Walking through the streets of Kathmandu, it’s not uncommon to be approached by a street child: “Money, I am very hungry, buy me some cookies,” they ask as they try to get your attention. It occurred to me when a small boy approached asking for either money or some cookies, I did not pay attention and kept walking on. Thereafter I noticed that some of the children had plastic bags over their mouths. They breathed in and out through that bag full of toxic glue. Some are lying down in the middle of the street; others are sitting with lost looks on their faces. Glue is cheap and easily accessible. Shoe repairmen sell it, or it’s readily available in different shops in Thamel. When glue fumes are inhaled pain, cold or hunger disappear, yet the brain is dangerously damaged. The street children in Thamel are a real example of how glue can have devastating effects on a person.
Who helps them and what can be done? In Nepal several NGOs support development projects and some in particular help the children. However, the kids are not often fully willing to commit to the help provided by NGOs and often run away from these care services. Because different NGOs often have different policies and lack coordination, the children are able to hop from one organization to another to get their daily shower and meals and then go back to crash their brain on the street.
Tourists can be also a problem, in fact there aren’t any campaigns informing about the consequences of giving money to street children. A cashier in one of Thamel’s supermarkets warned me: “You can give food to children, but not sealed, you must open everything! For instance if you buy cookies, open the wrap and hand them out.” According to her, if you don’t open the food (be it milk, cookies, water, etc.) they will resell it in order to buy glue. Moreover, sexual tourism is another significant problem. Many children have had sexual relations with locals as well as foreigners, and are also exposed to voyeuristic and pornographic material. As a matter of fact the legislation in Nepal does not criminalize sex with under aged children.
In some cases, children come to the Nepalese capital in order to escape rural poverty and neglect; others run away from their families because of alcoholism and domestic violence. It seems that a majority of street children are stuck in a cycle of reintegration attempts and returning to street life. It only takes few minutes to realize that children do not trust mainstream institutions such as the police, their families, educational institutes or even NGOs.
It is an issue that needs to be addressed by the Municipality of Kathmandu in coordination with the Government of Nepal, which are the only channels through which juvenile policies and field workers can be coordinated. Nonetheless, corruption has a long shadow in the country, and NGOs prefer not to work with local authorities. While all this persists, the international community committed to protecting the world’s children from poverty and hunger back in 2000 – as one of the millennium development goals. Thirteen years later, many are the children on the streets in Kathmandu pushed into glue sniffing by poverty and lack of real support options.
Written by Andy VC
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