(Warning: This article about Street Children in Kathmandu contains images & text of an adult/mature nature – If you are easily offended with this reality, please move on)
The Street Children in Kathmandu, Nepal
Look into a child’s eyes and you are sure to see a sweet innocence that makes us all smile and want to cherish. It’s a universal feeling we all share no matter our race, creed or religion. The man who argues this point is not of this world.
But what happens when you look into a child’s eyes to see pain, loss, suffering, hate and something dark? Something so woeful in their eyes that makes us look away out of fear along with a guilt for not questioning why they are like that.
Unwanted children stick together, no matter the cause
As an unwanted child myself I have no tolerance for any person that abuses children. I grew up looking out at a harsh world from an early age. I recognize that look in others today. No matter the race, nor country the look is always the same.
I looked into similar eyes during a cold winters day in 2008. The eyes of a hardened child on the streets of Kathmandu Nepal. There was still a spark of life in them though.
Nearly four years later I met that same boy again. That spark of life was never rescued. What I saw now were dull eyes and a soul that’s been forgotten.
This is a part of Kathmandu. A popular tourist destination. And a stained city with a blatant secret.
An army of homeless street boys in Kathmandu
The population of Kathmandu is approximately 3.5 million (2008), of which there are reportedly over 1,000 homeless street children out of a national 3,000.
The vast majority of these children are illiterate boys aged between 10 and 18. Most are addicted to some form of barbiturate. The most common usage surrounds solvent abuse. Solvents are widely available, cheap and offer children a communal bond along with a brief respite from their pain.
Others intravenous drugs are also abused and the spread of HIV/AIDS is becoming rampant due to drug and sexual abuse on the streets.
Terrifying statistics about the sexual abuse of street boys in Kathmandu, Nepal
75% of street boys in Kathmandu are victims of sexual abuse at the hands of foreigners, locals and their peers. Here are some worrying and disturbing figures.
How children end up homeless on the streets of Kathmandu
- 41% of children leave home due to family violence
- 27% due to peer influence
- 19% due to economic factors
- 15% due to disintegration of the family
What the street children of Nepal think the purpose of sex is:
- 10% did not know
- 10% abuse
- 1.9% something that will give pleasure
- 63% Sex with either boys or girls (including same-sex intercourse)
First time sex statistics of street boys in Kathmandu:
- 15% Female not from village
- 15% Female adult from village
- 4.7% Older street boy
- 15% Girl, same age, from village
- 3.7% Male not from village
- 15% Street girl
- 20.6 % Street boy same age or younger
- 13.1% Third gender
Who are the people abusing the street boys?
- 16.7% NGO workers/expatriates
- 58.3% Stranger
- 25% Peer or friend
Male Nepali strangers were the most highly represented group (36.7%) of people reported to have offered gifts in return for sexual acts, mainly during the early evening.
43% of children felt sex was an easy way to make money as opposed to 26% who did not know why they did it.
The average payment is 200 rupees (USD$2.6)
Reasons the children gave that would help them stop living on the streets
- 33.3% Provide protection
- 25% Go back home
- 16.7% Did not know
Data from a 2010 report by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Centre (CWIN)
Life on the streets as a child
Some walk barefoot, others in rough shoes. All wear weather-beaten, stained, torn, and unwashed clothing. During tourist season the
weather is warm and the children are more spread out.
Many come into Thamel, the main tourist area in Kathmandu, at night. They are usual working in groups outside of the supermarkets begging for money or food.
It’s a mistake to give the street children money, or even food. They will use the money to buy drugs and simply sell the food for money to buy more solvents
As Kathmandu closes for the night the street children return to the outskirts and to closed off areas to sleep in groups.
Winter keeps many street children away
Come to Nepal during the colder winter months and you will see fewer children. And those that you do see are the regular hardened boys. The cold forces them to stay in larger groups. Walk down by the Moroccan embassy just outside of Thamel and you will encounter the boys wrapped up in heavy jackets every morning.
Plastic bags of solvents never far from their faces.
Nepalese mentality to street children
The problem of child abuse in Nepal is made worse by a gap in Nepalese legislation which does not recognize sexual abuse of boys. The problem, legally, simply does not exist. The children have slipped through a fractured safety net in Nepalese society that’s a living tragedy and a dramatic future problem that many choose to ignore.
I asked several local Nepalese about the street children in general.
Common answers ranged from:
“They are rich. They make more money than the rest of us …” (from begging)
“I’ve seen them dressed up in the best gear. This is all fake. They work for gang leaders and get paid well for their thievery …”
“They cause nothing but trouble. The police need to take them out of the city so we can clean up our streets …”
I heard nothing sympathetic to their plight.
That said, there are several organizations trying to help the children. Unfortunately, I have also heard several disturbing facts about the legitimacy of some organisations as well.
Nepal continues to fail in forming itself as a legitimate country. Meanwhile many dark hearted people take advantage of the vulnerable
My return to the streets of Kathmandu years later
Back in 2008 I remembered seeing the street children. Their torn little faces warped with mankind’s solvents, neglect, ignorance and abuse.
There were certain faces I remembered better than others. The boy with the harsh angled face and wild curly hair. And, the boy with the long face with dark sad eyes. In 2008 there was a glimpse of hope in his eyes. He still moved them with a child like mischief.
Today I saw the long faced boy again. I recognised him instantly. Only now his eyes no longer move with child like mischief. They are slow and dull. His face bruised and scratched. He turns his whole head to look at something. He no longer talks in long sentences. His words are harsh and blunt.
“Give me money …”
Hierarchy on the streets
I went down to the streets early one morning. A large plastic container of Dal Bhat in hand along with some breads and small cakes. Wrapped up in heavy down trekking jackets the long faced boy stared angrily at me while clutching at a bag of solvent.
Huffing at the bag his face was full of concentration. He then saw the container of food and pounced on it.
The others stirred.
There was a hierarchy at work here. The long faced boy had become a group leader it seemed. The others waited for his command. Each child with their own small bag of glue.
I handed him a pile of A4 paper as plates. He handed them out to the others. Then digging his hands into the rice he scooped up as much as he could before he poured the dal sloppily over a makeshift plate.
The groups two dogs lapped up the spilled soup from the pavement as the other boys dug into the container. Each knowing their pecking order and the appropriate portion they could take.
That is until some of the younger one’s argued over the remains. It was now the long faced boy snapped an order at them. And with that the fight ended.
He looked at me and the remaining bag of chocolate cakes I had. He pulled at the bag. I held it back and looked around to see if everyone had eaten. He muttered something to me and then laughed with the others.
Reporting to a heinous looking man
An argument broke out between the younger ones again. Only this time one of them got up and stormed down the road.
It was here I felt an evil bile rise up in my stomach. Up ahead crouched on the pavement steps was a disheveled man in his twenties. Unwashed and with a beaten face he had the aura of a drunkard.
The boy spoke to him and the man looked down at him. At this time the boys near me had already pulled apart my bag of cakes and were examining them. I must have missed something. For when I looked back down the street the older man had opened his shirt and pulled the young boys hand onto his chest and then further down.
The boy pulled back and the man laughed. Then the boy followed suit.
I felt ill.
A surreal brief glimpse of boy’s at home
The group of boys in front of me were not so happy with the cakes. Sweet cakes and chocolate meant nothing to them it seemed. I asked why?
“Tourist food,” spat the long faced boy. “You bring more rice.”
With that he began angrily huffing on his fix again. The other boys broke out into a chatter. Then out of nowhere the long faced boy began feeding his street dogs the cakes.
An act that could only make me think of any other boy anywhere in the world looking after his pet. Sharing what to many others would be a treat, or even sustenance, with their best friend. Or in this case, protector, source of warmth, and possibly the only innocent, non-abusive, companion they had left in the world.
Return of the heinous man
My time was up. I was out of food, and so had nothing left to offer them. Moreover the older man from further down the road had made his way up to us. I was correct. He stank of stale alcohol.
I could see the look of fear mixed with bravery in the long faced boy. The man pointed around the place. The long faced boy waved me off.
“Buy more food for them …” grunted the older man stretching out his hand looking for money.
I shook my head. Stepped back and turned away.
The man laughed.
Most of the boys picked up their things and began to move out for a day of scrounging.
Last chance for innocence
I turned back in time to see the older man stagger off. The long faced boy and a few others remained with the two dogs by their feet. Plastic bags acting like mini bellows clutched to their faces.
It was a heavy scene along the road as Kathmandu began to wake up all around them. People walked by without a turn of their heads, nor care in the world towards the lost innocence before them.
Here were young boys clutching bags of solvents on harsh streets. When surely they should have been holding soft toys in loving homes
This is an additional feature article highlighting the Street Children in Kathmandu, Nepal