WALLINGFORD, Connecticut — Nepal is renowned for its mountainous terrain, popular sightseeing and diverse culture. Behind its beauty, Nepal faces national crises in various ways. The impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Nepal has led to food insecurities, unprecedented levels of child labor and a lack of health supplies and services for Nepal’s population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 8,801,330 vaccines have been administered as of August 22, 2021, among a population of 28.6 million people. There have been 759,222 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 10,714 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. Further, the closing of schools and a lack of food and health supplies have tremendously affected the lives of Nepali children.
Unprecedented Levels of Child Labor
The closing of schools and a lack of government assistance in Nepal present major obstacles for children. Approximately six million Nepali children currently live in poverty — four times the amount before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to UNICEF’S Child and Family Tracker. On March 18, 2020, the closing of schools nationwide affected more than eight million students in Nepal. Two-thirds of Nepali children found themselves unable to attend a school or access any type of distance learning program.
Children did not often have regular meals, activities or a sense of security that schools would provide. As a result, many children turned to the labor force to support their families and take up their time. The Nepal School Meals Program, implemented by the government of Nepal in 2017, ensures that children attending participating schools are given free meals. However, most children could not receive these meals during pandemic lockdowns. As a result, child labor in Nepal reached unprecedented levels.
The Consequences of the Situation
The long-term effects of COVID-19 will impact both physical and cognitive development in the long term, especially for children less than six years old. The impact of COVID-19 on Nepal will ultimately weaken economic development in a fiscal and human sense, which is partly why UNICEF works to support Nepal’s vaccine supply chain.
One-third of Nepali children interviewed by the Human Rights Watch work at least 12 hours every day. Despite these long workdays, most children make fewer than 517 rupees ($4.44) per day. The exhaustive labor also causes several health concerns for the children. This includes pain in their “backs, legs, knees, hands, fingers and eyes.”
Nonprofits Alleviate the Impact of COVID-19
Pasang Sherpa is a professor at the Nepal Institute of Health Sciences. He is also an advocate for the on-ground team of the nonprofit organization Vision Education Foundation. Sherpa shared with The Borgen Project her experience with a COVID-19 relief project in the Bigu community of Nepal. The Vision Education Foundation’s team of volunteers in Nepal supported the implementation of this relief project.
These volunteers directly surveyed and assessed the most urgent needs of children and families. Those helped included those most affected by the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Nepal. Volunteers provided 60 children and their families with “25 pounds of rice, five pounds of lentils, one liter of oil, one mask and two packs of soap.” These packages of food and hygiene products should last a family of three for about one month.
Identifying the Problem and Finding Solutions
Sherpa constantly noticed the children dropping out of the institute she teaches at. She told The Borgen Project, “I barely have any students and I have even [fewer]girls in the classes I teach because of COVID-19. I’m trying my best to uplift my students, especially because COVID-19 has made poverty far worse than I have seen in my life so far.” Sherpa strongly believes that alleviating poverty in Nepal revolves around people passionately enough to serve poverty-stricken communities. Sherpa’s passion led her to provide hygiene products to women, donate food to children and do more during the pandemic.
Another nonprofit organization, Concern-Nepal, aims to eradicate child labor in Nepal. Established in 1993, Concern-Nepal has implemented programs tailored to eradicating child labor and poverty in Nepal. The implementation of an “income-generating program” enables children to work from home through vocational means. Concern-Nepal seeks to disincentivize children from joining child labor forces. With this program, Concern-Nepal provides children with goats to use as a means of income. This rivals the dangerous means of income provided by child labor recruiters. This organization’s efforts continue to fight against child labor due to the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Nepal.
A Glimpse of Optimism
Sherpa says, “I was able to escape poverty through education. I have come to realize that poverty and education are directly related to each other, which is why child labor is at an all-time high in Nepal because with COVID-19 most children cannot go to school.”
While the impact of COVID-19 on poverty in Nepal has raised levels of child labor and food insecurities nationwide, there is hope. Nonprofit organizations like UNICEF, the Vision Education Foundation and Concern-Nepal work consistently to help Nepal. Poverty alleviation efforts continue to prevail and strive to put an end to food insecurities and child labor in Nepal.
– Nora Zaim-Sassi