Romani* is 11 and was born in Western district of Nepal. “If we had our own home and money the situation would be different. My mother tells me to stop working but I still work.”
“My name is Romani Thakuri* and I am in school in Kathmandu. There are eight members in my family: mother, father, grandmother, me, my sister (14), brother (7) who is disabled (he cannot speak or move his body), brother (5) who has had pneumonia since birth and another brother (2) who has had jaundice since birth. We all live together in one room.
My mother works at home. My father works in a carpet factory and my grandmother makes cotton incense (Batti katne). During the earthquake [in 2015] we were in our village. We sold all our land to pay for the treatment of my disabled brother. We used to live in a village in the western district with my maternal uncle. I like living in my village because I know everyone there. I love my disabled brother the most and when I have time, I play with him. I sell balloons, rockets and pictures of gods in Basantapur and Hanumandhoka. I started this work four months ago. When I was 9, I used to sell water and pictures. In one box there are 12 water bottles and I used to buy a box at 130 rupees and sell the water bottles at Rs 25/30 per piece. Sometimes I used to sell one box and sometimes I used to sell half box of water bottles in a day. I used to carry the bottles and sell them at Basantapur. It was a hard job and my feet used to hurt a lot. After eating lunch, I go to school at around 12 and return back to work after school is over, at 2 pm. Sometimes I earn a profit of 200/300 rupees.
If municipality (Nagarpalika) catches us selling water, they snatch it away and take it to their homes. This has happened to me a lot. When one of us sees the municipality police, we tell everyone and run. Police officers from the National Helpline Centre for Children at Risk (104) also come there and when 104 comes we go to our rooms and don’t go back. The policeman from 104 cuts the boys’ hair and don’t let us go until parents come. I have never been taken by 104 because a local brother I know never lets them take me away. He also lets me sell water and if someone scolds me, he beats them. That brother’s name is Manik* and his wife’s name is Bimala*. They love me a lot and when 104 comes they tell them that I am their sister. That’s why the brother tells me to wear nice clothes. He gives us gifts at Christmas, and he also gives a gift to the one who comes first in school exams and gives us pencils as gifts in his café which is in a nearby corner of Basantapur.
There are boys aged 13/14 years old who beat me and took away my money. Once a boy took my bag with 100 rupees and the pictures then ran away and never came back. Manik* dai told me that if he sees him around, he will beat him and send him to the Police (104). The vendors of bird food envy us and scold us so I moved to Basantapur from Hanumandhoka. The aunty from the balloon and rocket factory where I work is very good but the uncle shouts and scolds me. In the factory I have to pay 120 rupees per balloon to the uncle. I got a profit of 30 rupees. Many people take pictures with the balloon and pay me 20/30 rupees. I sell around three/four balloons a day.
My father cannot work a lot. Sometimes he brings home 500/1000 rupees by selling carpets. I feel bad when I’m talking about my brother’s disability to others. If we had our own home and money the situation would be different. My mother tells me to stop working but I still work. My father doesn’t smoke or drink. After my work finishes father comes to pick me up at 8pm. I am the youngest one at work. Nowadays, due to lockdown, we cannot sell many balloons. I only sell around one/two balloons each day. I sell these balloons for 150 rupees. I bring 10 balloons from the factory and sell them, then keep the profits. I give around 50 rupees to the aunty and return the unsold balloon to the uncle. Older people do not sell balloons. People like small children sell balloons. Uncle tells me to go to school. Aunty comes with me to work and sits while I sell them.
Once my sister had gone to a fair and when I was returning home an old man a similar age to my father frightened me. I told the police about it but they said “Why were you staying out till late at night?”. I don’t walk alone at night because there are spoiled boys in the alleys, so Aunty drops me home. Those boys steal money and beat us. No one had touched me till now. My friend told me and I also read in science during grade five that if they touch us, we will get HIV. I once saw a nine years old girl and her 6-year-old sister sleeping naked in the lap of a young boy so I warned them about HIV. After the house owner knew about this incident, he beat that kid and the kid ran away and never came back. If something like that happens to me, I will beat them and tell the police. I don’t like such things.
There is a lot of competition at work. Aunty gives an extra 50 rupees to the one who sells the most balloons. I feel very bad when some people scold me and say, “Don’t you have parents, beggars?”. I want to be a doctor in the future. It would be so nice if no one was sick at home. I like to read a lot and my favourite subject is Social Studies. I spent all my money on my brother’s treatments. Since we don’t have money I, my father and sister had to work. I have never talked about these things to anyone but after talking today I feel so good.”
*All names have been changed