Kalpana Bhusal – WNN MDG Stories
(WNN/GPI) Kathmandu, NEPAL: It’s 7 a.m., and the morning bells are echoing throughout the Hindu temple of Dakshinkali. People crowd the temple area. While some worship the idol inside, others wait in a queue outside for their turn to visit the temple, located 20 kilometers south of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
For 12-year-old Sajani Mandal, those people visiting the temple are her means to survive. She walks up to each person with her small, dirty bowl and asks for money. Sometimes she says she is hungry, while other times she just remains quiet and holds out her bowl.
From some, she receives coins and paper money. Others get angry and raise their hands to shoo her away. But she is not deterred. She just moves on to others in line.
Sajani is a thin girl with a dark complexion and unkempt, curly hair. Her dress is so dirty that its color is unrecognizable, and one of the sleeves is torn.
Time and again, she scratches her head as she begs for money. As soon as she collects 20 to 25 rupees (22 to 28 cents), she runs to her mother, who sits in front of the temple entrance with her 4-year-old sister.
Sajani says she must beg to support her mother and her siblings because her father died three years ago.
“After my father died, I have been doing this to feed my brother, sister and myself,” she says, showing a family photo with her father before his death.
After struggling to make a living as a laborer as well as collecting and selling junk in Kathmandu, her father ventured to India to find work in restaurants and hotels. But he died in a road accident six months after going away.
Her mother, Ram Kala Mandal, 39, is partially blind from a childhood accident. So once her father died, Sajani became responsible for earning money to support her 8-year-old brother, Lakhan, and her 4-year-old sister, Ratiya.
“Since my mother has poor eyesight, I keep her at one point to beg, and I go to places where it’s more crowded,” Sajani says. “But wherever I am, I come to give her the money I make. She becomes very happy when I come and give her the money. But at times, when I just make 50 rupees (55 cents) begging all day, I feel sad.”
Sajani’s daily income varies between 20 rupees (22 cents) on bad days and 200 rupees ($2.23) on good days. But she says there is never a day that she goes homes empty-handed.
“Whatever money I get from people, I use it to feed my family in the evening,” she says.
The family used to rent a room on the ground floor of a mud house in the city. The rent was 600 rupees ($6.70) a month. But when her husband died, Mandal says they could no longer afford it.
Since then, they have had to move from one temple to another – from Dakshinkali to Pashupati – for shelter. They also wander from place to place – bus parks, temples and streets – to beg. But since Mandal has to stay in one place because of her vision problems, she laments that some days she can only make 10 rupees (11 cents) to support her children.
“I get out to beg starting 7 a.m. every day,” says Mandal, wiping tears from her face. “But I can’t even feed them properly in the evening.”
Sajani says that her parents always struggled financially, but she and her siblings never had to beg or to go hungry when their father was alive.
“We didn’t have to beg [un]til our father died,” she says. “They worked for us and, even if our parents were hungry, they fed us. But after father died, mother couldn’t earn much and go out to work because of her eyesight. So there was no other option than to beg. Who else would have fed us all?”
Ram Lal Yadav stands in the queue at the temple where the Mandal family begs. He says that he feels obliged to give money to many child beggars, especially when he is visiting the temple. He says that it’s a good deed, showing the coins he exchanged for paper money in order to give to child beggars.
But others say even though they sometimes give to beggars, it’s not sustainable.
Pabitra Khanal spares some change to a beggar in Kathmandu’s business district.
“Sometimes, I give them money,” she says. “But at times when I don’t have anything to give, I just scold them.”
She says that the middle class can’t afford to support child beggars.
“Even if you give 1 rupee (1 cent) to beggars in the temple and streets, you end up giving 20 rupees (22 cents) every day,” she says. “It’s difficult for middle-class people like us who have to struggle equally.”
Laxmi Prasad Tripathi, undersecretary at Nepal’s Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, says that the government has programs for street children, but they haven’t materialized because of limitations in funding and infrastructure.
Mandal says many people don’t realize she is partially blind.
“Sometimes when I go to beg,” she says, “people yell at me and say, ‘Your hands and feet are still intact, so why don’t you work?’”
But she says she wishes she could work.
“Who wants to beg?” she asks, her eyes full of tears. “If only my eyes were good, I could have done some labor work too.”
Mandal tries to correct a common perception that people beg because they don’t want to work.
“We’re not doing this because we want to,” Mandal says. “It’s because of our poverty. Since we are from the south and have dark complexion, people think we come from India. Sometimes they act like they will beat us and label us as foreign beggars.”
Mandal says that thinking about the future worries her most.
“Right now, I am very worried for my daughter,” she says. “She is 12 and is growing up, and there are lots of perverts around as we have to live in the periphery of the temple.”
Sometimes she contemplates killing her family and committing suicide to save them from a life of misery.
“Sometimes I think of poisoning them and then myself,” she says. “But I can’t do it because of the love for my children.”
Like the Mandal family, many beggars say they weren’t born to beg.
Child beggars like Sajani say they need to earn money to support themselves and their families. Some adults give them money out of sympathy or to do a good deed, but others argue that middle-class families struggle to support their own children let alone street children too.
Government officials admit that not much has been done to help child beggars, promising to develop a plan soon. Representatives from children’s rights organizations say that both the government and nongovernmental organizations have failed these children and that education is the only way to give them a future.
Krishna Subedi of Child Nepal, a nongovernmental children’s rights organization, says that it’s difficult to collect statistics on the number of Nepali children who beg because of the country’s open border with India, which makes it easy for many child beggars to come from India to Nepal.
Like Sajani, 14-year-old Pramod Rokka also devotes his life to begging. He spends much of his time asking for money in Kathmandu’s New Road area, the capital’s main thoroughfare.
“Sometimes I pick up and sell junk items,” Pramod says, “and at other times I go to beg.”
Pramod is from the neighboring district of Kavre. It’s been five years since he started living on the streets of Kathmandu.
He says that his friends persuaded him to leave his home and come to the capital when he was 9 years old with the prospect of earning more money than his parents could support him with. He then spent three years on the streets.
When he was 12, a microbus driver employed him as the money collector for his vehicle. But a year ago, the driver accused him of laundering money and fired him.
He then resumed his old lifestyle, begging and sleeping in the streets. He says he doesn’t feel sad because most of his friends also spend their lives on the streets. When he does feel discouraged about his life, Pramod says he smokes cigarettes.
“Well, this is the lifestyle for people like us, vagabonds,” he says. “We have no present or a future. We just live our life on the streets.”
Many passersby give money to street beggars, often out of sympathy or in the name of doing a good deed.
Tripathi says that the government hasn’t done anything specifically for child beggars. But he adds that the government is considering a plan for the future.
Subedi of Child Nepal says that there has been a lack of fully developed work done for street children, both on the government’s behalf and in the nongovernmental sector.
“There are more than 1,400 organizations that work for street children,” Subedi says. “Though they have been working for them, not much has been accomplished.”
He says progress is imperative.
“It’s a serious matter to think about – about those children who work and/or beg to fulfill their family’s financial needs,” he says. “In regard to this, there is no necessary rule or policy in Nepal.”
Child Nepal aims to educate child beggars about their rights as children.
Juju Kaji Maharjan, founder of Heartbeat, an organization that works on behalf of street children and beggars, agrees with Subedi.
“There are very limited organizations in Nepal that work for street children – for their betterment and education,” he says. “Though different organizations have and are working, nothing much has been done for children who beg in order to feed their family or is there any statistics on their number.”
He says that the solution is education. Instead of giving money to child beggars, he urges the government, organizations and citizens to invest in education for these children.
“The organizations shouldn’t give them some money and make them dependent but instead help to educate them,” he says. “Then only something could happen.”
Maharjan stresses that the government and nongovernmental organizations should address this issue seriously because children are an integral part of the social structure and are the future of the nation.
Heartbeat aims to educate child beggars as well as provide them tea and biscuits.
Sajani says she would like to receive an education. She and her siblings have never been to school.
“We can’t afford to eat properly,” she says. “How can we go to school? Though my brother and I want to go to school, we cannot afford to be admit and then spend [money] on books and stationery.”
Sajani doesn’t even have leisure time, her mother says.
“She sits for a while to eat and then rushes out to beg again,” Mandal says.
This report has been made by GPI journalist Ms. Kalpana Bhusal.
2012 WNN – Women News Network
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