Maya is 15 years old and lives in Kathmandu. “I frequently remember moments with my friends when we used to steal fruits from other people’s yards. We used to play together. But now, I have no idea where my friends are; some might have forgotten me.”
“My name is Maya*. I am from the Eastern district of Nepal. I came to Kathmandu when I was 12 years old, hoping that there would be good facilities to study here. I live in an Aunt’s house. She is supportive but her husband scolds me in a loud voice if I make any mistakes. Working in another’s house is difficult. I have my mother, three younger sisters and an older sister in my house. My father is abroad.
When I first came to Kathmandu, five years ago, an uncle from my village brought me here. He told me that it was his sister’s house. They call one another ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, but I think they are neighbours rather than brother and sister. I was very afraid that someone might sell me at the beginning. I used to cry at night because I missed my home. Whenever my aunt and her family go out, I have to do all the housework. When aunt is home, she cooks food in the morning, and I prepare supper. But when aunt is not home, I have to cook both in the morning and the evening. Now during the winter, working in the morning is difficult.
I wake up between 5 – 6 am. The first thing I do in the morning is yoga. And then I sweep, help aunt in the kitchen, and clean. Then I wash my school uniform if it’s dirty and go to school. When I get home, I wash leftover dishes from the morning, and complete any tasks needed in the kitchen. I prepare supper from 4-6pm, and by 6:30, I serve food to everyone. After that I manage time to study and go to sleep by 9 pm. But sometimes, everyone in the house gathers in one room and I have to stay up until 10 pm with them. I also stay up to 10/ 11pm to study during exam time. I sleep in a separate room, but my room is visible from another room. Aunt does not let me lock the door in case an emergency happens in the night. Aunt and I do yoga together in the morning. She lets me study but if there is work that needs to be done, I have to do it first and then continue studying. I have to do cleaning every day and mop the floors twice a week.
My studying has got better, and I have made friends as well. I know my teachers well, so I ask for their help with anything I don’t understand. I started reading in this school from 4th grade. Although my study has got better, doing the housework has affected my study.
In this house, there is aunt, uncle, their two sons, daughter and daughter in law. Both of the sons are grown up and one works at NMB Bank while the other has his own business. When I first came here, I was promised that they will educate me, and I will not have to do any work. Now I do not even get a salary for my work, however they give me bus fare to travel home.
I go home once a year. I used to go twice a year, but now I only get to travel once a year as I do not get permission to visit my relatives even if they invite me. During Dashain, I get to stay at home for just 15 days. This year, Aunt and the family did not want me to go home but I insisted on going because I missed my village, and it has been one and half years since I went home. At the house, uncle hits me when I make small mistakes. I have been hit two times by him. First time I got hit because I wrote my name on the chair. The second time, I got hit because I went outside wearing kitchen slippers. I do not contact my father very often. When I had online classes, I used to talk to my family but I do not get to contact them whenever I want. Aunt gave me a mobile only for online classes and now the online classes are over, she has taken the phone back.
I want to join the army in the future, or to become a teacher. I want to become a soldier and help in the development of this country. My parents also want me to join the army. I recall joyful memories when I was in the village. I frequently remember moments with my friends when we used to steal fruits from other people’s yards. We used to play together. But now, I have no idea where my friends are; some might have forgotten me. I do not have close friends near my house, but I do have three close friends in school. Two of them are girls and one is a boy. I do not frequently contact my boyfriend, but I share about study, family, and work with my girlfriends. The sons of the aunt are adults. I am not afraid of them, but I am afraid of the uncle, who has beaten me. Sometimes he behaves like a child.
I share the hard times with my friends and they say that working is our compulsion. Only one of my friends works. She is also here to study and for the happiness of her parents. I have heard about cases of sexual harassment and rude behaviour at work, that’s why I fear uncle. Many people rent a room in other people’s homes and I pray that nothing happens to them.
I miss my home at night and think about the future. My father is abroad. My sister also stays at another’s home just like me and looks after their children. Other than that, I do not have any information about her whereabouts, and I never get to meet up with her. When my relatives come to visit me, aunt immediately tells me to study but at other times, she gives me work whenever I try to study. Aunt does not let me meet my relatives by myself. Sometimes I meet one of my sisters secretly outside.
I do not want others to face sexual harassment when they are staying at another’s house like me. 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. I know self-defence if he tries to harm me, but I stay alert before anything happens. If those inappropriate behaviours happen again, I will tell my parents.
I have to study well – that is why I distance myself from him and do my work. There is no immediate need to say anything about this but if something happens in future, I will inform my parents.”
*All names have been changed