KATHMANDU: Despite the hullabaloo raised about the illegalities and irregularities prevalent in the orphanages, most operators of childcare homes are still treating children as commodities with sponsors pouring in big money and international adoption a profitable transaction.
Childcare homes are profitable businesses in Nepal and that is why they are booming with ‘homes’ increasing every year, among which some are registered and operating legally while vast majority are operating in a hush-hush manner. While there is little or no monitoring it has become almost impossible to maintain records and identify the exact condition of registered orphanages, and those operating illegally are certainly not under any kind of scanner. According to the latest report of Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB) titled Survey of Childcare Homes, there were 454 childcare homes till 2008, where 11,969 children are sheltered, out of which 6,698 are boys and 5,271 are girls. The children are not necessarily all orphans. Only a few homes are operating in full compliance with the minimum standard for operation and equipped management as stipulated by the government. The report categorised only six childcare homes in the ‘A’ category, 56 under ‘B’ and 194 were marked as ‘C’. The remaining 198 childcare homes, placed under ‘D’ category, were found to be far below the requirements of even the minimum standards.
Although government regulation over these homes is lax, the Nepali community has begun to wake up to the underhand dealings of some such centres. It is due to their vigilant efforts that activities of Kathmandu-based orphanage were revealed in recent weeks. Goma Luitel, the operator of Mukti Nepal, an orphanage located in Maharajgunj, was arrested last week because the orphanage was unable to meet the minimum standards set by the government. Some 20 children were rescued after some foreigners and a representative of Save the Children Norway complained about the orphanage to CCWB. Mukti Nepal had been operating since 2004 with financial aid from Spanish donors. It was reported that the children residing in the orphanage were abused and that the management made them perform all household chores. Some of them were even forcibly kept away from school. It was revealed that the children were from the outskirts of the capital and the parents of all the children housed there were hale and hearty. Apart from this, a 12 year old girl died in the same orphanage in November, but the operator failed to inform CCWB about the incident. Yet Mukti Nepal has not been closed down permanently, since the management has managed to renew its licence till July.
In another case in Balaju, orphanage operator Narsin Shah left four children abandoned. They were rescued by CCWB. Likewise, Bala Giri, operator of the orphanage Sunaulo Pravat Bal Griha in Dhapasi fled with nearly Rs 2 million donated by a Dutch donor, leaving 51 orphans in the lurch. These are just a few horrific incidents that have come into light and are merely the tip of the iceberg.
According to a CCWB’s report, out of 166 childcare homes in the Kathmandu valley alone, 134 are registered while 32 remain unregistered. They were asked to undergo professional training on how to operate such homes and will be registered soon. Similarly, in Bhaktapur, out of 13, nine are registered and four are unregistered. Whereas in Lalitpur, out of 94 such homes, 65 are registered and 29 are unregistered. But this data dates back two years. In the meantime, such homes have mushroomed at a rate of almost five per cent annually.
The numbers of homes are increasing due to various causes like the decade long Maoist insurgency, parents being in the prison, growing number of street children, prevailing poverty and economic hardship in the families. In addition to these, many children in such homes have been displaced or migrated to the city for better opportunities. In some cases, parents seek more facilities for their children’s education, healthcare and so forth. They are willy-nilly encouraged to send their children to childcare homes without understanding the atmosphere and motive of these homes.
“There are some parents who provide fake information pretending that their children are ‘orphans’ for the very purpose of landing them in childcare homes. On the other hand, various NGOs that are working to provide childcare facilities to children have their own
vested interests. One such interest is to send children for international adoption which is big money,” says Lochan Regmi, monitoring officer at CCWB and secretary of Family Matching Committee.
He admits, “Most childcare homes are not fulfilling rules, procedures and guidelines. That is why physical and mental exploitation of
children is increasing.”
According to him, to stop such wrong doings, the government must enforce effective system and process for monitoring of such homes on a regular basis. He also points out that existing physical and human resources of childcare homes are not mobilised at their best.
“Such situation requires to be addressed strategically. For instance, those homes that fall under ‘C’ and ‘D’ category should be provided a certain timeframe to improve and upgrade their standards. If they are unable to upgrade their standards as mandated by the government, then they must be dissolved for ensuring the rights and best interest of children,” adds Regmi. According to him, on the one hand the law itself is fragile and on top of that it is not being implemented effectively. “The monitoring mechanism would be effective if the administration cooperates with us. The coordination with the police force is very weak at present,” says Regmi.
To cope with this increasing number of unregistered childcare homes, CCWB is planning to form a separate cell which will only handle the responsibility of monitoring and evaluating the homes. CCWB is responsible for monitoring the orphanages. But it lacks adequate manpower and resources. “While monitoring, we found that most of the orphanages were running in good condition, as they were informed about our arrival beforehand,” says Regmi. Saying this, he also adds that although children were seemingly well-looked after during the daytime, they were more prone to be abused at night. He admits that CCWB as well as other concerned bodies are unable to monitor them in wee hours due to constraints in manpower and resources.
“In the name of charity and social work, operators are conducting a business, as there are a number of childcare homes operating without any registration,” says Suneeta Shah, child rights officer at District Child Welfare Board. Besides uncontrolled mushrooming of orphanages, there are problems with the increasing number of fake documents and unclear transactions as huge amounts of donation and aid flow in for the ‘benefit’ of the children. “Transaction of money has become a serious problem and is being monitored,” says Shah, adding that the team is presently investigating two orphanages. They suspect that cash coming in the name of orphans has been
embezzled by the owner instead of fulfilling the requirement of the children. “Every sector has problems and
difficulties, childcare homes is no exception, and we agree that effective monitoring has eluded this sensitive sector till date,” says Laxmi Prasad Tripathi, under secretary at the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare.
Minimum requirement for operating an orphanage
• Trustworthy source of financial information that is adequate to provide services and facilities for at least 10 children.
• A bank statement disclosing minimum amount of Rs 1,000,000.
• A separate childcare operation action plan should be formulated and information about it should be provided to concerned district child
• Basic facilities such as a space of 30 square feet, a bed, medical checkup, medical facilities, nutritious food, compulsory education, recreation, socialisation and rehabilitation for each child.
• A childcare home must employ a head, a mother, a helper or cook, an accountant. A home sheltering 10 children must have two toilets, two bathrooms, one kitchen or pantry, one study, one counselling or primary health care room and one waiting room.
• A child must be provided with three sets of clothes, two pairs of shoes and four pairs of socks annually.