|UNCERTAIN FUTURES: These children were rescued from Pavitra Samaj Sewa Sangha\'s home in Jorpati and placed in government care after 88 others disappeared.|
It didn't take long for teachers and administrators at RIMS School and Eyelense School in the Valley to realise something was deeply wrong. Last year, Pavitra Samaj Sewa Sangha, a children's home in Jorpati, enrolled 88 students in Eyelense and 35 in RIMS; however, less than a month later, the children started dropping out, often with new ones arriving in their place. To date, 88 children have gone missing from Pavitra Samaj.
"Pavitra Samaj enrolled the students with us in May. By June, most were nowhere to be seen. We didn't get an explanation, instead they started enrolling new children every week," says Balmukunda Karki, vice principal at RIMS, where only 11 of the original students are still attending classes. The home's chairman, Sitadevi Gautam, was defensive when the schools started asking questions, and made vague excuses about the children being taken home by relatives. "When we tried to probe deeper, we were told to do our job and not poke around in other people's business," says principal Anil Parajuli, adding that on admissions forms the details of each child's parents or guardians were left blank.
Rajesh Bista, Eyelense's principal, describes a similar experience. "Only 24 of the 88 students originally enrolled by Pavitra Samaj still attend school," he says. He never got concrete answers from the organisation about where the children went either. "When we asked the other students, they said 'uncles and aunties come to pick them up; if we ask about them, they say they will hang us'." Some children were enrolled as orphans but later said to have been sent back to their parents' care.
The two-year-old Pavitra Samaj Sewa Sangha runs on donations, and had 126 orphaned and destitute children listed in its care, mostly from Rolpa, Rukum, Dhading, Dang, and Makwanpur. Gautam admits children have disappeared, but places blames the organisation's financial manager Dhruba Adhikari, who hasn't been to work since 28 August last year. "He did everything; I just signed papers that said how many children had arrived and how long they would be staying. I have no idea what he used to do or how much money he used to make," says Gautam.
In addition to the home in Jorpati, Pavitra Samaj also has branches that collect donations and care for children. Eleven children are said to have been receiving aid at their premises in Balkhu, but none are still there. Narayan Funyal, chairman of the branch, says four of them returned to their parents in Dhading, and the remaining seven were taken away by a middleman over Dasain. He claims he was away when this happened and denies all knowledge of the children's whereabouts, adding, "The children were brought here from all over by middlemen. The parents don't know anything, just that we provide them with food, shelter, clothing, and education until SLC."
Pavitra Samaj has also been 'transferring' children to other organisations. In early 2007, five girls were sent to Malai Nabirsyau, a children's home. Gautam says this was done in the girls' "best interests", but admits that she received Rs 12,000 for the deal.
Gyanu Lama of Kathmandu's District Administration Office's Child Welfare Council says such monetary transactions are illegal. A total of 1,048 centres for orphans or destitute children operate in Nepal, with 366 centres and 615 children's welfare organisations in the capital alone. Lama says that 50 of these, including Malai Nabirsyau, are blacklisted. In mid-January, the government intervened, and took the remaining children from Pavitra Samaj into government care.
Executive director of central Child Welfare Council Dipak Raj Sapkota says "We've seen repeatedly that children are being smuggled both inside and outside the country for household employment, sexual abuse, circus labour, or organ transplants. If society keeps turning a blind eye to this, it will have unimaginable consequences in the years to come."