C (right), a 12-year-old, earns Rs 4,000 per month selling plastic bottles he collects from garbage piles in Thamel. It's only 4PM, he has just begun his shift and still has a long working day ahead. As the bars empty of tourists, the streets become dangerous. He works until 2AM but, unlike many other street children, is lucky to have a home. His family migrated here from India a few years ago, searching for a better life. The whole family works selling garbage. When he gets home, C sleeps for a few hours until he wakes up for school, a privilege he has thanks to an INGO that supports him by providing him with books and a mandatory school uniform.
K (left) is 16 and earns Rs 1,200 as a domestic worker. When she was only six her father brought her to the city and placed her hand into a stranger's with the words: "Take her". For the next five years, she worked as an unpaid domestic worker, suffering from emotional neglect. Her memories from that period are blurred; she only remembers endless days of crying and one specific memory of being forced to work from sunrise to sunset without food, causing her to faint from hunger. Today, K is in ninth grade and working only a few hours a day. After having suffered as a child labourer, she does not want to marry or to have children. She says, "Those who are poor, they should not have children? there is so much suffering."
J (right) is a micro-bus conductor and earns Rs 3,000 a month. Though he can afford a meal, he goes to sleep hungry many nights a week because he is too homesick to eat. He came to Kathmandu four months ago with a friend. "The day I arrived in the city was the saddest day in my life," says J. All his expectations for a better life were shattered when he could not find a job, but now he works as a conductor and dreams of someday becoming a microbus driver.
These are three of the stories of child workers in Nepal in The Faces Behind the Numbers, a video testimonial to be launched this week. Produced by the Israeli INGO, Tevel Be'Tzedek in partnership with Contemporary Vision, the documentary is a collection of searing testimonies of Kathmandu's street children and child workers.
There are anywhere up to 3 million child workers in Nepal, and despite the work of child rights organisations the number seems to be growing. The film shows that children are not just statistics, they have individual stories of tragedy and hope, struggle and survival. No number can tell the story of the working children of Nepal. These children deserve a better childhood, one without responsibilities and financial duties. But a lot must change in the country in order for this to become a reality.
In the meantime, their rights need to be protected so they do not risk becoming victims of abuse. They must be provided the opportunity to receive an education to ensure better lives for their children.
The Faces Behind the Numbers will be screened at a seminar on child workers on 9 July at 5PM at the Vajra Hotel. Free entrance.