Prasanna Chitrakar

Kathmandu:

Many look back at childhood as the best years of their lives. But for thousands of children working as domestics, it is one of the most difficult and trying times when they are subjected to various forms of exploitations and abuses. In this regard, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has decided to highlight the plight of child domestics on the World Day Against Child Labour, which is to being observed today. Child domestic labour refers to situations where children are engaged to perform domestic tasks in the home of a third party or employer. Working in a private home, the overwhelming majority are often grossly exploited and abused. A wall of acceptance surrounds the practice, often considered a better alternative for children from poor families.

Bishnu Giri, resident of Udaypur district, is currently working as a domestic in Kuleshwor. After his father passed away at a tender age, he was forced to leave home to support his mother, seven brothers and three sisters. Luckily, his employers are kind hearted and allow the 15-year-old to attend the non-formal education classes provided by a non-governmental organisation. “When I hear about the kind of problems other child domestics are facing, I feel extremely lucky,” says Giri. “But time and again, I wonder where my life is headed and what will I do in the future.” Bishnu’s is one of the few ‘successful’ stories, child activists working with domestics state most children are deprived of educational opportunities. Those attending schools have highly irregular attendance and are rarely on time for classes.

“Our studies have revealed that majority of the children have to work over 14 hours everyday and are subjected to physical, verbal and even sexual harassment at times,” says Yuvraj Ghimire from Children-Women In Social Service and Human Rights (CWISH). A study conducted by CWISH revealed that from those privileged to attend schools, 88 per cent did not receive salaries. The study further revealed that 54 per cent of domestic workers complained of not being able to have their meals on time. Seventy-two per cent were able to devote less than two hours to studies, 28 per cent were not even able to study for one hour at home. Of them, 65 per cent stated they got to study at night only after finishing the household work. While two per cent of the respondents said they even availed tuition facility.

“We have been trying to emphasise that children should be allowed to complete their school work before having to do household chores,” says Ghimire. According to an investigation by Centre for Women and Development, a great majority of children working as domestics, are born of illiterate parents, mostly depend upon agriculture and seasonal work as means of survival. In most cases, according to the analysis, household workers have to choose between salary and education. However, some are devoid of both.

A steady increase in the number of school going domestic child workers indicate people’s positive attitude towards child workers. A study by CWISH also revealed that 83 per cent of the domestics attending school were admitted by employers. “Even so, there are incidences where even educated employers have forced the children working in their homes to drop out from school,” says Jiyam Shrestha, programme manager at Concern for Children and Environment-Nepal (CONCERN). “You see, it is really difficult to say what goes on behind closed doors.” Since elimination of child labour is not possible without eliminating poverty from the country, the idea of pulling out children from work and rehabilitating them into child centres alone is not a reasonable solution argue activists. “Perhaps the best way to help abolish exploitation of domestic child labour is to develop ways and means of improving their work situation through awareness programmes for employers and creation of career development opportunities for the target group,” said Shrestha. ILO, along with other child rights organisations, is organising a rally starting from Ratna Park to mark this day. The rally will conclude at Bhrikuti Mandap, where a formal programme will take place. Around 500 children, mostly domestic workers, will be participating in the rally. ILO launched a World Day Against Child Labour in 2002 to raise visibility of the problem highlighting the global movement to eliminate child labour, particularly its worst forms. The theme for last year was trafficking.

For thousands of children working as domestics, childhood is one of the most difficult and trying times.