Sunday, 28 September 2008
This is one of the greatest underlying problems in our work against child trafficking; the abyss of poverty that child survivors or potential victims originate from.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Meanwhile, the report issued by the Nepal Central Child Welfare Board last week on the state of Nepalese circus children (based loosely upon our work) has received publicity right around the world. Yesterday its publication in Australian papers led to my giving interviews to two Australian radio stations. You can hear my broadcast on Radio Australia through this link:
Sadly, because of the editing of a non-commercial radio station, the report sounds more upbeat than it ought to. I made it clear that the biggest obstacle to future success wasn't lack of commitment or organisation but the economic struggle between us as a charity (who have to scrabble around for what funds we can get) and the traffickers who have plenty of ill-gotten financial gains to draw upon. We may yet fail solely because of this financial imbalance.
Sunday, 21 September 2008
From what I can gather, based upon intelligence gleaned from returnees, the Rambo Circus is one of the better circuses in India, employing overseas artists (including British ones) and paying local and Nepali performers for their services. However, there is still the problem of its use of performers who found their way to the circus through having been trafficked to enter employment on the basis of illegal contracts. On top of that, although Mr Dilip advised me this morning that his performers receive proper education and training within the circus, he will have been preventing children from receiving the full education that their peers outside the circus receive. A full education is a fundamental human right. In doing so he is also denying the children a future for when after the circus is finished with them.
That said, Mr Dilip is clearly not a villain as per some of the other circus owners and I will take up his offer to pay him a visit. Back in 2003 we tried to persuade the circus owners of the time to change their ways and begin operating legally and after their non-compliance we began the process of raids in 2004. Maybe now at least one circus owner is ready to move in the right direction and that is to be encouraged. Perhaps Mr Dilip can lead the way.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Since then the children's academic progress has improved dramatically but on top of that, three athletic kids, two boys and a girl, attend daily training at the National Stadium before going to school. The boys, Aman and Bijay, are now number one and two in gymnastics in Nepal, while the girl, Maya, has become an accomplished distance runner. All are former circus children.
Today Maya came first in an inter school running tournament, completing 3km in 13 minutes 25 seconds. She picked up a medal, a certificate and 3000 rupees (about £25) the latter equating to almost a month's wages in Nepal for an adult and certainly more than the monthly income of her impoverished father. Maya is such a self-effacing little girl that this will come as a great boost to her growing confidence. She's not good at smiling for the camera though, a common trait in Nepalese people who seem to spend all of the rest of their time smiling.
Thursday, 18 September 2008
In today's Himalayan Times I read of an incident of similar mob justice yesterday in Uttar Pradesh, the lawless state (which the Indian circuses love to operate in) just across the border. Two men went took a mobile phone recharging coupon from a shopkeeper without paying for it; when he protested they shot him dead. They made off on motorcycles but a mob of villagers went after them, eventually felling them through a barrage of stones. Once grounded they were beaten to death and their motorcycles were set on fire. Without the slightest hint of irony The Himalayan Times reported that their bodies were about to be burned but that "timely intervention" by the police prevented that from happening.
There was an instance of attempted mob rule yesterday that impacted upon our staff in Hetauda, south Nepal. For most of this week our staff members have very courageously been trying to press for the charging of an (alleged) child trafficker, Shankar Basnet. Yesterday no fewer than 100 people who were supporting the agent blocked our staff's access to the police station and the Deputy Superintendent of Police was loath to proceed with the case. Following intervention last evening by Shailaja, our local Director, who spoke with the local inspector the case was finally filed at the District Court today.
If Basnet is convicted he faces a 20 year prison sentence. This has been nice news for us to end the week on.
Meanwhile in Hetauda, there has been apparent stonewalling on the part of the police in the pursuit of the case against alleged trafficking agent Shankar Basnet who was picked up by our field team on Monday evening. Statements had been taken against him from a witness who was trafficked by him to end up being allegedly raped at the circus. The case should have been lodged within one day of this at the District Court and all seemed done and dusted to us. Four days later we were appalled to learn that the police have still done nothing and we gather that the girl is being summoned to the police station again tomorrow. In short she is being put under a great deal of mental pressure (perhaps in the hope that she will retract her statement). The pressure is exacerbated by the incident having attracted the attention of local media who have been at the police station. Moreover Basnet's idiot neighbours have been adding to the intimidation by protesting at the station - trafficking really is something that can involve conspiracy and collaboration by whole communities.
Tomorrow we will take firm action to protect this girl who has been so courageous as to give evidence before her trafficker and we'll ensure that her will doesn't break under this unacceptable pressure. The local police are effectively treating her like a criminal and they should be ashamed of themselves as police officers and as men.
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
It's not really such a funny old world.
Monday, 15 September 2008
Our next circus rescue operation will take place next week. Details to follow, but for security reasons I will report these after the event.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
Himalayan Mosaics presents a great opportunity as it gives my circus survivors rewarding employment and an income but I still have the need to fundraise significant amounts of funds for the Trust's ongoing work as the credit crunch is already starting to bite hard. With my about to go on another circus rescue next week, I feel the need of those funds very acutely.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
When I first came out to live here in 2004 nightlife in Kathmandu seemed pretty tame, with pubs calling for last orders at around 10.30 p.m. as the shutters came down on adjacent restaurants. Then with a breakdown in society's values - or a liberalisation depending upon your point of view - Kathmandu went through an entertainment revolution. Dance bars and massage parlours appeared on the scene and, as I wrote in a recent blog, recently you'd even see signs advertising "Striptease". Those of us in the development sector were very concerned at this deterioration as we witnessed Kathmandu becoming a sin city, a new venue for the sex tourists and final destination for naive and vulnerable girls trafficked from their village areas.
Last evening over dinner a friend of mine told me that apparently Thamel has changed within the last couple of weeks with it reverting to its former benign self. I hadn't noticed this - I don't go for nightlife so much as I once did - but his impression was confirmed when I read in the papers today that the new Government has vowed to shut down all dance bars within a few days. I think this reflects the conservatism of the Maoist-led government and this decision will go far to prevent Kathmandu's descent into becoming a cess pit.
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
Nepal, potentially one of the largest sources of hydroelectric power in the world, suffers under regular scheduled power cuts or "load shedding". Last dry season this peaked at 42 hours of cuts per week. Then with the onset of the monsoon in June the power cuts dwindled but, very unusually and ominously, didn't entirely go away. Last week load shedding was unexpectedly increased to 17.5 hours with the rationale being that the reservoirs were unseasonally low and, ironically, that the grossly mismanaged surplus of water that caused extensive flooding in south Nepal and north India had destroyed a vital electrical link with India. Today it has been announced that the load shedding burden is to be doubled to 35 hours with immediate effect - and we are still two weeks short of the end of the monsoon. Heaven alone knows how things will stand at the peak of the coming dry season. But we'll not be able to turn on our TV when we feel the urge for quite some time to come. Predictions are that in the absence of plans for any new dam constructions these power restrictions will continue for another five years, paralysing the nation's development and degrading its quality of life.
On a lighter note, I noticed the other day a huge advertisement for insurance cover that appears in the car park of our local department store, Saleways in Lalitpur. It offers substantial pay outs in the event of a range of unforeseen calamities that might occur as you browse the supermarket shelves oblivious to the dangers that may lurk behind them. However the compensation paid is linked to how much you have spent in the store over the preceeding twelve months and, hilariously, after the deduction of the cost of your shopping on the day of the injury or untimely death. I wonder how this compares with public liability insurance at Tescos?