KATHMANDU , NOV 15 - Human rights activist Gauri Pradhan, who has been working with street children for the last two and a half decades, shared a particular incident during the 2006 people’s movement to restore democracy in Nepal.  

Pradhan would go to police stations to free street children who had been caught for allegedly ‘partaking’ in riots and ‘supporting the revolution’. While Pradhan was certain that the children had nothing to do with the street protests, and must have been in the wrong place at the wrong time—the frequency of arrests only continued. It was only when he dug deep that he found out what exactly was transpiring.

When people demonstrated and the police charged back, riot would ensue. During this chaos, people running for their lives would forget their phones, leave behind their shoes and drop their wallets. For street children who worked as rag pickers- this was a moment of opportunity, a chance to make that extra buck.  Oblivious to the revolution and what the country was fighting for, they happily carried stones in the sacks which could later be replaced with valuable items.

“Before jumping to conclusions  about street children and their behaviour we need to get inside their heads and see what is driving them to do what they do,” he said adding, “there is a need for a long term psychosocial therapy rather than just short-term programmes in order to stop them from choosing such path.”

Speaking at the National Policy Dialogue for Street Children organised in the Capital Friday, Pradhan urged organisations- both government and non government- to look beyond the obvious excuse, i.e., poverty.

“Street children are not only a result of poverty. The problem is deep rooted in their psychology, which could be a result of problems at home and a wide array of psychosocial issues,” he said.

According to statistics, there are around 5,000 street children in Nepal with almost 800 to 1,000 children in Kathmandu alone. Street children have been categorised into three groups—children who live in the streets, children who work in the streets and children of families living in the streets. Pradhan says he has come across children of various family backgrounds—from those trying to escape dire poverty to children of middle class families with abusive parents.

Alienated from the rest of the world, one of the burgeoning problems with street children is their almost instant attachment to drug addiction. According to a research carried out by Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), almost 80 per cent of the children have tried drugs.  In the recent years, a number of organisations working for street children have mushroomed across the Valley.

While these groups provide different kinds of facilities for children—from organising recreational activities to food distribution, Executive Director of Central Child Welfare Board, Tarak Dhital said there was need to look beyond the welfare approach.

“Ad hoc, fragmented efforts won’t go too far. What is needed is an integrated effort that deals with solving the problem’s root cause,” he said. Dhital said they were finalising a working policy that would address various issues regarding street children.

Also present at the program were member of National Planning Commission Bimala Rai, Under Secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social welfare Dr Kiran Rupakheti along with members of various NGOs working with street children.

Source: The Kathmandu Post (15 November, 2014)