CPCS is deeply involved on the street, with the street and for the street. We believe that our role is not to get the child out of the street at all costs. There are many reasons pushing, throwing or attracting the child to the street and the street world and the ones living there have to be respected. Children on the street are living in groups (small gangs) following their own rules, own way of thinking, own way of living. As they feel rejected by society, they create a sub society system with their own power relations, hierarchy and values. As plastic takers (rag pickers), beggars, street vendors, tempo boys, they don’t have a very positive image on the public. They are what people call “Khate”, a word, which once described the plastic takers only but that is now used for calling all those children who work, live and sleep on the street.
“Khate” is a very negative term and children refuse to be called that way. Anyway this word well describes the negative public opinion toward street children. They are considered as social parasites, small criminals, drug abusers and thieves. Their dirty language, shabby clothes and refusal of any social constraints makes the general public think that street children are basically and internally unsocial persons.
On the other hand the children themselves feel that they have no other choice but to behave differently. Feeling as unaccepted persons, street children decide not to accept society and its rules. “Nobody accepts us, they call us “Kathe”, dogs, monkeys… Therefore, why do we have to respect them? We have our way and it’s good so; we are not from their world”, argues 13 year-old Sujan.
It looks like a never ending cycle of exclusion, marginalization and violence.
“Why do we have to respect something that rejects us”?
Street children are a reality worldwide. In Kathmandu only, CPCS estimates the number of street children as approximately 1000-1200. They are living, sleeping and working under the open sky and surviving as they can without family support. They are staying with friends and working as Khalasis, Beggars, Rag Pickers… Despite their young age, they are exposed to some of the worst form of exploitation and forced to experience social exclusion day after day. The reasons for which they got to the Kathmandu streets are numerous and complex. Socio-economic conditions in villages, family violence, attraction for the city, political instability, are some of them.
From a child at risk it takes only a few days to get to the street. A typical example : “Milan (name changed) is 14 years old and arrived on the streets of Kathmandu two years ago. He is from a “not-so-poor” family from a small village in Nuwakot District but had a big fight at home with his stepmother and ran away. Also he was convinced that the way of life in a capital would be like a dream with a good job, good food, and plenty of money. Very soon in the New bus Park area, he was molested by a security guard and left for the center. Near Bir Hospital, he met some other boys who provided him with food and let him sleep with them. After a few days, he started to know about the street children’s sub-society and their rules. He started experiencing the freedom of the street, solidarity of his group… and with the time he created himself a new identity… Now, he is still on the street. He says: “I don’t want to go back; this is my life and my choice. I just want the society to respect us”.
Nepal Street children groups are not really organized and hierarchical gangs, but rather a flexible net of power relations. Each group has its own rules and territorial positions (GangaBu, Thamel, Kalanki, Kalimati, Bugol Park, Bir Hospital…). The groups provide the child protection, solicitude, trust and solidarity. Its values and system become the base of the child’s identity which will be strongly linked with the street survival conditions.
Street life means various risks and continuous dangers for that particularly vulnerable young population. Risks / Dangers that they face are numerous: violence (moral and physical), drugs addiction, threatening from gangs, social exclusion, health problems, delinquency, criminality, alcoholism, starvation, lack of self-esteem…
Our children and their major occupations:
- Tempo children
More than 400 children from the mountain areas are hired as tempo fare collectors. They earn from 25 to 120 rupees per day, which is sufficient for food and cigarettes but not for a living space. Usually they sleep in the tempo or on the street. Their dream is to get a driving license and one day own a car. Unfortunately most of them will never get anything other than pollution related diseases as they hang from the back of a tempo all day in traffic jams inhaling exhaust fumes. They often suffer from serious lung and respiratory disorders.
- Plastic gatherers
From early morning till late evening the Rag pickers collect recyclable waste in large bags from the garbage piles on the streets of Kathmandu and sell it per kilo. Their number is estimated at about 500 in the capital alone. Spending hours each day digging through refuse they are particularly liable to infections, skin diseases and gastro-intestinal problems.
Begging is the daily occupation of about one hundred children in Nepal. It is physically easier for these children than for those mentioned above because they are not steeped in garbage and fumes. Yet beggars suffer more from social isolation than the other groups and the psychological cuts can go even deeper. Begging destroys any feelings of self esteem, which makes the children dangerously undervalue themselves.
- Other children
Sell newspapers, bread, biscuits, wash dishes in restaurants, carry water, and work as construction laborers. There is no such thing as fundamental labor rights with luxuries such as regular work hours, guaranteed wages, and job security.