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Child Care: An Emphasis on Child Labor

Nisitha Sengottuvel

My first exposure to the children of Nepal emerged out of a volunteership with Light for Nepal’s Children Orphanage that I attended through VIN. Instantly, I fell in love with the children. I saw that despite their circumstances, each child had unique skills that became more obvious and inspiring as I spent more time with them. I chose the word inspiring after careful deliberation. That was the only way I could describe the way I was feeling in Nepal when seeing how talented and special these kids were. When I read about orphans in the newspaper or tell people “I’m going to go work in an orphanage”, all I saw or visualized were working with orphans. Now when people asked me what I did in Nepal and I say I worked in an orphanage, after seeing their reactions, I do not feel like I succeeded at all in explaining my experience. What I want to do so badly is to drill into their minds every talent, every act of maturity, every smile, every pout, every laugh, every song and every dance that belong to the children. I want my listeners to feel my all the moments my heart was warmed and lifted, every time my eyes had to hold back tears, every hug the children gave, the impact of every story the kids told.


The story of the children does not stop there. According to a report by UNICEF, in 2011, there were approximately 12,883,000 children under the age of 18 in Nepal—many of whom face issues that cripple the future of these children as well as the nation. In my opinion, one of the biggest issues that hurts the Nepali society’s children are the issues of child labor. An overwhelming thirty four percent of children (30% of males and 38% of females) are involved in child labor. UNICEF defines child labor as:


  • Children 5 to 11 years of age that during the week preceding the survey did at least one hour of economic activity or at least 28 hours of domestic work, and


  • Children 12 to 14 years of age that during the week preceding the survey did at least 14 hours of economic activity or at least 42 hours of economic activity and domestic work combined.


According the “2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor”, the types of labor these children do are often times harmful to their health, placing them in compromising situations. For example, more than ¾ of these child labors work in the agricultural sector where occupational safety risks vary from the operation of dangerous machinery and tools, the need to lift and transport heavy loads to exposure to harmful pesticides (2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor). Other types of work they do include making bricks which puts the children at the mercy of harmful dust and back injuries caused by having to carry the bricks on their heads and these are just a few of many harmful sectors of the economy that the child laborers are fuelling.


Kamaiyas essentially means children that are in bonded labor. They come from large landless families or are born into a family legacy of bonded labor (2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor). According to the same source, there may be some evidence that points to the possibility that these Kamaiyas are slipped into sex trafficking domestically or to India and the Middle East. Others are trafficked to these countries for forced begging or to work in industries such as embroidery, leather and garment industries and/or domestic service.


The Kamaiya Labor (Prohibition) Act of 2002 actually forbids possession of or employment of any person as a bonded laborer and cancels any unpaid loans and bonds between creditors and Kamaiya laborers, yet these practices still continue (2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor).


There are also many other laws in place to helps alleviate the impact of the crippling pandemic of child labor. The Child Labor (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 2000 establishes the minimum age for labor at 14 and the minimum age for hazardous work at 16. This act, however, fails to cover nontraditional establishments allowing a lot of cases of child labor to slip through the laws and fail to protect the nations’ children (2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor).


In order to combat child labor—we must first ask, what the causes of child labor are. According to the Child Labor Public Education Project, the top two causes include high levels of poverty and unemployment rates and a limited access to education. The International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour adds to this list: culture and tradition, market demand, the effects of income shocks on households and the lack of legislation and or poor enforcement of existing legislation.

IPEC also draws out the consequences of child labor:


  • Deprives them of schooling or requires them to assume the multiple burden of schooling and work
  • Jeopardises their health and safety – high risk of illness and injury…even death
  • Affects their physical development (malnutrition, long working hours in bad conditions)
  • Exposes them to physical and psychological abuse and violence which all have long term consequences
  • Deprives them of their childhood and of their future”


Child labor increases with the inaccessibility to education.

Research indicates that not all children have access to education, which increases the risk of children engaging in the worst forms of child labor. Some rural villages

do not have secondary schools, leaving children to walk for hours to attend classes.(38) The costs of teacher fees, books, and uniforms are prohibitive for many families. Some children, often girls, are not sent to school.(8, 39) In addition, children with disabilities face barriers to education, in some cases including denial of school admission.(40) A lack of sanitation facilities in schools also deters some girls from attending.(41) (2012 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor)


According to UNICEF, there is not a large disparity between the sexes for early childhood education but a huge disparity between various levels of socioeconomic strata. The percent students participating in secondary school is drastically lower than the number in primary school. Only 46% of males and 38% of females attend secondary school as opposed to 67% of males and the 70% of females that attend primary school (UNICEF). This could be because of the fact that there is no policy of compulsory education for minors though there is a free public school system in place.


I firmly believe that if access to education in Nepal was improved for children the child labor would only be a myth of the past for Nepal’s posterity.


I had the special pleasure of speaking with Dr. Madhav Chavan, alumni of The Ohio State University as well as the co-founder and CEO-President of Pratham, an organization that is able to reach roughly three million primary school age children in India each year. The organization has won many prizes such as WISE, the Kravis and Skoll awards for the many aspects for which it is commendable (Pratham). My proposed plans for combating child labor will largely comprise of variations on Pratham’s programs as they have proven to be successful in a similar environment to Nepal.


Pratham’s goal was to see a book in every child’s hand so that they could all experience and be given the chance to fall in love with reading—a vital tool for further education. VIN has come out with a children’s magazine. I think it would be beneficial if VIN could make the magazine available to as many children as possible—especially to those children in remote and rural areas with less access to stimulating materials. VIN should make it a goal to distribute at least 1000 free copies to children in remote villages and slowly begin increasing the number. In addition, these magazines could also advertise and host children’s story writing competition or essay contests with cash prizes. That will help incentivize education and extrinsically motivate children to learn and educate themselves. Basically, the purpose this would serve is to introduce the idea that education can and will serve to provide income. In order to generate the funds to distribute free magazines, we should also make these magazines available for purchase abroad and to wealthier constituents in Nepal. By purchasing these magazines, parents who come from wealthier/educated backgrounds will be able to buy materials to entertain and teach their children with while supporting a good cause and instilling the idea of generosity and the importance of giving to their children.


Another system the organization uses to promote childhood education is the Pratham Open school. If we were to open something similar to the Pratham Open School with VIN, the startup costs for this project would be relatively low considering the potential impact this initiative will have. VIN would begin working with around 5-7 villages that lie in a cluster. In these villages, we would have to screen and locate about 10-15 girls/young women who have dropped out of school. We will invite these girls to study for 4-5 days every month at the main VIN office. Once they return from their first session, two things will take place. They will start meeting weekly once or twice with a tutor near the 5-7 villages to continue their education (Free of charge to the girl but VIN will be paying the tutor). These girls will also be responsible for holding class/tuition for 1-2 hours every day for day care level or primary level students. VIN will not pay the girl to hold these classes—we will provide her with some education and the resources needed for her to teach the children in her area. If the families of the children wish to pay her, she can take and keep the money they give her without giving VIN any of it—but if the families do not give her anything, we cannot help that but we expect her to continue teaching. This will motivate her to teach well and make a difference in the education level of the children so that she might receive some type of financial benefits from doing the classes. This also goes back to teaching both the children she teaches and the girl herself the value of schooling and establishing a connection in the minds of these youngsters the relationship between money and education.


There are many ways to help alleviate child labor through the promotion of early childhood education. I believe the two plans above that I have proposed may be some of the most cost effective and far reaching programs that VIN could implement quite easily from where we stand today. Nelson Mandela said “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” and VIN can use this weapon to make Nepal a happier place for tomorrow’s children


By Nisitha Sengottuvel
The Ohio State University

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