Kloie Picot

Photographer/ Videographer

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Truth is Fiction

Children on the Street in Kathmandu

“The Maoists came to my village. First they came to my school and told us that when they are victorious there would be no caste system, then they came to my home and asked for donations, then they stayed in my home, then they killed my brother, then they wanted me to join them. Three friends and I escaped and came to Kathmandu that was 3 years ago. I stay on the street and when I can I send money home to my mother,” Raju aged 12.

It is estimated that 800-900 children are working and living on the streets in the Kathmandu Valley. Called Kathey by Nepalese people, the street is their world, their friend their family. They come from all over Nepal and end up living in areas like junkyards, temples, market centers, cinema halls, airports, bus terminals, hardware shops, and tourist centers.

In Thamel, the tourist center of Kathmandu, young kids selling souvenirs or begging are regarded as pests or at best as a curiosity. They are often, though not always, homeless, orphaned, abandoned or have had to escape domestic violence. The conflict between the Maoist rebels and the Nepal army has also driven many children from their homes in villages surrounding Kathmandu.

Deepak (7) and Bikash (9) are brothers who initially said they were orphans but later admitted they were forced to work the street when their mother left their father for another man. Their father is an alcoholic and cannot support the boys. Initially coming in the day and returning at night they soon stayed, preferring the fun of the street to the squalor of their home. Perhaps their truth is the fiction they prefer to accept.

Street kids are vulnerable to exposure then consumption of alcohol, drugs and tobacco. Some members of “the Thamel Gang” are as young as 6 years old and already sniffing glue with the older 8-12 year olds. “When I sniff the glue I see Gods, I am not hungry, I don’t think about anything, its cheap and its fun,” says 9 year old Santos, who also escaped his family due to domestic violence. Rajesh (10) another member of the gang was sponsored by a Swedish woman to go to school, he rarely went. “I like hanging out with my friends, why should I go to school. I don’t sniff glue, I am too smart for that.” It was later revealed that Rajendra smokes hash and cigarettes. Raju (12) the apparent leader of this gang of boys does his best to protect them from the “dada” or bullies, who regularly steal and beat them.

Glue sniffing is a new trend in Nepal and is fast becoming an addiction among street children. The kids regard it as a ‘debut’ drug. Most begin drug taking by glue sniffing then end up on more hard-core drugs. The short-term effects of sniffing glue are hallucinations. Its long-term effects are neurological, and self-destructive.

Without help from the community it is seldom that these children will find a way of getting out of this street world. The chances of going back to school, finding a job or home are slim, but there are some organizations that are doing their best for them. The organizations face a tough challenge in gaining the trust of these seasoned street kids. The rules the kids are expected to follow in shelters are unacceptable to these kids, who in their youth enjoy their so called freedom. They are still children, they hurt, they feel pain, they are suffering, and they feel rejected by their parents and fear love, for it reminds them of their painful experiences. The child living on the street is like any child; they need guidance, love and a continuous reliable relationship with an adult. This demands a huge investment and requires a delicate balance from the organizations trying to help them. The transition period is difficult and painful for the child.

The evening before I had to leave Nepal, some of the kids were arrested and taken to jail. Local store owners had had enough of their glue sniffing in front of their shops and had called the police. The next day, after promising they would never sniff glue again, that they would go to school, anything to get out of there, they were released. Minutes later and shouting for joy, they headed back to their gang to begin yet another day, trying to survive the best way they knew how.