Nepal: Children labouring in brickyards - Irreparable damage
Children as young as six are working full time in 120 brick factories around Kathmandu. Working in brick factories exposes workers, especially children, to irreparable health damage including acute respiratory infections, spinal injuries and lung cancer. Black carbon released by the chimneys is a mass killer and is highly toxic. It is estimated that air pollution results in 1600 premature deaths per year in Kathmandu alone. Every year 837,600 tons of carbon dioxide are released by the Valley’s brick kilns.
Thousands of migrant workers come to work in the brickyards in Kathmandu to either repay the debts they have incurred with middlemen or fleeing the hardship and unemployment in the rural districts. The workers are compelled to work in brickyards with no safe drinking water, no toilets, no safe shelters and no health check-ups. From the outside, a brickyard really looks like a huge refugee camp with small temporary huts (called Jhyaulis) made of raw bricks covered with sheets of corrugated iron. The porous walls of the jhyaulis are nothing like enough to protect them from the cold winds of Kathmandu valley, lying 1,350 meters high. Miserable shelters plus dust and high levels of air pollution from the kilns form a deadly combination. The workers and their children frequently suffer from respiratory diseases, fever, diarrhoea, and stomach pain. Hundreds of children end up in the brickyards with their parents or with their peers making bricks and carrying bricks for six months in the dry season (November to May).
Terre des hommes and its local partners intervene to help the children and their families working in the 20 brickyards in the districts of Kathmandu and Bhaktapur. Healthcare camps are frequently organised to check on the workpeople’s state of health, in particular that of the women and children, and diet monitoring is done every month for the children under 3. Twelve recreational centres enable the youngsters to develop in a safe place, where social workers can watch over their physical and psychological development. Terre des hommes also works through advocacy with the factory managers, trying to convince them to respect the rights of women and children, and especially to improve their general working conditions. The teams lay great emphasis on the installation of new technologies which are less polluting, enabling them to take care of the health of their employees, and also requiring fewer workpeople, and thus fewer children. The employees, in particular the women, can attend courses on health, nutrition, their own rights and those of their children. People who do not work in the brickyards are also given information about the risks inherent in such work and are encouraged to buy bricks from factories ‘certified’ by Terre des hommes.