In Nepal, child labourers face uncertain future

Although 12-year-old Sachina Praja’s employer is happy to support her education for now, without parents or a guardian to ensure that she does not drop out of school, her future is not so certain

Sharmina Manandhar
Sachina Praja, 12
UNICEF Nepal/2019/KPanday

08 August 2019

Chitwan, Nepal – It has been years since 12-year-old Sachina has seen any of her family.

Her father, who she says is working abroad, hasn’t been in touch ever since he left Nepal many years ago. This led to her mother remarrying and never again contacting Sachina and her five siblings.

With no parents around, both of Sachina’s elder sisters, still in their teens, have gotten married. Her 13-year-old elder brother and two younger sisters, like her, are engaged in some form of labour. Her brother lives in their hometown in southern Nepal while her sisters, she believes, live somewhere in Kathmandu, the capital city.  

Sachina was brought to Bharatpur Municipality of Chitwan District, three years ago. She lives with and works as a domestic help for an elderly woman in her seventies.

She says she was almost sent to work in a restaurant by her relatives before she came to Bharatpur to live with Aama (mother), as Sachina lovingly calls the elderly woman.

Sachina says she likes it in Bharatpur, even though she misses her family.

Sachina’s daily routine includes getting up early in the morning and sweeping the floors in the house. She then cleans up the buffalo shed and tends to the chickens, before having her morning meal and going to school.

Sachina Praja tends to the cattle at her employer's house
UNICEF Nepal/2019/KPanday

“My favourite subject is Nepali. I find it very easy,” Sachina said. “I don’t like English that much. I find it very difficult to understand.”

Once back from school, her chores include cutting grass to feed the buffalo and helping out with anything that needs to be done at the house. She does not get any salary for her services. Instead Aama sends her to school. She also gets to play around with children from the neighbourhood.

Sachina Praja in her classroom in Chitwan District
UNICEF Nepal/2019/KPanday

I will educate her as long as I am alive,” says Aama. “I don’t know what will happen to her after I die.”

Sachina recently moved up to grade four after being placed third in her class. However, she missed school for the last 10 days. When asked, why she didn’t go to school, she simply smiles. When prodded further, she says, with the new academic session, there isn’t much teaching and learning going on at the school.

Though Sachina’s present seems to be fine with Aama supporting her education for now, her future is quite uncertain, especially without parents or a guardian to protect her and ensure that she does not drop out of school.

Children like Sachina who work as domestic help are especially vulnerable to ending up on street, according to Raj Govinda Shilpakar, Executive Director of a non-government organization and UNICEF partner Diyalo Pariwar. Sachina was identified as a child labourer during Diyalo Pariwar’s door-to-door awareness raising campaign as part of UNICEF’s child labour elimination programme.

Sachina Praja reading outside the house of her employer in Chitwan
UNICEF Nepal/2019/KPanday

UNICEF has been working with the Government of Nepal to eliminate all forms of child labour in 14 selected municipalities since 2011, targeting over 13,000 children who are trapped in labour. As part of the programme, UNICEF supports the children by providing them with a range of appropriate services and family-based interventions. Using different awareness raising events like door-to-door campaigns and street dramas, the programme also aims to encourage children, families, employers and the community to adopt positive behaviors that will help eliminate the worst forms of child labour.

“Children engaged in labour or living on the streets are even discriminated against by schools,” Mr Shilpakar said. “They are perceived as troublemakers who are not serious about their future.”

“Schools are reluctant to take them on as their students because they fear that they may be a bad influence on other students. So we have to really work hard to convince the school authorities to grant these children admission.”

He also added that these children require long-term support including counseling to make sure that they continue their education and do not end up on streets.

As for Sachina, she is under the guardianship of Aama, however long that may last. For now, that is enough for Sachina it seems.

On her day back in school after missing classes for nearly two weeks, Sachina promises her teacher that she will attend regularly from now onwards.

Sachina Praja rides a bicycle with one of the children from the neighborhood with a dog following behind them
UNICEF Nepal/2019/KPanday