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Migrant Lives

How Nepal’s “Left-Behind” Children Of Migrants Hold Families Together

Children left to fend for themselves when their parents seek work abroad often suffer emotional struggles and educational setbacks. Now, psychologists are raising alarms about the quiet but building crisis.

BARDIYA — It was the Nepali New Year and the sun was bright and strong. The fields appeared desolate, except the luxuriantly growing green corn. After fetching water from a nearby hand pump, Prakash Jaisi, 18, walked back to the home he shares with his three siblings in Bardiya district’s Banbir area, more than 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) from Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal. As it was a public holiday in the country, all his friends had gone out to have fun. “I’d like to spend time with my friends, but I don’t have the time,” he says. Instead, Jaisi did the dishes and completed all the pending housework. Even though his exams are approaching, he has not been able to prepare. There is no time.

Jaisi’s parents left for India in December 2021, intending to work in the neighboring country to repay their house loan of 800,000 Nepali rupees (6,089 United States dollars). As they left, the responsibility of the house and his siblings was handed over to Jaisi, who is the oldest.

Just like Jaisi’s parents, 2.2 million people belonging to 1.5 million Nepali households are absent and living abroad. Of these, over 80% are men, according to the 2021 census on population and housing. The reasons for migration include the desire for a better future and financial status.

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In Nepal, Good And Bad News About Autism Treatment

Parents in Karnali province started their own center to meet the need. But without adequate government funding, its survival is in doubt.

SURKHET — Purnakala Dhakal spends her days feeling constantly overwhelmed. Her 6-year-old daughter, Prem Kumari, has autism, and Dhakal is often afraid to leave her unsupervised. There is no one to help take care of her child; her husband also has a developmental disorder. “My family blames me for giving birth to a daughter who is disabled,” she says. “No one loves or plays with her.”

Knowledge of autism is limited in Nepal, although advocates estimate that as many as 300,000 people may be living with it. To receive a diagnosis, one must travel to the capital. This is what Dhakal did when her daughter was around 2 years old. This is also what Sushila Shahi Thapa did when she sensed her son Alex wasn’t hitting the usual milestones of early childhood development. A resident of Dailekh district, which neighbors Surkhet, Thapa had no knowledge of autism spectrum disorder, despite working as a nurse at a local hospital.

“The behavior my son displayed seemed unnatural,” she says. “When I shared my concern with family members, they said not to worry because some children are slow to start speaking.”

Alex was 18 months old when he received a diagnosis in Kathmandu. Thapa then sought treatment for him at the AutismCare Nepal Society, a nongovernmental organization based in Lalitpur in the Kathmandu valley. Founded in 2008, the organization is run by parents of children with autism. Through the society, Thapa and her husband also received training on how best to take care of a child with special needs; when they returned home, Thapa trained other family members, too.

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Nepalese Classrooms, Where Languages Go To Die

In Nepal, local schools are encouraged to offer instruction in the first languages of their students. But even in linguistically diverse regions, the only words they still hear and read are in Nepali.

BANKE — English and health studies are 14-year-old Dilip Godiya’s favorite subjects. Unlike other subjects taught at his school in the city of Nepalgunj, they don’t require him to be effortlessly fluent in Nepali. Dilip grew up speaking Awadhi at home, the mother tongue of half a million Nepalis and millions more in northern India, so adjusting to Nepali as a language of learning was a major challenge. Until fourth grade, he found it difficult to read and hesitated from speaking up in class.

“Sometimes, I still struggle with speaking proper Nepali,” he says, an eighth grader now.

As many as 123 languages are spoken in Nepal, a linguistic diversity evident in multicultural Banke district, where 3 out of every 5 residents are non-Nepali speakers. Despite a provision in the 2015 constitution mandating that all children have the right to education in their first language — as well as a national curriculum plan introduced in 2019 that mandates localized curricula and recommends multilingual instruction to facilitate learning for non-Nepali speakers — all eight municipalities in Banke district have yet to do so.

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Nepal’s Elephants Threaten The Farmers Who Used To Worship Them

Sick of dealing with dangerous marauding elephants, farmers in Mechinagar are changing their crops and focusing on livestock, but conservationists warn that pivoting won’t solve the problem for good.

JHAPA— Villagers in eastern Jhapa, on the border with India, used to perform puja for elephants and leave them bananas, regarding them as avatars of the god Ganesh. But that was before droves of them began rampaging their villages. Now, half a century later, after deaths, injuries and extensive crop damage, the mood has shifted.“

Half my life has been spent keeping elephant watch,” says Motilal Bhujel, 56, a farmer in Bahundangi village, in the municipality of Mechinagar. In the last decade, according to the division forest office, 58 people have been killed and 79 injured in Jhapa district; at least 16 elephants — classified as endangered in Nepal — have also lost their lives. As human-elephant conflict has escalated in recent years, villagers say they have tried many tactics to deter the animals: burning haystacks, banging on steel plates, laying down rope slathered in grease and chile powder. Increasingly, they are changing what they grow — forgoing rice in favor of tea, betelnut and lemongrass, for instance — to keep rampaging elephants away.

Residents of Mechinagar say that human-elephant conflict began in the early 1970s but has intensified recently. Five years ago, two to four elephants would encroach on rice and maize fields between June and November, around harvest season; now, as many as 60 enter settlements well into February.

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This Happened

This Happened — June 1: Nepalese Royal Massacre

The Nepalese royal family massacre happened on this day in 2001. Nine members of the Nepalese royal family were killed in the Narayanhiti Palace in Kathmandu, Nepal. The victims included King Birendra, Queen Aishwarya, Crown Prince Dipendra, and other members of the royal family.

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This Happened

This Happened — May 29: Reaching Everest’s Summit

On this day 70 years ago, humans reached the summit of Mount Everest for the first time.

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Shilu Manandhar

It's Time For Nepal To Face Its Cruel Menstruation Taboo

Nepal outlawed forced isolation for menstruating women nearly two decades ago. But the practice continues, threatening the ability of many women to lead a normal life.

SUDURPASCHIM, NEPAL — Earlier this year, at the beginning of March, Sirjana woke up with a bad stomachache. It was near midnight, and the village — clusters of houses, about four dozen or so, sprinkled on the side of a hill, separated by terraced fields — was still. As per custom, the toilet was located outside the house, so she drowsily stumbled out of bed to use it. That’s when she realized she’d started her period. She froze, unable to re-enter her house.

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Shilu Manandhar

Tibetan Refugees In Nepal: A Different Kind Of Identity Crisis

Shunned by the Nepal government, young Tibetans struggle to find work, travel overseas, and open bank accounts. One asks, “Who are we?”

KATHMANDU, NEPAL — Tenzin’s grandparents fled Tibet for Nepal long before he was born. His father died when he was 1, leaving his mother to support six children. Because she wasn’t a citizen, no one would hire her. Still, she built a small souvenir business because she had a government-issued refugee card.

Tenzin, 32, doesn’t have a refugee card. In fact, he has no identity document.

Unlike their parents and grandparents, young Tibetan refugees and Tibetans born in Nepal are not recognized by the government, leaving them in a limbo that has profound implications both personally and professionally.

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Shilu Manandhar

"Let It Be A Son": How Nepal Culture Pushes Women To Abort Girls

In a culture that can see girls as a burden, many women opt to abort their female fetuses — even though it's illegal.

SARLAHI, NEPAL — In the fourth month of her pregnancy, Indu found out she was carrying a girl. That night, she couldn’t sleep and kept crying. She chose to have an abortion, even though it’s illegal in Nepal to terminate a pregnancy after 12 weeks. If she were to have a seventh child, it needed to be a boy.

The desire to have a son is so strong in some parts of Nepal that it leads women like Indu to secretly terminate their pregnancies after finding out the sex of the fetus – either in a close-by town, or across the border in neighboring India. The decision is often one of economic necessity. Sons, especially in more rural regions, are considered financial assets who can contribute to a struggling family. But the illicit abortions, sometimes done in dangerous circumstances, often jeopardize the life of the woman. They’re also skewing the ratio of newborns, threatening to affect future population growth.

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Jue Liang

No Less Than Monks? Buddhist Nuns Seek Gender Equality

The Buddha's "Eight Heavy Rules" included a stipulation that placed Buddhist nuns under the supervision of monks, which have undermined women’s status in the ancient religion.

In recent years, many Buddhist nuns have taken on leadership roles that require either ordination status or academic degrees, all of which was quite unheard of in Buddhist monastic traditions in the past. However, this change has also met with much resistance, as traditionally Buddhism has allowed only men to serve in these roles.

The early Pali Vinaya texts in the Buddhist canon recount how Buddha thrice rejected the request of his foster mother, Mahaprajapati, to be ordained, before his disciple, Ananda, persuaded him to accept women into the monastic body.

Ananda had to make two arguments for his case: an emotional one – that Mahaprajapati had been kind to the Buddha and raised him – and a logical one – that women, too, had the potential to become enlightened.

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In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet and Jane Herbelin

Omicron And Winter Olympics, Duterte Backs Out, NFT Typo

👋 Hallo!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Omicron now looms over the upcoming Beijing Winter Olympics, Philippine strongman Duterte unexpectedly quits his Senate race, and the NFT world witnesses a very costly slip of the keyboard. In French economic daily Les Echos, Adrien Lelièvre wonders whether the jig is up for the “gig economy.”


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Martin Bader

Ancient Menstrual Quarantines Still Oppress Women In Nepal

Last year, the Nepalese government outlawed the chhaupadi tradition that bans certain activities on menstruating women. But little has changed.

KATHMANDU — When Binita had her first period, she knew what she had to do. Growing up in the mountainous district of Gorkha in central Nepal, she had observed how her mother and every other female family member changed their behavior when they had their period: They slept in different rooms, were not allowed to touch water, food or male family members, couldn't enter the kitchen and couldn't take part in religious ceremonies.

Much has changed in Binita's life since her teenage years. She's now 37 years old, married with two teenage sons and lives in an apartment on the outskirts of the capital, Kathmandu.

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