Simran* is 14 years old and lives in Kathmandu. “I go to work in the morning, bringing along my school dress. I prepare and cook food. I change my dress in the canteen and go to school at 10 o’clock. I return from school in the afternoon and change my clothes before starting work again at 5 o’clock.”
“My name is Simran Shahi Thakuri.* My family is from the Western district and we came to Kathmandu when I was six, after my mother had to sell land to pay for medical treatment for heart disease. I have a sister and three brothers. All three of my brothers were born after we moved to Kathmandu and have serious health problems. My parents have spent a lot of money on their treatment.
My father works with carpets, and he also has foot problems which mean he can’t work long hours. My mother’s heart is swollen, and blood comes out of her mouth. Her treatment has already cost up to 300,000 Rs [US $3,000] and the doctor has told us that she has to have an operation. My family pays for these treatments with loans taken from people, which have to be repaid with interest but so far we have not been able to repay.
My uncle found a job for me in a canteen. The canteen owner pays me 2,500 – 3,000 Rs. a month. The owner is good and now he has gone to the village.
A year ago, I used to sell water, balloons, and rockets after school, in Basantapur. Now my sister is doing this job and sometimes I help her. I used to make 200/300 Rs. profit selling water and on Saturdays it could have been up to 400 rupees. Some people give us tips of 10/20 Rs. But the municipality does not allow this to kind of work so, you have to hide and be careful. If they see it, they take away the water you are selling. This work is difficult, that’s why I started working in the canteen.
I go to work in the morning, bringing along my school dress. I prepare and cook food. I change my dress in the canteen and go to school at 10 o’clock. I return from school in the afternoon and change my clothes before starting work again at 5 o’clock. I work in the canteen until 9 o’clock. I work about 8 hours a day and used to earn 2,500/3,000 Rs. per month, but due to lockdown, now I only earn 1,500 Rs. Aunty (non-relative) and I do the work. At work I do dishes, chop vegetables, cook food and serve food to guests. Aunty does most of the work and I don’t do much. This canteen is a long room and upstairs it is rented. They also sell alcohol. I used to chop vegetables and cook only, later I started to wash the dishes as well. My back hurts when I do lots of dishes. It would be easier for everyone at work if they separated washing dishes for some and cutting vegetables for others.
There is no pressure. Sometimes, the owner yells and customers also say bad words, so it feels bad. I am comfortable to work with Aunty but when she is not around it feels uncomfortable to work with the owner. One time I felt really bad. While washing the dishes, a drunkard came and asked me “do you want to go?”. I have not told the owner about it, but I don’t know how he would react to it. I have told my mother about the incident. Nothing can be done; I have to carry on with my work anyway. I am the eldest one, it’s my duty. My brothers and sisters are young, mother is ill, and father can’t do much work. I have to work and I have to endure everything. I have been working in the canteen for one year, since I was 13. Customers of 20,25,30 years of age come to the canteen. Now I am looking for a job in other places and if I find it, I will work in other places. A lot of bad people started coming here so I want to leave now.
They used to pay my salary on time. Due to lockdown, it’s not on time. They don’t tip you much here. I enjoy working with Aunty but I don’t like washing other people’s used plates. I don’t think I would have done this if our financial situation at home was better.
I have taken up the responsibility of eldest daughter and I am very happy. Everyone at home is ill and my siblings are young, so I have to do all the work at home as well. I enjoyed the village very much because I had my own house, far field and close friends. I have some rich friends. Sometimes I think if my parents were a little rich, maybe I would also spend time enjoying and playing with my friends. If my parents were in good health, I would not have to work. I worry about my siblings’ future. There is so much to pay back, and siblings need schooling.
I have an uncle. An aunt has said that she will give us some money for the treatment my family needs. After my parents are recovered, I want to do well in school and want to become a lawyer. If I become a lawyer, I can provide justice for others. Child abusers should not be protected, and they should be severely punished. I have heard and seen child labourers being raped and beaten.
I worry about our family loan. My mother has been taking chest medicine and the doctor has said that if she does not recover, she should undergo chest surgery.
Maybe if my family was in good health, I would be able to achieve my goal to become a lawyer. I would have a lot of time to study, and I would have a little fun as well. At the moment, I study at 11 o’clock at night and I get up at three/four o’clock in the morning to study before working. My sister does household chores in the morning.
Today, I have shared so much, I felt relaxed, and my mind is lighter. I don’t share much with my sister, but I do share with my mother.”
*All names have been changed