ask truant states to impose environmental and health standards on level with international ones, providing benefits to all people in the long run. But the harm far outweighs the benefits, observe its critics.

“The WTO is a group that protects the interests of big business. We are going to them and begging them to let us in, promising to conform to their rules and regulations,” says Dr. Sedai.