Monday, July 18, 2011

The Children Left Behind (The Pulitzer Center)

The Children Left Behind


Nepal became an important source of children for international adoption in part because adoption is not widely practiced or accepted among the Nepalese, an attitude that is prevalent across South Asia.

But the United States and several other countries have recently stopped adoption of abandoned children from Nepal because of allegations of fraud.

Some critics opposed to the U.S.’s decision say it only punishes the children left behind and sentences them to a life stuck in an institution. It’s a position that Elizabeth Bartholet, director of the Child Advocacy Program at Harvard, strongly agrees with.

“The easy thing to do is what our regulators do, which to say let’s punish the children. Let’s just imprison the children who have done nothing wrong,” Bartholet said. “It destroys a lot to keep kids in these institutions.”

The State Department’s Susan Jacobs defends the decision to clamp down on adoptions from Nepal. She says the sole goal is to ensure international adoptions are ethical—the U.S. had no choice but to stop adoptions of abandoned children after finding that documentation provided by the Nepalese government was often fraudulent and unreliable.

“Our goal has always been to protect the child, the birth parents and the adoptive parents because I can’t think of anything worse than completing an adoption and then finding out a week or month or a year later that there is a parent out there looking for their child,” said Jacobs.

One orphanage tucked away in the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, however, is seeing the effect of this policy change first hand.

Sapna Ekta Rana runs the Sagarmatha Children Home. She says as international adoption has dried up, so too have the funds needed by the orphanage to sustain its regular operations. And in the Sagarmatha Children Home, that means providing food, education and shelter for children is getting harder and harder.

“The main source of funding is from adoption parents...there is no government support,” said Rana.

Before the recent policy change, when parents adopted a child from Nepal through the international adoption program, they were required to pay the child’s orphanage a fee or “donation” of $5,000. That money, Rana says, was used to fund the rest of the children at the orphanage who hadn’t been adopted or could never be adopted.

And without that regular income coming in, Rana says they have no choice but to shut their doors. “Right now we are not able to take in any children because the home is full,” said Rana.

Rana notes that without the ability to adopt out children from her orphanage internationally, the future of many Nepalese orphans is grim. Once a child turns 16, the orphanage no longer is able to support him or her. That’s when many Nepalese orphans might find themselves abandoned with nowhere to turn.

Many international organizations, including UNICEF, have urged the Nepalese government to finds ways to increase domestic adoptions. They argue that international adoption should be considered a last resort, and countries such as Nepal must first try everything they can to take care of orphans within the country.

The State Department’s Jacobs urged the Nepalese government to implement stricter oversight of its adoption program.

“There are countries, and not just in the west, but all over the world, that can do this properly. And there is no reason that Nepal can’t. All it takes is a little bit of political will,” said Jacobs.

Jacobs says the political turmoil that Nepal has faced over the last decade cannot be used as justification to ignore the need for better adoption oversight.

“I know there is a lot of political chaos there. It’s a difficult place to be right now, but they could do this. They need to do this for their children. The children are the most important thing in a country and they are just letting these things happened to them and there is no excuse for it,” said Jacobs.

Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Better Sit By the River Than Be a Bird of Cage (Terre des hommes)

- Published by Darcissac, Marion

From our delegate in Nepal, Joseph Aguettant

2245_arddesinstitutionalisation_embedA new publication highlights new ways to support families in rural areas instead of institutions such as orphanages and children’s homes (mostly in urban areas).

The news came as an earthquake in the world of child care: Naxal’s Bal Mandir, the oldest orphanage in Nepal, was taken over by an Australian NGO. Following months of negotiations between Nepal Children’s Organisation and Mitrataa Foundation, it was announced that the management of the largest institution in the country, currently hosting 250 children, was shifted to foreign management, from 1st May 2011 and for a five year term. Volunteers found the children in desperate condition, some of them suffering from acute malnutrition. The children had not been enrolled in schools due to lack of funds. This didn’t come as a surprise to those who knew about the old Bal Mandir.

A change of guard at Bal Mandir raises a set of questions: are all these children orphans? Did they really need to be institutionalised in the first place? Can the prospect of a “good education” wash away the trauma of family separation? Are there ways to keep children in their own families and can we find alternatives in communities? Why does Nepal maintain large institutions while the rest of the world is closing them down?

Burned alive

In the last few days, several untoward events reminded us of the gravity of the situation. At the beginning of June, an eye witness reported that in an orphanage in Kathmandu, the main caretaker was using torture to “discipline” the children. She was seen holding a candle over a 10-month girl and pouring wax on her as a punishment for wetting her pants. This was not an isolated incident.

The situation was worse (even nightmarish) in another institution. According to a Central Child Welfare Board official who visited the home, the orphanage was “far below standards”. The institution was closed down on 20th March 2011 and all the children rescued. Picture this: 21 children were crammed together in one bedroom with no separation between boys and girls. They were not being fed regularly, were living in squalid conditions and their profiles were falsified. Worse is yet to come: the director was routinely beating children with a metal stick. One child had died six months ago and another one disappeared. As a punishment, one child she was beaten with a metal rod and nettles and kept in isolation (on the terrasse upstairs) for two weeks. The director did not give the child any food, but the other children managed to bring her food and water secretly. The child was taken to the hospital by a visitor and died on the same day. Her name was Sangita. The surviving children are still having nightmares about the horror they witnessed in this home and are seriously traumatized. They have nightmares that the orphanage director will take them to Pashupati and burn them alive. They say that this is what happened to one child some years back because the home could not afford medical treatment.

Similarly, a 12-year old child died mysteriously in Jorpati in a child care home. Although she was admitted as an orphan, it was found that both her father and mother were alive. She had been institutionalised five years ago through a fake village development committee recommendation letter from Ramechhap District stating that she had no father. The orphanage was running illegally.

In another large orphanage, a young man entered the premises at night and molested adolescent girls who were hearing and speech impaired. They were able to alert orphanage staff by making loud sounds such as banging on their beds.

All these cases are symptomatic of a larger problem. We estimate that at least 4,000 children live in substandard institutions across Nepal. In terms of numbers and seriousness of child rights violations, we are in fact facing a major child protection crisis. In 2008, Terre des hommes estimated the number of children in residential care to reach 15,000 throughout the country. There were at least 440 private institutions, many of whom were being run by businessmen as a side activity. According to CCWB, this figure has not changed and it is still the official one. To get a true picture of institutional care, however, one should add illegal institutions, boarding schools, faith-based institutions, as well as “correction homes”. The rate of institutionalisation in Kathmandu is higher than that of Cambodia (193 per 100’000 children aged 0-17) or even China (27). A large number of unregulated orphanages is a recipe for disaster for children but also for society at large.

“We’re sorry for the tragedy of childhoods lost”

“We come together today to offer our nation’s apology, to say […] that we are sorry. Sorry that as children you were taken from your families and placed in institutions where so often you were abused. Sorry for the physical suffering, the emotional starvation, and the cold absence of love, of tenderness, of care. Sorry for the tragedy, the absolute tragedy, of childhoods lost.” These words of contrition were those of the Australian Prime Minister in 2009. Mr. Rudd offered the nation’s apology to the hundreds of thousands of children who were separated from their families and institutionalised in Australia. Many children were placed in religious institutions, where they were abused or neglected. The homes attracted pedophiles: many children said they were sexually abused. Others have described miserable, lonely lives, during which birthdays and festivals went unmarked, and they never received any affection.

We trust that one day the suffering of children in institutions will be recognised in Nepal as well. We, child rights advocates, are sorry for the tragedy of childhoods lost. We look up to countries like Australia, and many others, which have completely reversed the situation in a few decades, to help us. Australia has closed all its orphanages. There are no “orphans” in the country- only children placed in foster care and then adopted domestically.

We have hope. Less than a year ago, there was almost no recognition of the risks inherent to institutionalisation of children in Nepal. The 2005-2015 National Plan of Action for Children was openly “promoting children’s homes” and recommending an “increase in the number of orphanages”.

Today the situation has changed. Institutions are no longer immune because they would be protected by the Queen Mother or some politicians. The Terre des hommes project has put in place 41 verified foster families in the four Midwestern districts and have placed 27 children in their care. There will be many more foster family placements in the years to come, in many more districts.

From time immemorial the preferred way to care for and protect orphans was to send them to the extended family. Kinship care remains one of the primary responses – it needs to be strengthened and made safe. The challenge is to ensure that this is in the child’s best interest and that child labour is eliminated from this form of care.

Where consciousness goes, energy and resources will follow. As this is a complex and resource-intensive process, de-institutionalisation will help bring more resources into the country. It doesn’t mean simply emptying boxes: it will require a conscious effort to develop modern and effective child care services.

It is probably as easy to carry out de-institutionalisation as it is to pronounce the 22-letter word. All those engaged in the process will know that it is an arduous and time-consuming endeavour. But the concept is straight forward. It basically means opening the boxes. It means support to other forms of care and the establishment of a gatekeeping mechanism. It means investing in competent and compassionate staff who will leave no stone unturned to return the children to their families or provide family-based alternative care.

A few individuals and organisations have taken a head start: Tdh, Hope for Himalayan Kids, Next Generation Nepal, The Himalayan Innovative Society and Umbrella Foundation. We are greatly encouraged by the inclusion of de-institutionalisation as a topic of discussion with the Government, particularly the Central Child Welfare Board and the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. The National Plan of Action has been corrected. Several organisations have approached Tdh with requests for assistance and an informal working group has been set up. We have created a list of organisations that promote family preservation, family-based alternative care and de-institutionalisation (if you feel you should be on this list, contact

One new resource might come in handy: Terre des hommes Nepal Delegation Office teamed up with Hope for Himalayan Kids, to produce a hands-on manual on how to reduce the number of children in institutions and promote family-based care. Swiss Ambassador to Nepal, H.E. Thomas Gass launched the publication titled “10 Steps Forward to De-institutionalisation” in the presence of other ambassadors and staff of Diplomatic Missions, Nepal Government officials, UNICEF and non-profit organisations involved in working with children in institutions. The main author is an Australian social worker, Deborah MacArthur, assisted by Aruna Khadka, a pioneer of de-institutionalisation. The key philosophy of the document is that the rights (and best interests) of children are better served in families compared to institutions.

A Humli proverb sums it all: “It is better to sit beside the river than to be a bird of cage.” We hope for less and less “cages” and a lot more little birds flying around – and above all, little birds learning how to fly with their families.

Download the “10 Steps Forward to De-institutionalisation” manual

Further information on the Terre des hommes intervention in Nepal

Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A trafficker remains scot-free (The Kathmandu Post)

A trafficker remains scot-free (The Kathmandu Post)


JUL 08 -

It was in April this year when three worried adults in Humla submitted a letter of appeal to the Central Child Welfare Board (CCWB), a statutory body under the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare. Humble words requested for help in repatriating girl children from Tamil Nadu, India- “…a place wherefrom it is impossible to learn of their well being and condition…and where our children have expressed over the telephone their inability to continue staying”-the letter states in Nepali.

Guardians Dhan Maya Lama, Saraswati Lama and Krishna Lama (names changed) of Humla had entrusted the responsibility of their children to a local politician in the year 2004, convinced of his promises to educate them in a boarding school in Kathmandu, away from the conflict-ridden place that Humla was in those years. But in the year 2006, the parents came to learn that their children had been taken all the way down to Tamil Nadu, and they were not even informed about it. “When he first took them, we gave him money for taking our children to a better place. But it has been seven years now and he refuses to bring them back to us,” said Dhan Maya over the telephone from Humla.

Claimed by many villagers in Humla, such a practice—of entrusting one’s child into the hands of people with authority, along with sums of money—has been a resort for many parents, as they trust those more empowered to give their children a better future. The families of Dhan Maya, Saraswati and Krishna followed suit and their children were taken away, later enrolled at the Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu—a Christian organisation that claims to house and provide education to orphan girls.

About four years ago, another Humli parent Dhiren Lama (name changed) along with five friends hunted down the person who had taken their children away. UML member Dal Bahadur Phadera was coerced by the group to bring their children back. Phadera had succumbed then, taking the group of guardians with him to the Michael Job Centre in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. “We had to spend so much money to finally track him down, but even then he tried to assuage us by saying, ‘Let me celebrate Tihar first, and then I shall get your kids’,” recalls Dhiren. Dhiren and his friends invested significantly in making their way from Humla, to Kathmandu and Gorakhpur, en route to Tamil Nadu. But unlike him, Dhan Maya, Saraswati and Krishna, have yet to gather finances and the courage to make Phadera bring their children back.

Dhiren’s niece, who was brought back with 12 other girls talked of receiving an education in Tamil Nadu. The place appeared to be good for children in Dhiren’s eyes too, letting one believe that such a case would be hard to define as trafficking. But says Dhiren: “He (Phadera) is not a good man. I had given him Rs. 12,000 when I handed my niece over to him and a separate Rs. 3,000 to my niece for her personal expense. But Phadera snatched the money off her hands.”

The Michael Job Centre claims to have a mission of saving orphaned girls of Christian martyrs, after the principal Dr. P.P Job’s own son, Michael, was run down with a car—as the website claims—by radical Hindus of India. Also accepting orphans of any other religion, it has had a record of receiving girls from Nepal. But the centre’s reputation would best be defined as ambiguous. A news report titled ‘Mother seeks return of her daughter’ (Apr. 30 2010) from the Manipur Mail informs of 20 Manipuri girls from Churachandpur district to have been “beaten to bleeding” and confined all days inside the Michael Job campus. Could this be a reason why the children express their inability to stay in the centre, as stated in the letter?

What Dhan Maya, Saraswati and Krishna should ideally have done is filed a First Information Report (FIR) with the local police, enabling rescue organisations in India to enter and investigate the alleged institute where their children are kept. But uninformed of these criminal justice procedures, and unsure of its advice from local NGOs and INGOs, Dhan Maya went back to Phadera instead to consult the matter. “He was extremely angry when I talked to him about this,” recalls Dhan maya, who told the Post of Phadera’s bullying ways whenever she gathered her voice to ask of her child. “The school is good, don’t file the report,” Phadera would tell her and end the conversation. Corroborations with officers of a local NGO in Humla that works closely with Humli families to bring back their lost children confirm the same.

Dal Bahadur Phadera, known to anti-trafficking organisations in Kathmandu as ‘DB’, is known to exert considerable fear and influence among civilians in Humla. He is a martial arts practitioner, say some and “someone who follows you around if you come in his way” others. But the man and his notoriety are an open secret among Humlis, child rights officers and administrators in government and non-government bodies, who take his name easily when discussed with about child trafficking. A child rights officer of the District Child Welfare Board claims Phadera to “not have stopped trafficking entirely” whereas an officer at the Central Child Welfare Board acknowledges his reputation as a trafficker.

But aside from these sources who are cautious with their comments, evidence of Phadera’s history in trafficking lies in Saroj Adhikari’s article ‘Bal Balika ko Rahasmaya Osaar Pasaar’ in the July 2006 issue of Nepal magazine. Adhikari reports the stark discrepancy between the number of children registered in a dozen schools in the Valley where Phadera claims to have enrolled them, and the number actually present. “Details given by Dal Phadera state 32 minors to have been enrolled in Pushpanjali Boarding School in Taukhel, but the school’s teacher Sharada Lamichhane of the Accounts Department claims 14 of them to be absent,” he writes. Additional proof of Phadera’s engagement in trafficking children comes from a group of children rescued by the non-profit organisation Next Generation Nepal. Currently staying at their children’s home in Balkot, 16-year-old Sravan Puri (name changed) gives a heart-rending testimony of leaving home for Kathmandu when he was eight, being taken in custody by Dal Phadera, and eventually being forced to beg in the streets for money and at another time, being paid Rs. 25 for three months of washing dishes at a hotel. Similar testimonies have come from Sravan’s friends, who now in their late teens, were all victims of Phadera’s guile. “DB used to bring volunteers to the orphanage in Mathatirtha, but he would take away all the goodies and stationary items they would bring for us,” he shares of his days in the Mathatirtha orphanage run under Phadera’s organisation Himali Anath Bal Bikas Kendra (Himali Orphan Child Development Centre). Both the orphanage and the organisation closed down in the year 2006 after the orphanage was discovered to have been run illegally.

Put into custody for three days by the Nepal Police in the same year, Phadera was released by the sheer weight of his political influence, reports Adhikari, now with the Kantipur Daily. Not once charged for his trafficking activities since, Phadera continues to remain free today.

In a telephone conversation with the Post, Phadera claimed of not taking any money from parents in Humla. “I do not know who Dhiren is, besides, when members of the UCPN (Maoist) party kidnapped me on charges of several complaints of trafficking, it was done with political motives and for character assassination,” he added, regarding an accusation by members of UCPN (Maoist) of Humla in the year 2006-7. Interestingly, in a statement denying charges from the UCPN (Maoist), Phadera quotes the name of a certain ‘Chakkra Shahi’ as a trafficker, who is also named by a villager in the documentary Paper Orphans by Terre Des Hommes, a Swiss humanitarian organisation that gives assistance to children in need, to have carried out similar activities of deceiving Humli parents and taking children away.

The Human Trafficking and Transportation Control Act (2007) and Regulation (2008)— as mentioned in the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report issued by the US Government in June this year—subjects persons guilty of trafficking to 10 to 20 years’ imprisonment. Phadera has not been subject to any such punishment.

This issue of families being deceived by traffickers in the Karnali region has been addressed for the first time in the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, and so have the impunity enjoyed by politically-connected perpetrators and the negative effect it has had in the number of trafficking cases filed with the police. But slow justice and a long wait before reunification remains the reality of most families, who in their circumstances have unwittingly lost their children.

Dhan Maya, Saraswati and Krishna wait for what assistance can come from their local NGO and the DCWB in response to their letter of appeal. Says the NGO officer who has been contacted by the CCWB for coordination: “We have asked for institutional and strategic help in our letter in response to the CCWB, but we have yet to send it.”

Posted on: 2011-07-09

For a first-hand account of DB Phadera/Fadera, see Lonely Planet (read the full thread):

Ethics, Transparency, Support
~ What All Adoptions Deserve.