Clubs in Nepal teach children about their rights
By Sam Taylor
BIRATNAGAR, Nepal, 5 August 2009 – Reshmi Chaudhary, 16, is a very busy young woman. She works six days per week, 11 hours per day as a housekeeper, in addition to attending school. She is also the president of one of the 22 working-children’s clubs in the southern Nepali town of Biratnagar.
Despite her packed schedule, she would not have it any other way.
“The children’s clubs are very useful in addressing the many problems that we face,” said Reshmi, who has been a club member for eight years and a domestic worker since the age of six. “Sometimes our workload is too heavy, and we occasionally face bad behaviour from our employers. Some employers physically abuse domestic workers or try to restrict their movements,” she added.
Rights under the CRC
The clubs in Biratnagar give around 2,100 working children and young people the opportunity to get together to address the problems they face, as well as learn about their rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These include the right to protection from harmful and exploitive work, the right to education and the right to have their opinions heard.
“Because of the club, I know about my rights,” said Saraswati Gurung, 17, who has been attending the clubs for nine years. She is also a representative in the municipal children’s clubs committee and a former domestic worker.
“I pass this information on to my siblings, parents and neighbours. I will be sure that once I have them, my own children will know about their rights,” noted Saraswati.
UNICEF and local non-governmental organizations have partnered to support the children’s clubs, whose members range from 10 to 18 years of age. Such clubs have become key development partners in many areas of Nepal.
“Now, when agencies want to tackle issues like child marriage, discrimination or hygiene, they use the children’s clubs,” said UNICEF Child Participation Specialist Anjali Pradhan.
In Accham, a district that has a high rate of HIV, children’s clubs are at the forefront of awareness campaigns to reduce the spread of the virus. The clubs have evolved from single-issue organizations – focused on improving local sanitation or tackling gender discrimination, for example – to multi-issue groups that make sure children’s voices are heard at the local, regional and national levels.
Heard by lawmakers
Lawmakers in Nepal are drafting a new constitution, and the children’s clubs have secured an important role in this process.
“Over the past two years, we have held various consultations with children’s clubs across the country and have gathered the issues that concern children, and presented them to parliamentarians,” said Ms. Pradhan.
Article 7 of the CRC states that all children have the right to be registered at birth, in order to ensure that they receive the education and health care to which they are entitled. In keeping with this mandate, children's clubs recently persuaded one municipality in Nepal to allow them to undertake a birth registration drive. They also successfully lobbied parents to get their children vaccinated against measles.
“We should be able to participate in all level of society. Children’s voices should be heard in all arenas,” said Saraswati. “Children are the best people to explain and try to solve children’s problems.”