Nepali Times
Abusing young hearts and minds


Among the organisations working to protect children's rights in Nepal, two of the best known are Voice of Children and Child Protection Centers and Services. They joined forces recently to research the abuse endured by children on the streets of Kathmandu, and discovered that a horrifying 95 percent of children who slept on the streets suffered at least one form of abuse.

The Abuse of Street Children in Kathmandu provides much needed insight into the reality of everyday life for these children. Physical violence and sexual predation are so rampant that lacerations, beatings, rape and exposure to pornography have become the norm for many children.

For the thousand-plus children fending for themselves on the city streets, abuse is a daily part of life. They have learnt what even the most highly trained social worker sometimes fails to realise: anyone can be a predator.

Of all the horrific anecdotes of molestation and abuse they tell, most startling is that for many children it is the adults with the responsibility to act as protectors who turn out to be the abusers.

Young interviewees in the CPCS/VOC survey reported sexual and physical abuse occurring within the confines of organisations that claim to have child protection as a key aspect of their mission statements.

It is no surprise then that changing the habits so deeply engrained in a street child is such a daunting task. Before they become teenagers, most of them have learnt one key lesson: you can trust no one. Not Nepalis. Not foreigners. Not social workers. Not police officers. No one.

International NGOs working to protect children from sexual abuse often stress that the majority of paedophiles are foreigners coming to Asia to prey on young, poor children, but the new study shows a different reality. While there still are foreign paedophiles , the new data show there are more locals forcing young boys into prostitution than the average resident of Kathmandu would like to admit.

The report does an impressive job highlighting the abuses occurring in the lives of street children and identifying the abusers, but fails to explore the long-term psychological damage incurred by the abuse and neglect. Children suffering deep psychological trauma are possibly the hardest to assist.

Yet, despite the statistics of institutional abuse and molestation cases, there are many organizations with clean records and they truly do care about street children. So why are there still so many young people living on the streets and so few rehabilitated?

Victims of abuse suffer from long-term psychological damage. A lack of self-worth and stunted emotional development are common, and many street children learn to deal with problems through violent confrontation or by numbing the mind through alcohol or drugs.

The report states that a child's desire to be loved is the number one reason why they are willing to endure sexual abuse. So why wouldn't that also be the best way to keep them off the streets? It is not enough simply to provide food, shelter and schooling. Love is required to break the cycle of self-destruction. Patience, forgiveness and understanding are essential when a previously abused child falls back on coping mechanisms he developed on the streets.

It is easy to see the milk bags full of glue pressed against their mouths or hear the vulgarities coming from their lips and conclude that these children sleeping amongst the rubbish are nothing more than a pack of rude boys who will never change.

Pedestrians cross the road to avoid packs of grimy glue-sniffers, but after reading the findings and testimonies, it is clear their behaviour is to a large extent the result of how other people have treated them.

This report is not just a document to be read by social workers, sociologists and psychologists. It is for every person who has ever asked why these children act as they do.

The Abuse of Street Children in Kathmandu

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)