Nepali children in the Worst Forms of Child Labour tell their own stories

Published on 16 March 2023

From the loss of a parent to family financial problems and addiction – through participatory research children reveal what led them to harmful work in Kathmandu’s Adult Entertainment Sector.

In the largest study of its kind, 400 children’s life stories were collected and then analysed by children and young people in Kathmandu, Nepal who have been affected by the worst forms of child labour in the Adult Entertainment Sector. It reveals the range of experiences – from family financial problems to violence at home, addiction or health problems – that led them to the abusive and exploitative work in dance and hostess bars or as street sellers and domestic workers nearby.

Action Research

The study was led by Child Labour: Action-Research-Innovation in South and South-Eastern Asia (CLARISSA), a consortium of organisations committed to building a strong evidence base and generating innovative solutions to the worst forms of child labour in Bangladesh and Nepal. The data was collectively analysed resulting in children’s life stories becoming the evidence base for revealing the large-scale system dynamics that drive the worst forms of child labour.

Danny Burns, CLARISSA Programme Director and Research Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies, says:

“In this participatory research process, children in the Worst Forms of Child Labour not only told their stories, but collectively analysed more than 400 stories.

“It is rare to be able to have the opportunity to work with this depth of qualitative information, it is even rarer for researchers to trust in the knowledge, the wisdom and the power to analyse of those living in the most marginal situations – all of whom are children and many of whom are not literate. It is with this sort of process that the potential for real transformative change lies.”

What do we learn from children in this study?

On pathways into the worst forms of child labour:

  • One of the most prevalent linkages was between financial problems in the family and the child going to Kathmandu and/or beginning work there.
  • Family health issues and disruption at home eg parental addiction, family violence, parent separation, could be both a cause and a consequence of financial problems.

On the realities of the worst forms of child labour:

  • The life stories reveal the range of abusive and exploitative practices, including harassment and bullying, that result from children engaging in child labour in the AES by both customers and employers.
  • Children are vulnerable to a whole range of physical, mental and sexual abuse at work.

What’s next?

The pathways into the Worst Forms of Child Labour identified by the children, such as family negligence or children dropping out of school because of family financial issues, went on to become the focus of eight child-led Participatory Action Research groups. Each Action Research group is made up of 12–18 children and young people who will be supported to generate theories of change about interventions, and find innovative solutions that may help them and others to find routes out of the Worst Forms of Child Labour and to help prevent it.

Research method

A blog written by CLARISSA research partners Ranjana Sharma and Elizabeth Hacker Child-centred approach reveals the dynamics driving child labour in Nepal’s AES explains the process behind this large scale life story collection in Nepal and how a deeply participatory process can be carried out at scale.

Ranjana Sharma, Participatory Facilitator, CWISH Nepal says:

“This research showcases the importance of listening to children and learning from their lived experience.  Children working in the adult entertainment sector of Nepal are stigmatized by society meaning their lived experiences are hidden and we are trying to shine a light on the issues they face and reveal the system dynamics that drive the worst forms of child labour in Nepal’s Adult Entertainment Sector. Progress can be made by listening to children’s voices.”

A series of life story write ups and short video clips voiced by children, share aspects of their lived experiences.

Jyoti’s story

Jyoti was 17 when she eloped with her husband. Her mother had died, and her father and sister went to work in India. After getting married, her husband took her to work at a massage parlour. Jyoti’s life story shows the negative feedback loop between financial problems at home and family health issues, and how these impact on children’s ability to continue school. Jyoti describes how her mother’s mental health issues caused the ‘whole family to fall apart’. The disruption and financial burden led to Jyoti leaving school, and then to her eloping.

Maya’s story

Maya came to Kathmandu when she was 12 years old. She describes her family as having a normal economic status. Her father was working abroad when her uncle took her from her village to work in his neighbour’s house in Kathmandu. She describes how she felt when she was first taken to her uncle’s neighbour’s house: “I was very afraid that someone might sell me at the beginning. I used to cry at night because I missed my home.” In the home where she works, she is responsible for preparing most meals and cleaning the house. She feels that her schooling is affected because of the high workload in their home and her inability to study there. She does not receive a salary for the work she does, only her bus fare to visit home once per year during festival time is paid for.

The uncle who she works for has beaten and hit her: “he hits me for my small mistakes”. Once he hit her for wearing the kitchen slippers outside. At the end of her story, Maya describes how the uncle has begun to sexually abuse her: “Sometimes when nobody is home, uncle comes to the kitchen only half dressed or just wearing underwear. My room is visible from the uncle and aunt’s room so sometimes he watches me from his room. Sometimes he does not zip his pants. Sometimes he also touches me inappropriately. I have not talked about it to others yet. That’s why I fear uncle and keep my distance from him.”


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