Children at risk in brick kilns

Kathmandu, December 31

Around three weeks ago, an 18-months-old infant named Urmila Tamang drowned in a pit dug to produce bricks for a brick factory at Sunapa in Bhaktapur.

The incident occurred in an area leased by the owner of the brick factory where Urmila’s parents work.

This is not an isolated case. According to police data, a total of 17 children have drowned in such ditches in brick industries in Bhaktapur in the past three years alone. Of them, six children died in 2070, five children died in 2071, and six in 2072.

One brick industry digs at least 20 ditches up to 20 metres deep to store water for making bricks. These ditches are often not fenced, and brick industries don’t generally take any special safety measures to protect employees or their children from falling in them.

There are around 800 registered brick factories across the country, many of them in Bhaktapur, according to the Federation of Nepal Brick Industries.

Police cases are never filed for such incidents, and the kin of the victims rarely get decent compensation. Most victims are underprivileged and illiterate, and unaware of the legal procedures or their rights.

This means that such cases are often settled between family of victims and brick industry owners, and the owners have an upper hand in the negotiations, since they employ the victim family members.

Urmila’s father Mandip Tamang said he does not know when he will get compensated. “The factory owner has promised to provide compensation, but I do not know when that will happen.” However, Deputy Superintendent of Police Mitra Bandhu Sharma, who looked into the case of Urmila, said there is no any legal provision to register a police case as it was not a murder.

DSP Sharma said cases of this nature are settled mutually between the family of victim and the other party. Mona Ansari, spokesperson for the National Human Rights Commission, said one can file a police case in cases of such nature as the law has clearly restricted the practice of child labour.

She said brick factory owners who have dug pits in the premises of brick factories are responsible to ensure that the premises are safe.

In an incident of similar nature that occurred four years ago, a seven-year-old boy drowned in a pit dug in the premises of a brick factory at Tathari in Nagarkot.

The family of the deceased did not receive the body initially, demanding legal action against the guilty. Police intervened later and the case was settled without filing a police case.