Children grinding stone nearby a roadside in Rolpa district in this recent photo. Dinesh Subedi/Republica
In Rolpa, poverty-stuck kids reason work is better then play
ROLPA, April 19: Gautam BK is just 13-years-old. The government policy promises free education for the children of his age. However, BK hardly knows this. Though he pays little to school as tuition fee, many other things that he needs to study necessitate him to work hard to earn them. For this, he grinds stone during his vacation.
“I have no choice than to work hard. Without money, I cannot continue my studies,” said the young boy. “For dress, book, stationeries I need money,” he added.
BK has a long experience of working near riverbanks. This time he is busy grinding stones, while earlier he collected and loaded stones on trippers.
“Both works are hard, but there is no alternative to it,” he said. Lovely part about even this ‘evil’ work is the presence of his peer group nearby. BK feels nice to ‘work together’ with his friends.
“It is fun sometimes. But it stops being fun when the supervisor comes and scolds us,” he shared.
What do we get by playing or sitting idle? It is better that we work and earn some money. --Gautam BK, a 13-year-old from Rolpa
While crushing the stones, sometimes kids get out of focus and start playing and chatting, like kids are supposed to do. However, this is something that the employer strongly discourages. The employers find such activities waste of time and is intolerant to such indulgences.
Hundreds of children like BK work as child labor in nooks and corners of Rolpa. Neither are they aware of child rights nor can they afford to enjoy the rights. Their life itself is actually grinding under extreme poverty.
“Even if I was not studying, I would have to work hard to survive. Apart from financing my studies, the remainder of my earnings goes to my family,” BK narrated.
He does not remember exactly since when he started working in riverbanks or roadsides. Nor can he tell you how much he earned the first time. In fact, even today, there is no fixed level of payment for their labor.
“It was since the beginning that I used to work here around,” said the local of Kotgaun of Rolpa. “We keep working in rain or scorching heat,” he added.
After completion of academic session and during other long vacations, children get into this work. These children are generally 14 years of age and include both boys and girls. Children from poor families, who are 14 or 15 years of age, often leave for India in search of job. In case of girls, when they reach such age they usually get married.
BK has earned Rs 5,000 in the last few days. The annual leave is thus always special. “We are around 14 / 15 children working around here and all of us have made almost earned around Rs 5000 each. We sell the stone that we grind to the employer,” he informed.
The children sometimes come to work even during weekends. Making extra income is always more important than ‘playing around’.
“What do we get by playing or sitting idle? It is better that we work and earn some money,” BK said sounding like a wise man. “We are poor people, money does not come to us easily,” added the student of Nepal Secondary School of Kotgaun.
According to his neighbor Kharmili BK, some children even go to work in brick kilns. For this, they even stay away from home.
“Some children of our village are in Kathmandu to work in brick kilns. Sometimes they return, sometimes not. They stay and work there,” she shared.
Similarly, 10-year-old Bharat Gharti stated that ‘working for money’ is natural for all children. That is what he has seen everyone doing. “If we fill one trip of tractor, we get around Rs 5,000. Sometimes we work very hard and make this happen in a day. The earning is divided among all the participants,” he said.
“We have to work, what else?” he asks.
The kids get to the field right in the morning. They often take a break for lunch at around 2 pm. Then they work until late in the evening. Some of these children even had blisters on their hands. They shared that the blisters are painful but added that such blisters don’t stop them from working. “In the beginning, I used to get all blisters in my hand while working here. But now my hands are used to them,” he said.
Jiwan BK, 11, stated that he sometimes gets worried that others might steal the stones he has piled up on the riverbank. As vehicles do not come regularly for collecting their stone collection, the collectors have to make sure that they guard their stones.
In the last few years, opening of new road tracks has been picking pace in Rolpa as well. This has given job to many including small kids. In absence of monitoring, kids continue to be exploited.