Yam Kumari (left) and Puskar breaking stones near their house this week. Photo: Dinesh Subedi/Republica
ROLPA, March 21: Like in the rest of the country, scores of children in Rolpa district, too, are busy preparing for their final exams this year. Besides attending the school regularly, many of the children are also taking private tuition classes. With the exams approaching, children walking around clutching books and notebooks in their hands has become a common sight these days.
The same is not true about three young children of one household in the district. Instead of books and notebooks, they have hammers in their hands. While other children of their age are busy studying, they are forced to break stones at the roadside in Libang, the district headquarters.
These children start breaking stones from very early in the morning. They then eat some breakfast and rush to the school to take exams. They immediately return at around 2 pm and get back to breaking stones. Their struggle for survival is so dire that even the final exams could not break their everyday schedule.
The children are from Bamaru of Rolpa Municipality-1. Yam Kumari Pun, 16, Sharmila Pun, 14, and Puskar Pun, 11, have been breaking stones for a very long time.
Yam Kumari is preparing for the upcoming Secondary Education Examination (SEE). She goes to private tuition in the morning and returns to break stones for the rest of the day. “After my studies, I resume breaking stones from 12 pm. This is a compulsion,” she sighed.
Their unfortunate situation began eight years ago when their mother died of an illness. Following her death, their father married another woman, who only abused and chided them. After finding it impossible to live with their step mother, they started living with their grandfather. Now they have been living with an aunt following the death of their grandfather.
“Our father went abroad for employment three years ago. But he has been out of contact since then,” said Yam Kumari, the eldest child. “I'm very thankful to our aunt for providing us food and shelter. The three of us break stones with our uncle and contribute to the family's expenses.”
Sharmila who will soon be appearing in the final examinations of grade eight, starts breaking stones early in the morning and leaves for school at around 9 am, and returns in the afternoon to continue breaking stones. Her brother Puskar, the youngest of them, has a similar routine. He is currently in Grade six.
Sharmila said the heavy workload during exams has created difficulties but it has not hampered her studies much. “Although the work has put me in a difficult position, I'm still doing well in the exams.”
“They pay us Rs 5,000 for one truckload of aggregate, which is a huge workload. We plan to grind more stones and earn more after the exams are over,” said Yam Kumari. “Our brother Puskar also helps us but he is more playful due to his age.”
Breaking stones is, by no means, an easy task. The children said they had lots of small fluid-filled blisters on their hands when they first started the work about two years ago. At present, in place of such fluid-filled blisters, they already have developed hard-skinned blisters.
Not just the arduous nature of the task, they also face other problems while working. “Drivers of vehicles on the road tease us these days. Especially motorcycle riders do it. Drivers of tractors and jeeps are no less,” said Yam Kumari, the eldest. “They sometimes speak bad words to us. Although they are grown up people, they still tease us,” she added.
The three children study at Tara High School. But more than studies, their time is spent on breaking stones. “I'm not doing it by choice. But I feel really happy to earn money to cover school expenses of my younger sister and brother,” said Yam Kumari.
According to her, their uncle and aunt have been doing a lot for them. “They give us whatever we ask for and we are happy. But I think our father has already forgotten us. He has called our step mother many times after going abroad but he hasn't called us even once.”
Yam Kumari plans to pass SEE and study +2 at Bal Kalyan High School in the district headquarters. “I'll definitely study at Bal Kalyan if I get the chance. However, I'll make sure that my brother and sister, too, can continue their studies,” she said.
The children break stones near the house of politician Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the Speaker of the Federal Parliament. But so far, nobody has offered them any help. Even schools have overlooked them for need-based scholarships. Although the children saw a lot of politicians making big promises of poverty eradication during the last elections, they have no idea how that will help them.