- Pabitra Guragain, On a hot day with the maximum temperature hovering at 29 degrees Celsius in the capital city a few days back, preparations were in full swing for a 'mini celebration'. It was 11am and a furnished room on the ground floor of a three-storied moderate cemented building, two/three-minutes' walk from Dhumabarahi Chowk was the venue for the celebration.
Some diaries wrapped in white transparent plastic paper, some hand-made greetings and certificates have decorated the small wooden table.
A group of six-seven people are eagerly waiting for 'special' guests. Amidst this, some smiling faces make their entry into the room, exchange greetings each other and take the seats on chairs arranged in an oval-like shape.
Now, the programme takes a formal course and a woman briefs the audience that today the four girls in the audience who successfully completed the recent Secondary Education Exams (SEE) are going to be felicitated after a moment. Following the introduction session, she calls the girls on the dais turn by turn, and a person next to her offers each of them a shawl, diary and greeting card, wishing them a bright future. And he does not forget to describe them as 'real heroes' of life who have overcome unexpected ordeals in their past life to arrive at the present situation.
Then, the girls are requested to share on this special occasion. They, one by one, stand from their seats, thank the event organisers and share about their future plans. They speak in a clear and determined voice that they would pursue and seek career in law and fight for justice, apparently trying to establish themselves as 'change agents' in the society.
The prize distribution ceremony is followed by the distribution of a small cup of juice and sweets to the guests. These girls are among those 475,000 students who appeared the SEE held last year and passed the test. The Center for Awareness Promotion (CAP) Nepal supported them to reach the present position for themselves and the felicitation ceremony was organised by it. It provided financial support to these girls. Two of them finished the SEE from its shelter home.
Later on the sidelines/ isolation organisation's senior programme coordinator Jesica Maharjan shares with the scribe that the girls' identity could not be defined only by their being SEE graduates. She describes them as 'warriors' who struggled much to overcome pain of their past and transform their suffering into strength.
Among them, one is a rape survivor (who shared without hesitation that she could not recall the times when she was raped by her cousin, who was in his late teen, all the time for continuous five-six months while she was 13), and another girl was rescued five years ago in a traumatized condition following extreme sexual abuses by her step-father for long.
The third one does not know who her father is as the man abandoned the family secretly when she was about four, and only to add to her woes, she experienced behavioral change in her mother since then. The mother of the fourth girl who passed the SEE with support from the organisaton works in the entertainment sector and we are not unfamiliar the life of majority of women associated with this sector and children.
Equal legal issue matters
CAP executive director Bhupal Dhakal feels very proud to be a witness to the achievements of the girls who made it through very difficult circumstances. He shares that amidst this happiness, a lurking fear continues to haunt him. He has a doubt that whether the girl (one of the four SEE graduates) abandoned by her father could win a 'legal battle' for a citizenship she is facing at present and would be able to continue her further studies. Though the constitution has guaranteed the mother's right to pass on the citizenship to child (with some conditions), the girl's mother has neither her citizenship nor any official documents proving her and her child's relations with the man.
In course of long association with the family, the organisation realised that the mother of the girl was mentally disturbed and their efforts to bring her to a normal state through medical intervention were not working. He remembered the girl shedding tears while narrating her stories before a government minister in a recent public programme. The minister then recommended her take help of the local government in finding out where her mother originally belongs to, for a citizenship card. But, the mother is flatly reluctant to visit her parents in Sindhupalchowk as she feels guilty upon her decision to flee to the capital with her friend long back ago without family approval.
At the moment, Dhakal knows at least 12 mothers among the circle of 150 women working in the entertainment sector (the group is connected to the CAP) who do not have either citizenship or official documents proving the marital relationship. Many of them are married as second wives under several circumstances and the number of single mothers is equally noticeable. They have no easy access to local level government and in this condition, how they could pass on the lineage to their offspring.
"Life of the children of such mothers may get spoiled, putting them in a situation of statelessness, if the situation is not addressed through an alternative way," he said.
It is shared that the organisation could not seek legal remedy in the case of the girl sexually harassed by her step-father due to lack of evidences to support the alleged crime. Moreover, her mother, who passed away few months ago, would not entertain the idea of seeking a judicial relief as she had an apparent fear that her cooperation in the case would end up in her financial insecurity.
The girl, in her beginning days at the shelter, could not properly sleep, used to be restless, and sometimes her eyes would remain open the whole night, said the organisation programme coordinator Sabita Moktan. According to her, the healing facility which includes counseling, therapy, yoga, meditation and so on did a lot to normalise her life.
Similarly, it is said that the alleged rapist in the case of the first girl fled before the organisation could purse a legal battle against him.
But amidst them, the organisation got much cooperation from a mother of a nine-year-old girl from Dhading to secure life imprisonment against her rapist step-father. An organisation in her home district had rescued the girl who even does not know what rape is, acting on a tip off her mother. She was already raped four times before her rescue. Now, the girl was reintegrated into another organisation following one month stay at its shelter.
Fear of being statelessness
This is what the third girl shares in isolation. She (third one) prefers to remain anonymous because she fears it would create implications on her personal life. As she remembers, her mother started showing 'abnormal' behaviour after the tragic death of her younger brother. He was born following the disappearance of her father. She remembers that she, her little brother and mother used to share a single bed, and the mother and daughter woke up one morning seeing the lifeless body of the little boy with face drowned in the water bucket. "He might have woken up in the middle of the night and accidently fell into the bucket of water placed near the bed," the people guessed at that time.
She, now 18, is in the care of the organisation over two years. She had arrived here with the help of another such organisation. She, along with her colleagues, is at present taking a para-legal training, and knows that the citizenship is mandatory to sit for paralegal license exam to be conducted by the Supreme Court in the near future, to pursue her academic degrees, to fight for jobs and so on. "Alas, what will happen if I will be deprived of the citizenship," she questions herself in a very sad tone, visualizing life without the citizenship card.
Dhakal has an alternative idea to deal with the issues. He asserts that a separate mechanism should be developed to look after citizenship issue of children and the government should not treat all organisations working in this field putting them all in a single basket. Rather, it should identify those working for genuine issues, and have trust in their recommendations.