EDITORIAL: Children at risk

Awareness at the grassroots level and strong vigilance at border points is a must to minimise the number of children from missing

It is shocking to see that a total of 15,875 children were reported missing in the past nine years from fiscal 2009/10 to fiscal 2017/18, quite often linked to trafficking, according to the statistics maintained by National Report on Trafficking in persons in Nepal. Out of the total number of children reported missing 8,655 continue to remain “missing” while others manage to return home after some time. This report was recently published by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). The statistics were based on the complaints of missing children reported to the National Centre for Children at Risk. In the fiscal year 2017/18 alone, as many as 2,330 children were reported missing. Annually, more than 1,750 children are reported missing. Among the missing, girls accounted for 55 per cent and boys 45 per cent. Fifty-nine per cent of the missing girls is untraced. The fiscal 2016/17 witnessed the highest number of 2,772 children who went missing after the devastating 2015 earthquake, which rendered thousands of children homeless in the central hills. The data said 53 per cent of the missing children were between 17 or 18 years of age. The age group and the missing number of children, mostly girls, indicate their link to trafficking.

Police mainly collect data about missing children from the concerned parents, NGOs, information obtained from toll-free number, police control, provincial offices and child helplines. The highest number of children – 2,330 – (30 per cent)   went missing from the Province 3, where the majority of them were from the Kathmandu Valley. In the fiscal 2017/18, 53 per cent of the children reported missing were between 15 to 18 years of age and, 65 per cent of them were girls. On June 19, 2015, UNICEF had alarmed the Nepal government that “traffickers may promise education, meals and a better future. But the reality is that many of those children could end up being horrendously exploited and abused.”

Acute poverty, dislike of family environment, abandonment by parents, the absence of one or both parents, mistreatment by step-father or step-mother, peer group influence, domestic violence and abuse, lack of caring, or sexual offence are said to be the main reasons behind the increasing number of children reported missing. Police say missing children, especially girls, are at high risk of trafficking. But they cannot say how many of them are trafficked for sex-trade due to lack of authentic data. But many of the families who lodge complaints about their missing children do not report to police even after their kids return home on their own. If the concerned parents cooperate with police it will be easier for them to analyse such trends. As Nepal and India enjoy open borders it is very hard to keep records of all people leaving the country by land routes. Awareness at the grassroots level is a must to minimise the number of children from missing. The elected local levels officials can play a vital role in this regard as they are familiar with every household in all villages. The police and concerned NGOs also should constantly keep vigil at the open borders and prevent suspected children, especially girls, from crossing the border.

Avoidable blindness

Avoidable blindness is a blindness which can either be treated or prevented. According to studies, 90 per cent of eye health problems are related to avoidable blindness, cataract being the leading cause of blindness, accounting for over 80 per cent of avoidable blindness. Glaucoma, eye injuries, vitamin A deficiency, trachoma, blood pressure, diabetes and hypertension are other causes found contributing to visual impairment in Nepal. Avoidable blindness mostly affects the poor people living on the fringes of society, who have rather little knowledge about eye health and even lesser access to health facilities.

And, lack of financial support only helps aggravate their plight. Eye care services are not integrated into general healthcare services in Nepal, according to studies. This significantly limits the people’s chances of getting services, which are often available only in specialized centres. The government needs to integrate eye care with general health services at the provincial and local levels. Making policy reforms to provide primary eye care services at the local level through decentralizing eye care programmes. After all, less than one-fifth of blindness in Nepal – 19 per cent – is said to be permanent. The rest is treatable.