Apart from century-old temples and ancient monuments, a stroll around the streets of Kathmandu makes it difficult to ignore children on the job. Most of them, often employed by local cafes and eateries, are put to work by their parents for they cannot afford to take care of them; some have run away from distant villages citing dire financial situations. More than 55 percent of Nepal’s population, according to the latest World Bank estimate, lives under US$ 1.25 a day.
But lately many parents who have sent their children to the Nepali capital for better education and a secured future are asking the question: Where are my children?
The BBC reports that most of the parents “are struggling to come to terms with the fact that their children have been adopted by Western couples without their consent.”
In most cases, it is the orphanages in Kathmandu working as agents that sell the children, a secret Al Jazeera video reveals. Though foreign couples are required to pay US$ 5,000 to orphanages and US$ 3,000 to Nepali government, they usually end up paying more.
The Western parents’ desperation for a child coupled with the exploitation of Nepali parents’ lack of awareness and dire financial situation by the orphanages or agents has made the Himalayan republic hostile to child adoption.
Though Nepal suspended its adoption policy in 2007, the country reinstated it in 2008 with some amendments. But many countries, still unsatisfied, have stopped granting visas to children since last year.
Talking to Al Jazeera, Susan Jacobs, US Special Adviser for Children’s Issues, says, “They do not have a system that we believe is sufficient to protect children and for us to be able to be sure that the child is in fact an orphan.”
And in many cases, they are not.
The parents interviewed in the BBC and Al Jazeera stories lament about their missing children. Their stories resonate a common thread: poverty, illiteracy and a sense of guilt for sending off their children and a desperation to have them back.
But while parents express their anguish, anxiety and also guilt, Nepal’s government seems rather numb.
Though a signatory of the Hague Adoption Convention since April 2009 that sets international adoption protocols, the country lacks implementation as it does in most of its policies.
In the Al Jazeera interview for a story that aired September 20, Nepal’s Minister of Women, Children and State Welfare, Jayapuri Gharti, admits that the state hasn’t been able to take care of the children. She speaks of “breaking new grounds.”
But in a country emblazoned by bureaucratic battles and a fragile government that hardly lasts for a couple of months, commitments like that of Gharti, though rooted with true intentions, holds less or no significance at all.
With the formation of a new government lately, a new minister, Dhan Bahadur Chaudhari, holds Gharti’s portfolio.
Nepal is a country where there has been a change of government five times since the country dethroned the monarchy and adopted a republic status in 2008.
And lack of good governance and political instability can be blamed for a lot of issues, including adoption, that the country of 26 million is facing.
As Hanna Singer, UNICEF representative in Nepal, lists the essentials in the Al Jazeera interview: “central authority that is very well-trained, very well capacitated, very well-funded that is responsible for inter country adoption and have a linkage between village level, district level and Kathmandu level.”
But in Nepal’s current context, all of the above are missing, not only in the adoption issue but almost every other issue that the country is dealing with. While the usual blame is on the bureaucracy, the bureaucrats are over indulged playing the blame game and oftentimes good at winning the game.
The losers: It’s people like those hundreds of parents from rural Nepal whose children have been sold in the name of adoption.
Blame it on the ignorance, the poverty, but in the end it’s the government that should be accountable and be responsible. And the government has to care about its people.
As Jacobs says, “No one has been prosecuted for taking children under false pretence from their parents. And until the Nepalis care about what is happening to their children, these abuses will continue.”