Child Labour Movement In Nepal [ 2007-12-16 ]
The issue of child labour was never an agenda of any social organization and the state before 1990. Despite the prevalence of child labour, the pre-1990 government did not recognize child labour as a problem. During the Panchayat period the government had claimed the non-existence of child labour in Nepal.
This issue emerged as a social agenda only after 1990. The democratic governments formed after 1990 not only recognised the problem of child labour in Nepal but also formulated laws, policies and programmes for the protection of children and their rights.
Nepal ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990 and expressed its public commitment at the international forum for the protection of the rights of the child. In line with its international commitment, the government introduced and enforced laws regarding the protection of children including the Children�s Act 1992 and Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 2000.
Some organizations made significant contribution to the development and protection of child rights in Nepal. Among them Underprivileged Children Education Programme (UCEP) was one of the pioneer organizations dealing with child labour rehabilitation in Nepal. The UCEP programme started in 1982 has its own non-formal education curriculum for children living in deprived conditions. After the completion of its stage of education, UCEP provided vocational training like draftsmanship, auto-mechanics and tailoring.
The Chhauni Children�s Home established in 1985 and situated in Swayambhu area played a key role for the removal and rehabilitation of street children in Kathmandu. The objective of this organization was to rescue young abandoned children roaming in the streets of Kathmandu and send them in rehabilitation centre. It rehabilitated a signification number of rag-picking children through its correction homes. This is the first organization in Nepal, which actually started programme for the street children living in risk. But now this organization does not exist.
Before 1990, many INGOs including ILO and UNICEF did not have any policy and programme for child labour in Nepal. In 1987, a group of post-graduate university students took initiative to raise the issue of child labour. This group formed an organization called Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre, which was supported by Child Workers in Asia, Thailand.
My personal survey began with dealing on the problems of teashop boys popularly known as �Hotel Kanchha�, in Kathmandu. The study was published in a CWIN�s publication the �Voice of Child Worker�. This was followed by another survey on the condition of shoe shining boys in Kathmandu. By the end of 1989 some other surveys such as rag-picking children, carpet-weaving children, street children, child labour in tea garden, etc. were conducted.
In 1988, the first five-day conference on working children in South Asia was organised in Kathmandu with support from Save the Children Norway. The outcome of the workshop was widely covered in the local media. The programme, in fact, encouraged many individuals and organizations to work in the field of child labour.
On November 20, 1989 the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly. The Convention was ratified by Nepal on September 14, 1990. The Convention had clearly defined the provision to help protect the child labourers against their economic exploitation.
In 1990, a survey on economic exploitation over children in Tea Estates in Ilam and Jhapa districts commissioned soon after restoration of multiparty system. This writer had coordinated the research survey.
The government made an amendment in the existing Labour Act in 1991 adding some more clauses concerning prohibition of employing children under 14 years.
In 1992, I coordinated a national level survey on the child labour problem in carpet industry. In the same year the National Children�s Act 1992 was enacted. The plight of economic exploitation of children in hand knotted carpet industry in Nepal was disclosed in different media. Most of the European consumers stopped buying the Nepali carpets after the news about the use of child labour was made public. As a result, more than 40% carpet business went down.
In 1994 Concern for Children and Environment-Nepal (CONCERN) came into existence to deal with the issue of child labour in Nepal. In the same year a survey was conducted by this organization to ascertain the problems of economic exploitation of child porters in Kathmandu Valley. However, the survey report was published in a book form only in 1997 due to financial constraints. At present several NGOs and INGOs have given priority to combat the issue of child labour.
In 2000, the Nepal government signed an agreement with ILO/IPEC to fight child labor. The ILO/IPEC in collaboration with government, non governmental organisations, trade unions and employers� associations identified seven worst forms of child labour in Nepal which include child porters, carpet weaving working children, coal mine child labour, street children, bonded labour, domestic child labour and children in trafficking. A rapid assessment was also made in the same year, which estimated the number of worst form of child labourers at 127,000. Accordingly, ILO/IPEC developed a five-year action plan targeting 22 districts including Kathmandu and launched its activities.
Although the government of Nepal enacted the Child Labour Prohibition and Regulation Act 2000, it was enforced only in 2005. Its by-laws are yet to be made. In the same way Nepal government developed a 10-year national plan of action for the protection and overall development of children in Nepal.
At present, ILO/IPEC estimates that the number ofchild labourers in Nepal stands at 2.6 million. Child labour exists in 84 areas. Agriculture is still the dominant sector that employs largest number of workers including children. However the actual figure of the number of children in this sector is yet to be ascertained. There is an urgent need to conduct a survey to find out the exact number of child workers in agriculture in Nepal.