Hundreds of young Nepali boys who ran away from home to Indian cities long to return
All pics: Tsering Dolker Gurung
After being locked up inside a madrasa for ten days in his hometown of Inaruwa in Nepal, Sajad Khan escaped and fled to Delhi. He had hoped for freedom, but just as he got off the train at the New Delhi Railway Station, the 12-year-old was caught by police and sent to live in a children’s home.
Shortly after he got there, six other Nepali boys were also brought to the shelter run by the Salaam Baalak Trust in the teeming Tis Hazari area of the Indian capital. Like Khan, they had all run away from home, some came looking for work, others for adventure.
“On average we receive two to three Nepali boys each month,” says Arpana Dwivedi of Child Welfare Committee (CWC) Mayur Vihar, one of several such committees in this city. Most Nepali boys are sent here because it is near the New Delhi railway station. They are first interviewed here, and then sent to live in children’s homes if immediate return to their families is not an option. Which is the case, almost always.
From 2010 to 2013, over 200 Nepali children lived in Central Delhi Homes, 84 per cent of them boys. Given that there are more than 500 children homes in the Indian capital and over 5,000 across India the total number of Nepali children here is estimated to be in the thousands.
The children mainly come from western Nepal and make their way through the open border, usually in groups of two to three. It is also easier for boys to cross borders without attracting attention, since police is mainly on the lookout for young women being trafficked.
Manoj Sunkhar, 17, from Bardiya has been coming to India for work since he was 13, and his last job was in a farm in Haryana where he earned INR 3,000 a month, but left because he was abused by the employer. He was apprehended by the CWC on his third trip while enroute to Mathura for a new job.
“I don’t like it here,” Sunkhar said after spending a month at a children’s home. “There are always fights, a lot of bullying going on. I just want to go back home.” Most Nepali children felt the same way. Some like 11-year-old Bijay Bhatta tried to escape from the shelter but were caught and transferred to a government run shelter known to be a hotbed of physical and sexual abuse.
Many also accuse the staff of playing favouritism, and say they usually don’t help Nepali boys when they get bullied or beaten by others. The children are also enrolled in the formal education system only after a year of their arrival, and once it is determined that their family cannot be contacted.
Until then they are given vocational training.
“I will never come back here again,” says Mahendra Sunar who along with brother Shishir and friend Karan came to Delhi from Banke. “All we wanted was to stay away from home for a bit.”
However, many children are stuck because there is no official agreement between India and Nepal on repatriation of runaway children. These children then end up moving from one shelter to another until they turn 18 when they are asked to leave the homes and live on their own.
“There is a mentality especially among government officials that as long as the children are being fed, it’s okay no matter where they live,” says Shailaja CM, co-director of Chora Chori Nepal which works to repatriate the children. “What many don’t realise is that it is in the best interest of the child to live with their families rather than grow up in an institutional setting.”
Pushesh Arya, a welfare officer at a shelter for boys in Alipur near Delhi says: “As soon as we receive a Nepali child, we contact the Nepal Embassy but they never give a positive response. We get 15-20 Nepali boys each year and it’s trouble for us to keep them here too.”
We asked the Embassy about this allegation, and the reply was that it doesn’t have the required funds to organise repatriation trips. Furthermore, follow-up on cases are also rare when concerned officials’ tenure ends.
Diplomats are also concerned about sending children back before verifying that they are indeed from Nepal. Says Second Secretary Shreejana Adhikari: “It is hard to differentiate who is Nepali and who is Indian. Thus, we have to make sure that each and every child going to Nepal is a Nepali citizen.”
Even though immediate repatriation seems like the most ideal option for the children, there’s also the question of where these children will go once they are brought back. At present the government operates only four homes all across the country.
“We have to think about the long-term welfare of these children and act accordingly,” explains Namuna Bhushal at the Central Child Welfare Board in Kathmandu.
Bringing them back
Since it was set up in September 2014 Chora Chori Nepal has repatriated over 50 Nepali children from shelters in Delhi and Bengaluru. This week alone it brought back 17 boys from four children’s homes based in Delhi to Kathmandu.
Like the other children it has brought home, the boys aged 10-17 were first taken to Chora Chori Nepal’s temporary shelter in Kathmandu’s Godavari area. Chora Chori Nepal has one other shelter in Hetauda. It first tries to trace the families of the children and help reunite them. In cases where the familial environment is deemed unsafe for the child, Chora Chori Nepal places the child in a longterm care home and provides for their education.
“The majority of these children are runaways who end up getting caught and are sent to live in children’s homes. Once inside very few are able to contact their families and return,” says co-director Abha Karki who works with partner Shailaja CM to find the children and facilitate the repatriation process.
However, with the number of Nepali children living in government shelters in India now running into the thousands, one might question the impact of works done by organisations like Chora Chori which can only bring limited number of children home. “We know that the problem is huge. But if we just sit back and do nothing, more and more Nepali children will end up lost in Indian homes,” says Shailaja.
Most of the 17 children (pic, above) who were brought back this week had run away on their own, few were trafficked. Fourteen-year-old Shyam S (name changed) was taken to Punjab to work in a rice mill six years ago by an agent from his village in Ittatar of Siraha. He says there were 50 other Nepali children working at the factory. Shyam was never paid during his time there and when the mill closed down last month, he came to Delhi hoping to make his way home. He was caught at the Railway Station. Unlike the other boys who talked and joked throughout the 40-hour long bus ride from Delhi to Kathmandu, Sada was withdrawn and mostly kept to himself.
While it takes care of the children and brings as many home as it can, Chora Chori Nepal’s ultimate goal is to find traffickers and bring them to justice. Says Shailaja: “Until they are stopped the problem will remain.”
“Don’t want to go home.”
When questioned about his family and hometown, all Ravi Kumar (right) will say is “I don’t remember” in Hindi. The 15-year-old is one of ten Nepali boys living at the DMRC Shelter for Boys in New Delhi. But unlike the others he doesn’t speak Nepali and doesn’t want to return to Nepal. He has been here for four years and is in Grade 7.
“I like it here. I have friends here. I am studying. Why would I return?” says Kumar.
Kalu (left) is from Rolpa, and doesn’t want to go home either. Kalu suffers from Hypocholdroplasia, a form of short-limbed dwarfism and says he came to Delhi six months ago to work as a street performer. He was caught two months ago and brought to the shelter.
Kalu wants to learn to use a computer, get trained as an electrician or plumber at the shelter and use that to make himself a living when he gets out.
Showing maturity beyond his years, Kalu tells us: “I have to take care of myself once I am on my own. So for now it’s best for me to stay here, learn as many things and then use that to get a job.”
Mimsara Sunar (pic, above) wept as she hugged her sons Mahendra and Shishir, who had run away from home in Banke last January to travel to New Delhi.
“I thought I’d never find them,” said Sunar, wiping her tears. The brothers were among the 17 children brought back from Delhi this week by an organisation working to repatriate Nepali children stuck in shelters in India.
Mahendra and Shishir were only looking for few days of adventure in a foreign land. With the money they made from selling the bicycle they stole from their grandfather, the two siblings accompanied by another boy from town reached Delhi but were caught on the day of arrival.
The three were then sent to a shelter for boys that housed over 100 other street children, seven of them were from Nepal. “We were often bullied and taunted. The other kids would steal our stuff and try to pick fights,” recalled Mahendra, “I never want to go back there again.”
Chora Chori Nepal is now trying to trace the families of the other 15 children. “In many cases families don’t have the resource and knowledge to search for their lost children,” says Shailaja CM, co-director at ChoraChori Nepal, which works on repatriation.
Mimsara says she filed a police report about her two missing children, but until she got a call from Chora Chori Nepal last week she had no clue where they were.
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