Building safer, stronger communities in Nepal

Justine Demmer, Viva’s Network Consultant for Asia, writes about the people she met during a recent visit to see our partner network CarNet Nepal in action.

“Last year one of the members of our Child Vigilant Group (CVG) saw with his own eyes a man raping a young girl. We as the CVG group took action and made a criminal case against him. He went to prison for six months, and the girl we helped send to a local organisation to recover. After a few months, the girl came back at her family’s request. She was not ready, but we are looking out for her now.”

This was the part of my conversation with a woman called Silkumari Shrestha that gripped me. Reporting cases of sexual abuse is unheard of in the Nepali district of Sindhupalchowk, never mind getting a conviction.

The members of the CVG have not always been so passionate about saving children from abuse. Creating these champions for children is the result of years of hard work and engagement by the network team – it defines abuse, explains its effects on children and builds up a community that cares and proactively protects their children.

It is a privilege for me to spend time with these men and women, a win like this conviction goes a long way to helping them to persuade the community to treat children better. The CVG is one of the few successful ways of tackling child abuse, exploitation and trafficking head on.

Children here are generally viewed as able to create income for their families from a very early age. This thinking leads to unlawful, unethical and often abusive and exploitative behaviour towards children, such as using them for smuggling goods across borders, as hard labourers in the slate mines and letting traffickers posing as job recruiters take them in return for promised income.

As my conversation with Silkumari continued, she said, “Early marriage is also a real problem here. It is both the practice of arranged marriage of children before the legal age, but also consensual, but illegal, sexual activity among the youth. We are doing our best to prevent it, as it’s harmful to the children.”

Silkumari is also one of the 75 women taking part in the network’s income generation programme. I met with 30 of them to assess their progress. They are very hospitable, have beautiful smiles and brightly-coloured clothing, and there is a lovely togetherness amongst them.

These women are taught to work in groups to earn an income, then to invest a portion in developing the business or saving, and then to divide the rest between the members for household expenses. All of them are now able to send their children to school, which is fantastic.

The training from the network project team has taught the women to turn their agriculture into income generation, given them knowledge of savings and selling, and discipline and accountability.

Currently the women are farming with tomatoes, coffee beans and hens, but are requesting further business development and goat farming training. Besides the benefit of increasing their income, they are finding it far more sustainable, flexible and enjoyable working together and being able to cover for one another: “There is always some of us available to do the work that needs to be done.”

Earlier in the day I met up with five girls and five boys from the same community who come together at a church for a refresher of the ‘Good touch, bad touch’ training they had received the year before.

Hearing their answers to questions, they had obviously remembered the training well, and this will mean they can better protect themselves in the face of sexual harassment and pressure.

The trainer emphasises again that it is right to push a person away if they touch you inappropriately, to run away and to call for help – they had all learned the telephone help number and know the safe people to turn to.

They were encouraged at the refresher training to seek out the help of the CVG if they needed to talk about being touched inappropriately.

It was good to see that the messages of child protection were being woven into the society not only from adults to children, but also from children to adults. Giving children a voice, and ensuring their concerns are valid is significant progress.

After talking with the local project leaders, there was much to reflect on after delving deeper into the difficulties that the children have faced. I discovered that child labour is so prevalent because of the close proximity to the border with China and the local slate mine industry that is growing.

A child can earn 500-700 rupees (around £5 / $5 / $HK40) per day for their family through cross-border smuggling as the guards ignore the children, and the slate mine brokers employ children because they are cheaper and more subservient.

Child trafficking in the area has been well-documented, the border providing a quick getaway for traffickers with children, and a ready clientele for child labour and sexual prostitution in China.

It has been two years since the devastating earthquake severely affected this area; Sindhupalchowk was near the epicentre of the disaster. Many citizens here still live in their shacks; the government has given each family some small funds, but the rebuilding is slow.

Thankfully, since the earthquake, the border crossing between Nepal and China has been temporarily closed. This and the large presence of local and international NGOs in abundance is naturally reducing the smuggling and child trafficking risks, providing a respite against these difficult issues.

CarNet Nepal remains active and vigilant, and it is encouraging to see child protection values take root within these communities, providing safer, happier childhoods for the children of Nepal.