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The working children of Nepal

Feb 13, 2012 04:03 PM

Over a third of all children in Nepal (aged 5-14 years) are estimated to be involved in some form of child labour, according to a recent United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) report.

This estimate is based on surveys conducted among Nepalese children. Those aged 12-14 years were classed as ‘child labourers’ if they carried out at least 14 hours of economic activity each week (or 28 hours of household chores). Younger children (5-11 years) who said they did at least one hour of economic activity (or 28 hours of household chores) were classified as involved in child labour.

In the worst cases, the work undertaken by children is extremely dangerous to their health. In eastern regions of Nepal, youngsters act as child porters. Surveys among the children have showed that the loads they carry averaged 49 kg, heavier than their own weight. These kinds of loads result in bone, joint and muscle problems. And the health of the children is further impaired by poor diets and low body weights. Around a third of child porters were found to be anaemic and three-quarters were stunted.

Child labour in Nepal is increasingly to be found in urban areas. It is not uncommon for children from poor remote regions to be trafficked to cities such as Kathmandu, where they are put to work in jobs such as domestic servants, hotel boys and carpet weavers.

One international agency – Terre des Hommes – has highlighted the situation of migrant workers employed in the brickyards of Kathmandu, where children as young as six are working full time. Fleeing poverty in the countryside or to repay debts, the migrants and their children have no clean water or sanitation facilities and no health check-ups. Exposed to highly toxic substances from the brick kilns, such as black carbon and carbon dioxide, the children are particularly vulnerable to acute respiratory infections. The unsanitary living conditions around the factories also mean that children frequently suffer from fevers and diarrhoea. Long-term, the work can lead to spinal injuries and lung cancer. Terre des Hommes is working to help the women and children, whilst also acting as an advocate for the rights of women and children.

However, in a country where poverty is so widespread – 55% of the population lives below the poverty line – children will continue to be involved in child labour as the only way many families can survive.

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