As a mother of two young children and a development worker in a child-focused organisation, ensuring child well-being lies at the heart of my home and work. Often in my visits to different regions of Nepal I come across children who do not experience the fullness of life we envision for them. There are many reasons for this: poverty and lack of access to much-needed resources are just the beginning.
Poverty might set limitations on child well-being, but parents play an important role in ensuring the well-being of their children at home. For a child’s healthy upbringing, the physical and mental presence of parents is needed but this is not the case for children of the Far-West Nepal. Their well-being is being determined by grandparents or other relatives, sometimes even by neighbours.
Visits to the Far West have made me realise that not all poverty-stricken parents have the well-being of their children as one of their priorities.
Asmita, a five-year-old whom I met in Dhansinghpur Village Development Committee in Kailali, is being raised by her hearing-impaired grandmother after her mother abandoned her when her father didn’t return from India. He travelled across the border looking for a job and greener pastures never to return.
Asmita’s neighbour and only friend Kanchan, also five, has a similar story. Kanchan is also being raised by her grandmother. A look in the eyes of these young girls reveals the unspoken fear of being abandoned.
These stories are not unheard of in their community where there is a high rate of migration to India in search of employment. Young and disillusioned mothers not infrequently leave their children in search of a better partner or job for themselves when their husbands don’t return, or return after a gap of many years.
Asmita’s grandmother does not know her son and daughter-in-law’s whereabouts. In most cases, children have never seen their fathers as they were abandoned soon after being conceived. They have a distant memory of their mother, but do not know why they have been abandoned. That is a question they never ask. Therefore many children in the Far-West, like Asmita and Kanchan, live the life of orphans, albeit that their parents are alive. In a few instances fathers have returned or they make yearly visits not for their children’s sake, but mostly to plant paddy in the planting season, so as to ensure that their farmland is replete with cash crops.
Four-year-old Basanti’s father is a migrant labourer in India and returns home once a year, or once every two years. Basanti lives with her mother and four other siblings in Bajhkakani Village Development Committee in Doti. Basanti is different from other children of her age as she is severely malnourished. Her mother works in the field, looks after their cattle, and takes care of the household chores.
She is aware of her daughter’s situation yet fails to act. She waits for the father to decide whether her daughter should receive treatment in the district hospital. Once the father returns home after a year’s gap, he is informed of this daughter’s condition by local development workers. But he is unmoved and is quick to react and say, “She is my daughter, let her die.”
Children in the Far-West are not only physically abandoned but also deserted in heart and in mind. For Basanti’s father, child well-being is a foreign term, one he is not aware of nor will get accustomed to.
Voiceless children in the Far-West suffer quietly as a result of the indifference of their only hope, their parents. While some are have no idea where their parents are, others who have parents are no better off, for their existence is taken for granted or sometimes regarded as a burden.
Insecurity and a lack of belonging often make children vulnerable. It is these children who are forced into child labour, trafficked, and sold in neighbouring countries. They often miss out on childhood and become adults overnight, their well-being never a question for parents who have abandoned them when all they need is to be educated, enjoy good health, be cared for, protected, and participate in and experience the love of God and of neighbours.