May 13, 2017 Philip Holmes

Return to the Kathmandu refuge

A failed attempt at child reunification

ChoraChori has returned most of the children it has rescued from India to their families. Usually parents and siblings have greeted returnees with open arms; this was the case with Bibash in my previous post.  Occasionally, and in spite of our best efforts, family reunification doesn’t work out and we have to consider returning a child to our Kathmandu refuge for long term care. Khem (name changed) is a case in point.

Running away from home

Like so many of the children ChoraChori helps, Khem had a very difficult upbringing. He was born in Dhangadhi, in the far west of Nepal, the son of his father’s second wife. She developed an alcohol problem and left home when Khem was very little, whereabouts still unknown. Soon afterwards his father’s first wife returned with her three children and Khem’s problems deepened. His father went to work in Mumbai and essentially Khem’s grandmother looked after him. She protected him as best she could from his abusive stepmother.

Eventually Khem had had enough and he ran away, stealing money from his home and from neighbours to fund his trip into India. He ended up in a children’s home in Delhi, from where ChoraChori rescued him in March 2016. We returned him to his family last October. It seemed to our field staff at the time that he could expect enough family support but this hasn’t happened.

A tough family visit

When they visited the family last week ChoraChori field staff members Yogesh (top right) and Pratap were shocked by Khem’s circumstances. He wasn’t attending school and living under the same roof as 24 other members from his extended family, including four uncles. The domestic environment was tense in the extreme, with Khem’s grandmother and stepmother bickering during the visit itself. Khem’s stepmother perceives his mother as being the source of the family’s problems and calls Khem a thief. Indeed, this is how the broader community sees him after his earlier thefts. No neighbour allows him into their home. Khem’s father is still working in Mumbai but the money he sends home isn’t enough to look after his children and send them to school.

Actually, Khem’s stepsister has admitted that he has been well-behaved since he returned to the family. But memories are long and Khem seems to have little future in his family and village under such a burden of stigma. Yogesh and Pratap noted that he was very quiet during the visit although he had been smart and outgoing while staying at our Kathmandu refuge. As they were leaving the family, Khem asked Yogesh and Pratap if he could return to Kathmandu.

The challenge for ChoraChori

These days children’s homes in Kathmandu are criticised for how they institutionalise children who could be better supported within their families and communities. Most of the time this criticism is entirely valid. Especially since opportunists set up homes just to raise money rather than to care for children. But here we have an example of how family reunification and support is doomed to failure, not helped by the remoteness of so many villages. Under these circumstances a refuge can provide an invaluable safety net when there are no other options.

Khem will be returning to our Kathmandu refuge. This is an expensive long term care requirement that hopefully we can cover through child sponsorship. Even then there is a significant risk. For during his earlier stay Khem and another boy ran away for a day and he could well do so again. For we don’t keep children behind bars as per the Indian “children’s shelters”. When this happens, as is the case from time to time, we have the worry of their welfare while still being our responsibility.

But let’s hope we can turn this boy’s life around. If you feel you can help, either with a donation or as a sponsor, please do e mail me on [email protected]

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