Huddling in a circle with four individuals, ranging from the ages of three to early twenties, I spoke with a group of friends known as ‘street children’ in Kathmandu, Nepal. As I reminded a boy inhaling ‘glue,’ a cheap, dangerous, and very addictive drug in Nepal of his friend that recently died from the substance, another street kid with glazed eyes ran across the street to join us, wobbling over with an arm cut from his forearm to his hand gushing blood. This month was not the best time for the ‘cutting’ antics the boys often instigated as gang wars and policing had recently increased. Dissimilar from the view of self-inflicted cut¬ting in the Western world, cutting among the street kids was typically imposed for the purpose of fun, as the kids enjoyed the feelings of a loss of consciousness that came with an immense loss of blood. However, this was anything but our mindset to the situation, as a few friends scavenged the streets in search of a shop that sold gauze to slow the rapid loss of blood as soon as possible.
I had remained seated as I did not want to leave my friend that had been working as a prostitute since the age of 15 to the group of dodgy-looking men that often lurked near the alleys where our street children lived. My friend joked with me about how the boy who cut his arm would likely just end up in jail tonight. Rather than fear jail for this boy, my first thought was “at least he’ll be safe there.” [pullquote]Many of the street children actually attempt to get arrested because they view jail as a party; they get a nice bed, guaranteed food, and all their friends are there![/pullquote] Turns out it was actually one of my travelling companions that got pulled into the police car. He was questioned about why he was helping this street child, and, when he answered, the police officer exclaimed that help was not needed on the streets with these children.
When my friend returned finally, a little bit shaken up from the experience, he said the similar situation had happened the month before, when a boy cut his throat in front of them and was thrown into the police car, then finally disposed of in an alley so as to hide the situation from the Mount Everest base camp tourists of¬ten flooding that area of town. Yet the street children had no desire to leave the tourist-area, as that is where their humorous sales tactics often came into play. A young boy of about eight that I hadn’t recognised ran up to me on our first encounter and grabbed my arm and politely stated, “No glue, I pray, momo’s this way,” as he jokingly pulled me along to a ‘momo’ stand, a common Nepali street snack, so that I could buy him a meal. The police were aware of a few of us that would spend time with the street children in order to build relationships with them and both en¬courage them and help them find job training to get off the street. [pullquote]Many street children cannot even remember where their original homes are, their families, or much information about their past since they mostly ended up on the streets as a result of the Maoist insurgency [/pullquote]that caused the ten-year internal conflict in Nepal. The police had little problem attempting to dissipate the children away from the streets by violent means in front of us, despite my white skin that typically indicates ‘tourist’. At one point, at a tourist site in town, I was holding a little boy’s hand and a police officer grabbed him from me and dragged him to a sign that read ‘Absolutely No Beggars or Street People Allowed.’ The little boy could not understand what the officer was trying to tell him as he was very young, so the officer began beating him with a baton in front of me. I yelled, “Stop, that’s my friend!” and dragged the little boy a street over to flee from the police officer.
However, we learned that though the police in Nepal often respond to the street children as being less-than-human, the violence had increased recently for reasons we accidentally walked in upon. We often spent time with a few separate ‘gangs’ of street children in Nepal, and we were informed by some of the kids that gang wars were going on, so many of the children were unwilling to cross certain boundaries in the town. We had realised that a number of our street friends were missing and we inquired as to whether anyone had seen them around recently and asked them if they could take us to where they were. The street kids knew where the others were, but refused to oblige our request because it was on a part of town that crossed a gang war boundary. Finally, a boy heavily under the influence of glue agreed to take us.
It was about a fifteen minute walk and we found ourselves in a back alley at the doorsteps of the ‘street-kid home,’ situated next to a brothel, where a former army officer control led the ‘home.’ The boy took us inside the home where we found pictures on the wall for ‘modelling adverts’ that displayed photos of young girls. After ascending three flights of stairs, we found ourselves in a room filled with about sixteen boys, and one street girl, all lying asleep across the floor. We woke up a few of them and they seemed both excited to see us and ashamed that we somehow managed to find them. We spoke with all the kids we hadn’t seen in about a month about the home and why they were there and we found out the ex-army officer was training the street children to be security officers for brothels and dance bars in town. At this point, we realised we were in quite a dangerous location. We were struck with immense fear as a larger boy came downstairs and told us that the ex-army officer was back and wanted to speak with us. Unsure of whether to flee at this point or not, we thought it would be best to act ignorant to what was going on and pretend we knew nothing, as we went upstairs to speak with the man. Apparently, the man feared us! He very nervously told us that he only desired to help the street children and was receiving government funding for what he was doing. To this day, we believe that our skin colour made him think that we were secretly checking up on his home as a NGO or government officials of some sort. We got out of the ‘home’ as soon as possible, and realised quickly that this was no home that we had ended up in, but the centre for one of the town’s main human trafficking rings. The man had been forcing street children to find other street children to work for him.
The street children, in order to receive food and shelter, would go out in groups and beat kids and then drag them back to the ‘home’ to join the ex-army officer’s antics. Not only this, but the man was paying the police through the money he was making from the trafficking and brothels to keep the efforts secret and to locate where the street children were. This job pleased the police, because the police were simply concerned with getting the street kids out of the sight of tourists. We began informing all the street children of what exactly was going on and instructed them to stay away from the ex-army officer and to encourage the other kids to leave the ‘home’ at any opportunity they had. The street kids caught on to what was happening themselves, and slowly decreased the realm of the trafficking ring that had increased with the involvement of the free street kid labour.
At this point, you are likely asking, why are any of these stories important? Though violence that perpetuates due to the structure of cultures and states is recognised to exist, the actual specific aspects are rarely engaged with directly on a larger scale. In view of Nepal, a ‘third-world’ country, and the multitude of problems that exist in the development of this nation, it is simple to view the
little ‘problems’ just as the Nepali people would. The life and livelihood of an uneducated street child, who has more primary concerns than engaging with the law, seems insignificant in comparison to the nation’s bigger issues. Perhaps looking at the individual stories of those affected by violence instigated as a result of state structure would better suggest the necessity to associate this form of harm with what appears as direct forms of violence to the outsider.