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Nepal Orphan Fund


Nepal Orphan Fund is established to help orphaned, abandoned and impoverished children in Nepal. The goal is to ensure these children can reach a level of education that will allow them be self-reliant productive members of Nepali society. Our aim is to ensure these children gain control of their own futures and to protect them from exploitation. The organization is specifically setup to help the 12 children I met in the Khandbari Children’s Welfare Home in 2012. The plan is to support these children in post SLC (School Leaving Certificate) education by paying education, accommodation and living expenses. It is a goal to pay these expenses directly when possible to ensure donated money is used as efficiently as possible. We also aim to help these children secure certification of Nepali citizenship. If funds enable, additional children beyond these 12 will be chosen to support. Another part of the mission is to reunite children with family when possible. The name ‘Nepal Orphan Fund’ was chosen before I really understood the reality of orphanages in Nepal. The unfortunate truth is that the majority of children in orphanages in Nepal are not really orphans. There are many children who are abandoned for economic reasons, children who’s parent(s) are incarcerated and children who are abandoned because of social pressures. There is also a strong history (not talking specifically about the Khandbari orphanage here..) in Nepal of unscrupulous individuals exploiting vulnerable children for economic benefit. Kind hearted tourists often donate money to individuals or organizations without sufficient understanding of how that money is used or whether the children are being helped or exploited. To understand why children are so open to exploitation in Nepal it is good to understand a little more about the country, the economy and the political environment. I have tried to pull together some information from different sources. The goal here is not to depress the reader but rather to highlight how the odds are really stacked against children in Nepal. It should also be clear why I believe in direct aid as apposed to supporting a Nepali organization. Jump To Section:   Geography   Economical Situation   Nepali Working Abroad   Child Labour   Human Trafficking   Political Situation   Education in Nepal   Street Children   Orphanages and Corruption   Voluntourism   Foreign Adoption   Children Denied Citizenship


Nepal is a long and skinny country that separates China’s Tibet Autonomous Region from India. The country can be thought of as three distinct regions. Running along the northern edge of the country you have the high mountains. This is the backbone of the Himalaya range including many of the highest peaks in the world. The middle third of the country is known as the hilly region. These are the foothills of the Himalaya and generally have much steeper assents and descents than many ranges found elsewhere in the world. Travel in the hilly regions can be slow and difficult with few roads and even fewer that have been coated with tarmac. The southern third of Nepal is known as the Terai region. This is a large flat plain that borders India. Khandbari is in Eastern Nepal in the hilly region. It is about 200 Km east of Kathmandu (as the crow flies..) but due to limited roads and condition of those roads it takes about 23 hours to travel by jeep. The alternative is a 40 minute flight from Kathmandu to Tumlingtar and then a short 30 minute jeep ride from there. Just last year the road from Tumlingtar to Khandbari was converted to a tarmac road.

Economic Situation:

Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. The per capita income is about $750 (source  worldbank website) There are numerous sites ranking the ‘poorest countries in the world’ and what really caught my attention is that Nepal usually ranks even lower than Haiti. Many of the websites showing such information are somewhat questionable but I think the worldbank ranking based on GNI per Capita is a trustworthy source. For many years Tourism was the primary source of revenue in the country but over recent years this has been surpassed by remittances from Nepali working abroad. With the continued political instability in the country it is hard to see how the economy will change dramatically in the near future.

Nepali Working Abroad

There has been a huge upsurge in the number of Nepali working abroad over the past few years. With youth unemployment in Nepal at almost 40% the allure of foreign jobs is understandable but for most they end up exploited. In my opinion the majority of Nepali abroad should really be considered as modern day slaves. My first insight into the issue was while talking to one of my trekking guides during my first trip to Nepal. He had worked in Malaysia for three years. He was recruited by a company in Nepal to work in an electronics assembly role. The recruiting company arranged his job, his visa, paid his airfare and even organized his accommodation. The problem was he had to work off each of these debts along with interest accrued. After three years my guide returned to Nepal without a single penny from his three years of foreign employment. On that same first trip I had a second glimpse of the problem while at Tribhuvan International airport in Kathmandu. On that trip my first flight was from Kathmandu to Seoul, Korea. On my flight there was a ‘batch’ of about 200 Nepali youth on their way to work in Korea. Each wore a red jacket and a red baseball cap with the recruiting companies logo. Each one of them had an A4 sheet of paper hanging in a pouch around their neck. On that sheet was their photo and name, a barcode and details of the employer to which they were destined in Korea.  It really looked like these people were reduced from individuals to an export commodity. I have read numerous articles highlighting the issues and seen a number of hard hitting documentaries. Here are just a few to give a flavour of the problem:    The Diplomat: The Plight of Nepal’s Migrant Workers    The Guardian: Qatar’s World Cup ‘slaves’    CNN: Nepalese dying to work    Himalayan Times: Recruiting agencies cheating job aspirant youth    The Guardian: Qatar World Cup: 185 Nepalese died in 2013 - official records

Child Labour

An estimated 1.6 million children between the ages of 5 and 17 are forced into work in Nepal.    CNN: No life for a child: The grim reality of Nepal’s child laborers According to a UNICEF report 34% of children in Nepal between 5 and 14 years old are involved in child labour.    Unicef: Child Labour - South Asia Region I personally came across a number of cases of servitude being referred to as ‘adoption’ within Nepal. In one case the child’s parents had died and the boy worked in a house in return for room and board and being able to attend school. Another case I saw was a family from the hills where the son worked in a shop in return for similar benefits. The unfortunate reality is these two cases were some of ‘the lucky ones’. They got to attend school and will hopefully have at least some control of their own future. In many cases children are forced to work without any opportunity for education. In some cases parents do not see a value to education and even sell their own children into bonded labour.

Human Trafficking

Human trafficking is another huge problem in Nepal. The problem has multiple facets including children being sold into bonded labour or servitude and even worse women and girls being sold into the sex industry. Some of the numbers reported for trafficking are truly staggering and quite depressing. It is estimated that 7,000 girls are trafficked to the sex industry in India each year and around 200,000 Nepali women are currently working in Indian brothels. If you consider the country has a population of nearly 30 million that translates to more than 1 out of every 100 girls will be forced into the Indian sex trade.    The Diplomat: Women and Girls, A Commodity: Human Trafficking in Nepal    One World: ‘We dared not ask about the village without girls’    MyRepublica: In-laws, husband selling women to Indian brothels  

Political Situation

Looking at all the problems in Nepal one would expect that the government there should do more. It is important to understand that Nepal is caught in a state of political transition and is run by a temporary government that is struggling to create a constitution for the country. Historically Nepal was a constitutional monarchy ruled by the King. In 1990 there was a people’s movement that forced the King to introduce some level of democracy. The first elections were held in 1991and the big winner was the Nepali Congress Party. A few years later the Nepali Congress Party were defeated by the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist). The big disruption came in 1996 when the Maoist Communists began a violent insurgency. The Maoist insurgency led to a civil war that lasted until 2006. During that time the Maoists controlled many of the rural areas of Nepal while the government retained most control in the Kathmandu valley. The primary goal of the Maoists was to overthrow the Monarchy and create a ‘People’s Republic’. In 2001 there was a twist in the saga when the Crown Prince murdered 11 of the royal family including his father, King Birendra. The prince also turned the gun on himself. The prince Dipendra became king for 2 days until he also died from his self-inflicted injuries. After that the King’s brother Gyanendra was declared king. In 2005, as the civil war continued, King Gyanendra suspended the parliament, appointed a government led by himself and declared martial law.  Some of the civilian politicians that had been running the country were arrested and other fled the country and regrouped abroad forming a seven party alliance.  The King’s plan backfired when the seven party alliance reached a memorandum of understanding with the Maoists aiming for peace and democracy. This alliance called the people to protest the King’s autocratic rule and he was forced to reinstate the civilian government. In 2006 the parliament assumed total legislative and executive powers and reduced the King to a figurehead role. In 2007 they went a step further and agreed to abolish the monarchy and create a federal republic. After the Monarchy was abolished the first constituent assembly elections were held with a goal to create a constitution for the country within 2 years. The Maoists were the big winners in that first election but failed to create a constitution as promised. Over time the people lost faith in the Maoist parties and the first constituent assembly was abolished in 2013. In 2013 a second constituent assembly election was held and the Maoist parties were the big losers. Power returned to the Nepali Congress and the Marxist-Leninist Communists. The Maoists didn’t like the election result and opted not to recognize or participate in the new constituent assembly. There was a deadline set of January 22nd 2015 to create a constitution. The deadline has come and gone but the country is still run by an interim government without a constitution. Although the Maoist have less following than they had in the past they still disrupt politics in Nepal and often use agitation tactics that are very damaging to the country as a whole. One of the most common tactics is calling a general strike or Bandha. When a Bandha is called schools, shops and businesses are forced to close and vehicles are banned from the streets. Cadres of the agitating parties enforce compliance with severe consequences for anyone failing to follow the Bandha. Part of the peace process after the civil war was integrating Maoist fighters into both the police force and the Nepali army. It seems at times that this makes those authorities less effective when combating the Bandha culture. When you mix the corruption in Nepal with the ineffective governance it really seems like the wild west at times. One very good example I saw was the Maoists taking over Surya boarding school in Khandbari. Three of the children from the orphanage were attending the school when this happened. Armed Maoists declared they had taken the school. Their grievance was the owner now lives in America and in their view ‘was living the high life while the locals were forced to pay too much for  education’. This happened in Khandbari where there is a large police barracks and a large army barracks. They overlooked the fact that nearly 1/3 of the children attending the school are now sponsored by Americans. The orphanage children also had their tuition fees waived by the school.    Himalayan Times: CPN-Maoist captures school in Khandbari  

Education in Nepal

Like most things in Nepal education has suffered from the lack of a focused stable government. In rural areas this is also compounded by historical doubts about the benefits of education. In a country with limited employment options this is very understandable. School education is typically considered as 10 grades with students completing a standardized School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exam at the end of grade 10. If students wish to attend university they must complete an extra 2 years of schooling generally referred to as +2. From the perspective of a foreigner completing +2 is more comparable to completing secondary education in Europe or High School in the US. Completing +2 is the minimum education requirement for Nepali to be eligible to apply for an American green card yet is not achieved by many. Schools in Nepal are typically either Government run or Private. The private schools are generally known as Boarding Schools - not meaning that students stay at the school but just that they are fee paying institutions. It is also common that the private schools use English as the teaching medium (English Boarding Schools) whilst the government schools more commonly teach in Nepali. Whilst there are some very poor private schools whose only reason for existing is to make money in general the SLC success rates are much higher for students attending Boarding Schools than they are for government schools. The nationwide pass rate for the SLC exam in 2014 was 43.9%. This pass rate is not unusual and the government has frequently come under criticism for the quality of the education system.     eKantipur: SLC results out, 43.9 pc pass Even worse is that 1.3 million students registered for Grade 1 in 2004 and only 173,436 completed Grade 10 and passed the SLC. What this means is that only about 13% of students who start education in Nepal actually complete their SLC successfully. Comparing SLC results for private vs. public schools is also very enlightening. In 2014 the pass rate for students from private schools was 93% while the pass rate from government schools was just 28%.    eKantipur: In SLC results, public schools let taxpayers down The SLC exam is completed in Grade 10 but there is also a regional level standardized exam in Grade 8. With the government under pressure to improve the performance of public schools they chose a very Nepali solution. A few years back they introduced a new rule that if you complete your grade 8 exams in a private school you are no longer eligible for any government education funding (university scholarships etc.). The effect of this was to force a lot of students to move from private schools to the local government school in grade 8. After 7 years of private education the government’s hope was this would help their SLC success rates in the public schools. Of course it has a serious detrimental effect on the student who is forced to move from the private school.

Street Children

It is estimated that there are about 5,000 children living on the streets in Nepal. It is one of the saddest realities of Nepal today. Many locals treat street dogs better than street children. You can’t just blame the locals though - it is tourists that enable the children to live on the street and once they have been there for a while it is very difficult to reintegrate them with the rest of society. I have a very strict policy of not giving money or food to children on the street. There are a number of very good organizations in Nepal (mostly international NGOs) where the children can go if they wish to get off the streets. As tourists continue to give money to these children they have very little incentive to seek help. There is a huge problem of glue sniffing amongst the street children. In order to get help from most organizations the children must give up their drug habit. Many of the children see the streets as freedom and are no longer willing abide by rules of conventional society. When they are children it is easy for them to collect money from tourists. As they age and this becomes more difficult they are caught in a trap and often turn to crime. I have talked to many of these children as they came looking for money and each time I am both amazed and truly saddened. One such conversation happened about 7 in the morning as I was walking along Tridevi Marg. It was before the shops opened for the day but one of the shop owners brought out a bucket of food to feed some of the street children. He called two boys over and they were sitting by his shop waiting. I took a picture of the scene. The elder boy, about 15 years old, saw me take the picture and came over to me. The conversation went something like this: Kid: Hello sir and welcome to Nepal, are you enjoying your trip. Me: Yes, Nepal is a very nice country. Kid: What country are you from ? Me: Ireland. Kid: Oh, are you from Dublin ? Me: Yes I am, I am surprised you know Dublin. Kid: I noticed you taking my picture, could you give me some money. Me: No, if I give you money you will probably spend it on glue. Kid: You are right. Will you buy me some food instead. Me: Isn’t that man giving you food right now ? Kid: Yes, again you are right,  enjoy the rest of your trip in Nepal. The kid knowing asking if I am from Dublin is not too surprising - they learn the capitals of many countries as it greatly increases their chances of getting money from tourists. What really surprised me was how well he spoke English. I would be very surprised if he had not been educated in an English Boarding School. It really made it clear to me that kids in Nepal can be doing well, be in school but then some event happens and because there is no social safety net they end up on the street. A life that was on a very good trajectory can be virtually destroyed overnight. I do not know the solution to getting kids off the streets in Nepal. There are some very good organizations attempting to deal with the issue but tourists giving the kids money really makes street life more attractive for the kids. It would be great if the government would punish those who sell glue to the kids but that is unlikely to happen any time soon. I think the best solution is to make sure kids don’t end up on the street in the first place. It is one reasons I really want to see the kids in Khandbari reintegrated with family and community. The following article gives a very real and bleak account of life for the street children in Nepal. I do warn that it is very graphic, disturbing and difficult reading:    TheLongestWayHome:  A Life Less Innocent: Street Children in Kathmandu, Nepal

Orphanages and Corruption

When I think of orphanages I think of institutions whose primary role is to help the children who are unlucky enough to end up in their care. In Nepal the primary role for far too many of these institutions is to create wealth for the owner. This article in the Nepali Times gives some description of the problem.   Nepali Times: Cashing it big on children It should be noted that the government in Nepal does not fund orphanages properly and there are some good institutions that need support. What I am really trying to point out is that blindly giving money to institutions can cause severe harm and you need to research any organization before giving. One organization that I would trust very much is Umbrella. It is an Irish charity that has been in the business of closing corrupt orphanages for some time. The website can be found at umbrellanepal.org There have been a number of events in recent history that created the problem that exists today. One such event was the civil war. In some regions the Maoists were taking children to bolster their numbers. Parents sent their children to Kathmandu with a belief they would be better protected and receive a good education. Corrupt child traffickers would charge the parents to bring children to Kathmandu but once there would not fulfill the promises of care or education. Conor Grennan’s book Little Princes does a very good job of describing the problems during the war era. A second contributing factor to the orphanage culture was the money earned by foreign adoption. To be eligible for adoption a child needed to be designated as an orphan by the Nepali government. An orphanage owner could put the picture of a child in the newspaper and if nobody responded the government would issue the paperwork to make that child eligible for adoption. Corrupt  orphanage owners could easily earn $5,000 for each foreign adoption so this created a compelling business in country where the average wage is around $2 per day. This  practice is exposed in a documentary titled Paper Orphans. Yet another trigger for the explosion in the number of orphanages is the money to be earned from foreign tourists. Many orphanages are located in the popular tourist destinations such as Boudhanath, Bhaktapur and Chitwan. They invite tourists to visit their institutions and request donations. Voluntourism and the practice of charging foreigners to volunteer at the institutions is a more recent variation of this practice and is covered more below. When the owner of the Happy Homes orphanage in Kathmandu was charged with fraud and kidnapping it was one very rare example of the authorities taking action against a corrupt orphanage. The following article describes the events but is also disturbing in itself. If you read the last paragraph of the article you will see the orphanage was sill running even after the owner was arrested.    Nepali Times: (Un)happy homes   


As mentioned above Voluntourism is a somewhat recent phenomenon that is really fueling the problems associated with corrupt orphanages in Nepal. It has become alarmingly common for foreigners to pay for the privilege of spending some of their vacation working in orphanages and other institutions in Nepal. It is actually illegal to work in Nepal (paid or unpaid) on a tourist visa yet the government does nothing to stop this practice. There are numerous companies both within Nepal and in western countries that facilitate Voluntourism. The practice is wrong in so many ways it’s hard to know where to start. Advertising on the internet for unknown people to come work with children is such a scary thought. There is obviously no background check of any substance when these opportunities are arranged within Nepal. Even if you assume every volunteer is well intentioned I fail to see value from the children’s perspective. If we assume the tourist is a good person and the orphanage is a legitimate, caring organization there are still problems. Chances are most children in the home are abandoned rather than orphaned. The last thing they need is a foreigner to befriend them, spend two weeks of their vacation and then abandon the child again once their vacation is over. Here are a few links highlighting the problems created by Voluntourism.      NewMatilda: Fake Orphanages Profit From Western Volunteers    The Guardian: Nepal’s bogus orphan trade fueled by rise in ‘voluntourism’    Next Generation Nepal: Ethical Volunteering    US Embassy: Volunteering in Nepal    Kathmandu Post: Fake orphanage biz boom in Nepal

Foreign Adoption

The concept of adoption is still very new in Nepal and thankfully, due to lessons learned in other developing countries, it is one avenue of exploitation that has been mostly eliminated by actions of western governments. International adoption was only really discovered in Nepal in 2001 but it was quickly recognized as a lucrative business. Corrupt orphanages and child traffickers found ways to earn big from foreigners wishing to adopt. Under pressure from NGOs and media the Nepali government banned foreign adoption in 2007. In typical style they allowed adoption to resume in 2009 without addressing the problems that lead to the original ban. In August 2010 the US government suspended all adoptions from Nepal and many other countries have taken a similar stance.   The following article provides a detailed summary of this history.    Huffington Post: Orphaned or Stolen? The U.S. State Department investigates adoption from Nepal, 2006-2008

Children Denied Citizenship

Of the approximately 30 million people in Nepal over 2 million today are without citizenship. Being born on Nepali soil is not sufficient grounds to obtain citizenship. Residents usually obtain citizenship certificates at the age of 16. Traditionally only a father could grant citizenship, or after his death a paternal uncle. The laws were changed to allow mothers grant citizenship but this has not always been successful. From the outside it seems that denying citizenship is a way to deny job opportunities and power to a class of society. As an example the plan for Kopila is to study to be a Community Medical Auxiliary (CMA). The course is just 18 months long but she will not be allowed to graduate or to complete the job placement part of the course unless she is a certified citizen. The path to citizenship for children whose father is unknown is very unclear. We can only hope that when the new constitution is created it will include provision for all people born on Nepali soil to be eligible for citizenship. Unfortunately that is not the way things seem to be heading. Here are some links that provide some information on the citizenship problem.   Republica: Struggles For Citizenship   Nepali Times: Stateless in new Nepal   Kathmandu Post: Wordings add to the woes of children of single mothers
Nepali Youth Queuing for a Few Weeks Work in the CA Election Temporary Police Force Child Labour in Nepal Nepali Congress Rally in Khandbari Armed Police Force Preparing for Elections in Khandbari Government School in Khandbari - Earthquake damage remains since 2011 Surya English Boarding School in Khandbari Street Children Huffing Glue in Thamel Street Children Huffing Glue at Pashupatinath Street Children Huffing Glue at Boudhanath
All Photographs (c) Michael Fingleton