Chasing dreams: The lost childhoods of young migrants in Nepal

17 Dec, 2019

Is a childhood still really a childhood, if the child is living on the street?

How about if they are being exploited through work? Missing an education? At risk of sexual abuse? Growing up with no adult care?

These are all very real risks that Nepalese children are taking in huge numbers as they choose, or are forced, to move. Sometimes they move to cities in Nepal such as Kathmandu, other times abroad, such as India. The reasons for doing so can vary hugely, as children tell us:

“I came with a friend to see the city and didn’t want to return to the village.”

“My father got a new wife, and I ran away.”

“I left for the city to make money.”

Unfortunately, their hopes for leaving do not always match up to the experience of what they find.

Safe migration is the key

Children can be motivated to move by big dreams of what they will find in the city, and we believe in the right to free movement – but it needs to be safe, and it needs to respect their rights as a child. But we know this isn’t happening.

At the moment, the numbers of children we are seeing who are unsafely on the move in Nepal is huge. And the outcomes are devastating. An estimated 5000 children are living on the street in Nepal, 85% of whom are sexually abused. A further 12,000 children are trafficked in a year, and over 1.5 million children are in some form of child labour. Of these, over half a million are in work that is hazardous, and could lead to illness or even death. Whilst not all child labour happens because children are on the move, those who are moving without adult care are more likely to need to enter into this kind of employment to sustain themselves.

What can we do?

Firstly, we need to consider why and how these children move. Primarily, they are moving in search of employment. They may also move in the hope of a better education, or due to a natural disaster having devastated their community. They may move with their family, without them, with their blessing or without it. But in all cases, we are seeing a movement from rural areas to urban areas; a sign of the marked and unjust disparities between these areas in terms of economic opportunities, education, government services, basic utilities, healthcare and more.

At Voice of Children, we aim to prevent unsafe migration as well as to support children who have been affected by it.

We are having success in reducing unsafe migration through:

  • Awareness-raising on the risks of unsafe migration, and the importance of family care, with children and families.
  • Supporting families are risk of unsafe migration to tackle root causes, based on an individual assessment. This can include income generation support, education, opening access to government services and more.
  • Lobbying the government to address the problems in these communities in order to tackle unsafe migration.

On the other hand, we support children who are already on the move with a comprehensive set of programs for children living on the street. This covers Prevention, Rescue, Rehabilitation and Reintegration programs, each of which are based around our ‘Ladder Methodology’: strengthening their development with every step, empowering them to be able to overcome challenges and to set themselves up for a positive future.

What needs to happen next

We’re seeing a difference through these programs, but to truly make sure that every child has the support they need around migration issues, we need to act bigger.

We are also fighting for greater collaboration with government bodies so we can deliver awareness programmes around the risks of these dangerous journeys.

Our fight for greater government action in this domain continues. Although laws exist to make change happen for children in the country, policy implementation is very weak. At Voice of Children, we’re lobbying local and national governments in our country to establish ‘Child Rights Committees’ and to give these issues a higher profile. As the laws already exist, part of our job is to highlight their legal obligation to make and implement plans to ensure these policies become reality.


Would you like to support Voice of Children to call for change in Nepal? Tweet them with a message of support @VOCNepal using our #childhoodonthemove hashtag, and let them know! 

You can also support their work by donating to Family for Every Child at Your generosity helps organisations like theirs to shout louder, advocating for change at scale.

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