On the frontline of Coronavirus for children and families: Nepal
In Nepal, Coronavirus is putting children at greater risk than ever of being taken from their families and trafficked into orphanages to raise funds from tourists and foreign donors. Hope and Homes for Children is working in Nepal with our implementing partners, Forget Me Not and The Himalayan Innovative Society, to keep vulnerable families together through the pandemic and support children who have been reunited with their families from orphanages. Surendra Lama Tamang manages the programme’s reintegration team in Kathmandu, Chitwan, and in the remote Humla District. Here, he describes their response since the crisis began.
Right after the Government in Nepal declared the lockdown, I came back to my village, leaving my daughter in the city, to check on the children who have been returned to their families from orphanages. I thought it would only be for a week but we have been in lockdown for over ten weeks now.
Our village is 60km and three hours drive away from the city. To begin with, the local government here imposed very strict Coronavirus precautions. It did not allow people to go from one ward area to another (a ward is the smallest area within a district). Markets were only opening twice a week, on a Monday and a Friday.
During the first week of the Coronavirus crisis we were in confusion about how to carry on the official tasks but after our first team meeting, we identified the tasks that could be done from home. It was all about the safety and security of the families we support to stay together. We were worrying about how the situation will be, about food supplies and markets. We also thought about the children who have been reunited with their families from orphanages.
“Although we cannot visit in person, we can still provide psychological support and counselling in a child-friendly way over the phone, and this is helping families and children to stay calm.”
Most of the families who have been reunited with their children are dependent on daily labouring jobs and now they do not have any work or any income because their employment has stopped because of the lockdown. This is causing an economic crisis for the families.
We are having a reintegration team meeting once a week, as well as a management team meeting. Reintegration officers are calling children and families twice a week to know how they are doing in the villages where they are currently living. Although we cannot visit in person, we can still provide psychological support and counselling in a child-friendly way over the phone, and this is helping families and children to stay calm.
Some families are expressing their anxieties to us, asking what is happening, how can we live our normal lives if this situation goes on for a long time. We are reassuring them that the situation will be normalised soon and the Government is becoming more aware of this issue.
“We have identified some families who need immediate support now and this will be delivered as soon as possible”
Families know that we are there to help them in any emergency and we ask them to call us if there are any crisis issues.
There is not enough support for families and children from the local government and so we are helping families get better access to their local ward offices. At first, some offices refused our calls but when we explained our role, that we were supporting children who had been reunited with their families from institutions and how we can help to support child protection in their area, they became more positive and began to communicate with us.
With our help, some families are receiving the relief support provided by the Government but it is very tiny. It will be sufficient only for a week, providing just one case of rice, sugar and some lentils and vegetables.
We have identified some families who need immediate support now and this will be delivered as soon as possible with the help of the local authority and other organisations that are operating in the relevant area.
“Immediately after the lockdown is lifted, there will be a high risk of children being displaced and trafficked into institutions because normally the trafficking agents are more active during crisis situations like this”
One of the biggest challenges faced by my team now is around the reintegration of more than 60 children from Nepal’s second-largest orphanage in Chitwan which has had to be suspended and can’t take place now until the situation is normalised. We are in regular contact with the local authorities in the area where the orphanage is located. Our hope is that we can carry on the process of reuniting children with their families once the situation is normal again.
Immediately after the lockdown is lifted, there will be a high risk of children being displaced and trafficked into institutions because normally the trafficking agents are more active during crisis situations like this, for example after earthquakes when families are facing serious problems that’s why following up and checking on children then is very important for keeping families together.
Our team is very hopeful that we can help children and families keep calm and stay together until the situation gets back to normal and we can respond to them as well as we did before.
The lockdown is still in place but nowadays it is not difficult to travel from one local ward area to another and also local markets are often open in the morning and evening time. Most vehicles are not operational in my area but local government has allowed for vehicles to transport groceries and vegetables. The children’s school is not open again yet but I was able to prepare the vehicle movement pass from the local government to collect my daughter from the city and now I’m with my entire family together in our village.
Hope and Homes for Children’s project with local partners Forget Me Not in Nepal is made possible by the generous support of UBS Optimus Foundation and through our Global Charity Partnership with Allen & Overy
Image: Forget Me Not