Can child migration in nepal be explained

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Yogendra Bahadur Gurung1
Nepal has been struggling for modernization. It is in the transitional stage. One of the several sectors effected by this transition is children's life. The nature of the effect is that children themselves have to look for their survival. Consequently, children are leaving home for urban opportunities. Giving attention to the increasing child migration, especially, to urban areas of Nepal as indicated by several studies previously made, this paper tries to explain the migration of children under the modernization perspective. Child migration here is considered that those who move for survival opportunities in urban areas by leaving parents behind home. The livelihood problem of the family created by continuous marginalization of the poor due to unequal land distribution, massive land fragmentation, and lack of labour market in the rural areas. Population structure is relatively young due to significant decline in infant and child mortality in recent past and relatively greater opportunities for the survival are available in urban areas created by a number of means of modernization process. In these contexts, family is not able to protect their children and provide appropriate facilities that are needed for children's development. Due to gap within the inter-generation, children did not find safe future and their tastes have been changed to bright light city life that is unfit with their parents' interest. As an effect of modernization, structural differentiation explains these changes well. As a result, children have a compulsion to look for work. As a process of rural-urban labour transfer, children leave home for urban informal works as an output of capitalistic development for modernization. It indicates widening the lower limit of age that challenges the age selective theory of migration and changing sociological phenomenon that children begin to migrate themselves by leaving parents and home behind, as migrant actors.


Many studies have shown that child work in Nepal has been increasing. The rate of increase is estimated to be 18.1 per cent per year (Pathak, 1999). As child work increases the child labour also increases. This increase has been greater in urban areas. Child labour in urban areas is explicitly concerned with child migration. Children move to urban areas to look for job by leaving home as well as their parents.

Child labourers existed even before the restoration of democracy in Nepal. There were a few organizations working for child labourers in Kathmandu. But, after the restoration of democracy, 1990, it has come to be seen that the child labourer as well as its problems in urban areas have been tremendously increasing. It can be justified that, after 1990, there are about 50 organizations in Nepal who have been working in the field of eliminating child labourers and girl trafficking. CAR-NWG has recently listed 27 non-governmental organizations who are working in this field and who are in contact regularly in the network. There are also many organizations not in contact of network but are working throughout the country.
Considering this situation of migration of children, this paper tries to explain the migration of children in Nepal under modernization perspective. Two theoretical frameworks on modernization perspective have been dragged into this paper which may explain migration of children better. Both are structural approaches. However, one of two is economic approach to explain rural-urban migration developed by Arthur Lewis and other is sociological approach to explain structural differentiation of family at the result of modernization developed by Neil Smelser. Both are discussed in this paper in the sense that they will explain child migration as a process of modernization. Smelser's approach explains particularly the effect of modernization on family which in turn affects the children's lives and motivated children to become child labour. Lewis model explains economic perspectives on migration of child labour from rural primary agriculture sector to urban secondary or tertiary informal sectors.
One thing more than usual here is that both theories itself do not talk about children originally. They talk in general. However, Smelser's theory indicates that children's lives have been the victim of the effect of structural differentiation because the children's lives are relatively more susceptible than others. The argument here is that due to effect of modernization in the society, the structural differentiation operates. When structural differentiation operates the migration of children to urban areas also prevails on the consequence.



Definitions used in various studies on children and child labour are specific to the contexts prevailing in the country as cultural and societal milieu or law generated for the governance. This creates a fundamental variation in definition to look at comparatively among various regions. So, it is better first to define child, child work, and child labour in a manner that led to uniformity in definition.

Minimum Age Convention No. 138 in 1973 set working definition of “child” as a person below the age limit of 15 years. Later on, the UN Convention of Child Rights in 1989 set a wider limit of the age of “child”, as up to 17 years. Nepal is signatory of both conventions. Nepal enacted some acts. Labour Act 1991 defines a “minor” as a person between 14 and 18 years of age, which prohibits employment of children below age 16 years, which is likely to be harmful to their life and also prohibits persons below 18 years of age in certain specified jobs (ILO, 1995). Children’s Act 1992 defines a “child” as every human being below the age of 16 years and prohibits the employment of children below age 14 years.
Schildkrout defines child work as “… any activity done by children which either contributes to production, gives adults free time, facilities the work of others, or substitutes for the employment of others” (Nieuwenhuys, 1991: 15). Child work is not always restricted to the home or without leaving home and parents. Child labour is considered as those who go outside the household and are under any type of contact with the employer (Johnson et al., 1995: 44) for wage in terms of cash or kind or food and clothes only. The migration of children then would be those children between defined age range who leave home for especially urban areas of Nepal for the survival.
Methodological Issues
Child labour studies in Nepal are using basically two approaches while collecting information. First, a micro level study using information directly obtained from individuals is mostly based on non-probability sample by selecting individuals. Other is a macro level study using information obtained from survey of households based on the probability sample.
Estimations of the child labour have been made in various studies. Even though they are based on facts, indication as well as implication are different. It is because the organizations involved in this sector have different objectives and goals. Some have to eliminate the child labour, some have to protect and some to rehabilitate child labourer. The information and estimates, used by those who are involved in especially child rights, are mostly provocative. Provocative estimates tend to overestimate the actual figure to draw attention of the audiences and related governmental and non-governmental agencies. This situation creates lack of uniformity in estimating child labour. Most of these estimates are based on micro level studies and information obtained by this method can not be used in estimating the volume of child labour because it is not a nationally representative and may not be based on the probability. Another pertinent problem is that respondents used for data collection are different in different studies.
Some studies used respondents from the place of origin and some used from the place of current residence. Information obtained from origin is mostly proxy which are responded by mostly parents of children who have migrated. Thus, comparison of these information may not be appropriate. However, this method has some advantages that what the macro level studies can not capture. There is about no macro level survey study on migration of children is conducted till now. Even if a few studies are available, the main purpose of survey is different and from which some information can be used for migration of children.
In the case of this study, information on reasons for being child labour and leaving home are used, which have been generated by six different studies for mostly different purposes. Information obtained by CWIN (1989) is of urban child labourers working in various informal sectors from selected urban areas in Nepal. ILO (1995) cites the information on reasons for being child labourers from the overview of the several studies on child labour. CWS (1996) provides information on street children who have left home and working in several urban cities representing five development regions in Nepal. INSEC (1996) provides information on the study of migration of children for employment. CWCCD (1997) analyses information representing bonded, urban and rural households from the nationally representative sample survey to study the situation of child labour in Nepal. Gurung (1999) cites information collected by CWIN (1998) in the study of migrant child labour in Kathmandu valley city working in several informal sectors. Information were collected for all five studies, except CWCCD (1997), from the respondents at the current place of residence. Only the CWCCD is at macro level study, which collected information from the household survey using respondents at the origin.
Although due to having different properties, nature and reasons for being child labour and child migration based on different methods, which are discussed in the next section, may vary from one to another, these are only the studies available till now. Therefore, based on these limited information with limited usefulness, this study tries to explain the child migration in Nepal with the indicated theoretical framework under the modernization perspective.


Studies on migration have largely been devoted to adults as migrating actors. In general, it is parents who move outside home by leaving their children behind. However, nowadays, children are also involved in migration as migrating actors, particularly from rural to urban areas, by leaving their parents behind. This is just the other side of the coin, that is, migration of children instead of migration of adults. This situation poses a changing demographic pattern in terms of migration and challenging the age selective theory of migration.

Migration Patterns

Migration of children is recent. It started to begin when the magnitude of child labour increased by increased informal sectors like garment and carpet industries were massively established in urban areas contributed by rapid urbanization like Kathmandu valley (Pradhan, 1995: 42). Nowadays, it has been increasing tremendously. Even though there is no study that estimates accurate volume of child migration in urban areas, we can easily see that there is no tea-shops, hotels, restaurants, groceries, confectioneries, cottage industries, etc. in the urban areas without working children. Magnitude and the volume of child migration made by some previous studies have been mentioned in this section.

There are about 500,000 children estimated in 1995 who left home and working mostly in urban areas of Nepal and in India (Pradhan, 1995). Of which about 300,000 are involved in different jobs, 5,000 are on the street, 40,000 are working in debt bondage, about 50,000 are working in the sex industries, 100 in prison and the remaining are trafficked into India for the several purposes. A study on street children estimated that there are approximately 6,000 children on the street and 3,700 children of the street (CWS, 1996).
KC et al. (1997) estimated that the percentage of children who migrated to urban areas was 54.1 irrespective of the place of origin. The percentage of migrants in urban areas among those who originated from rural areas was 53.8 while among those who originated from other urban areas was 54.8. The migration rate of children aged 5-17 to Kathmandu valley is estimated to be 1.7 per cent2 from Nuwakot district and 1.6 per cent3 from various peripheral districts irrespective of the place of residence. CWIN (1998) shows that urban child labour working in various sectors, like portering, Tempo-khalasi, domestic service, shoe shining, and carpet industries. Migrant children in these sectors ranges from 87 per cent among tempo-khalasis to 97 per cent among carpet weavers.
The migration of children to urban areas compared to hill to Tarai is much pronounced whether the place of origin is rural or urban (KC et al., 1997). Big urban areas, especially valley city, are the main migrant receiving area and adjoining peripheral districts are the main children sending areas (Gurung, 1999; CWS, 1996). The peripheral districts are mainly Kavre, Sindhupalchowk, Nuwakot, Dhading, and Ramechhap, which have higher incidence of child migration (INSEC, 1996; Gurung, 1999).
Given the situation of child migration, it calls for interaction from policy makers who face problems mainly from urban agglomerations, especially in Kathmandu Valley, which has been a major migrant receiving area. This is because, being the capital city, most of the opportunities concerning livelihood and most of the developmental infrastructures are concentrated in the Kathmandu Valley City.
Reasons for Child Migration
There are several factors responsible for migration of children. They may be from both demand and supply or push and pull sides. Both sides may be equally responsible for the problems of child migration. As the main factors, socio-cultural background and the land distribution patterns are the important roots of the child labour. Besides, the problem of the child labour arises with the insensitivity of the society, as a whole towards a plight of children and with the ignorance which surrounds the whole issue.
Almost all studies indicate that the main reason for child labourer and children leaving home is poverty (CWIN, 1989; ILO, 1995, 1998; CWCCD, 1997; Gurung, 1999). Poverty may be explained either with land ownership or financial crisis or food sufficiency for the family. People with less land directly means that they have insufficient food for their living. This may be attributed to that most of the smallholdings provide enough food for stretches of three to eight months at a time and the people have to find work or food for the remainder of the year (Sattaur, 1993). In some areas, the food is sufficient even for less than a month that is only 20 days in a year (Dahal, 1989). For the rest of the days, people have to work outside home to earn money to buy food. Children are also part of the earners and critical for family survival among poor households. They contribute around 20-25 per cent of family income (ILO, 1998).
Poverty is undeniable and the effect of which is pervasive in Nepal. However, there are also other factors beyond the poverty which contribute to migration of children in the poor society shown by several studies. They are mainly - parent's suggestion to look for job in urban area, domestic problems enforce children to leave home for survival, and personal reasons and other's influence which motivate them to go to urban for better life. As various studies indicate parent's suggestion summarizes both advice and enforcement for children to go outside, particularly city, for work. Domestic problem is summary of the reasons about lack of love, care, and parental guidance, death of parents, mistreatment by step-parents, abandoned by parents, thrown out of the home, abusive and alcoholic parents, domestic quarrels, and violence in the family. Personal reasons include those reasons related to dislike of village life and dream of bright-light city life, work and earn in the city, to study, or own misdeeds like stealing, fighting, or causing trouble for the family or neighbours. Other's influence refers to friends' or neighbours' or brokers' influence to go outside home for work.
We can see in the Table 1 that out of six studies, CWIN, ILO, CWCCD, and Gurung found that the poverty is the main reason behind children leaving home. CWS found domestic problems and INSEC found parent's suggestion as a main reason for children leaving home. After poverty, parent's suggestion and domestic problems seem to be equally responsible. For instance, INSEC found parent's suggestion as a main reason and CWCCD and Gurung found as a second main reason. Similarly, CWS found domestic problems as a main reason and CWIN and ILO found as the second main reason. Besides, personal reasons also seem to be important for the reason why children leave home, which poses second position shown by CWS and third position by INSEC. These all reasons lead to the problems of livelihood for children in the rural areas. Consequently, children leave home for betterment of their life in the city centre where the chances of getting job is greater as a prime survival strategy and then they become child labour.
Table 1: Ranking of Reasons for Children Leaving Home


Main Reasons





CWS 1996

(Table 9.9)

INSEC 1996

(Table 10)



Gurung, 1999

(Table 4.21)

Poverty reasons







Parent's suggestion







Domestic problems







Other's influence







Personal reasons







Note: Ranking has been made on the basis of percentage distribution of each study.


In this section, two economic approaches to look at rural-urban migration and one sociological approach to look at the effect of modernization on family and children have been reviewed. One of two economic approaches is neo-classical approach of rural-urban migration developed by Todaro and other is structural approach of rural-urban labour migration developed by Lewis. Sociological approach is structural differentiation approach developed by Smelser. For the purpose of this paper, both structural approaches, one is economic and other is sociological, are taken for explaining the child migration of Nepal.

Theories on Rural-Urban Migration

There are two prominent economic approaches to look at the rural-urban migration. Firstly, neo-classical approach of Michael Todaro, which believes that migration is the outcome of rational human choice whether to migrate or not on the basis of 'expected income'. Harris and Todaro later extended it as two sector model explaining migration proceeds in response to urban-rural differences in expected rather than actual earnings (Todaro, 1976: 28). The fundamental premise is that migrants consider the various labour market opportunities available to them, as between the rural and urban sectors, and choose the one, which maximises their ‘expected’ gains from migration (Todaro, 1992: 236).

This model is less concerned with the processes that lead to these decisions. For rational choice or decisions, chances of getting opportunities in job market differ substantially from person to person for reasons that are social rather than random (Crook, 1997). The choice or decision to migrate is never completely rational and for some persons the rational component is much less than the irrational (Lee, 1966). For instance, freedom of women to migrate is conditioned strongly by social acceptability. Migration of a child alone in search of job is unusual in every society. However, the tendency of children to migrate or to leave home is increasing these days, since they are not in the position of making rational choice or decision to leave home and to have an opportunity socially, psychologically, and physically. Principle reason why they migrate is rather process of social and economic development. So, rational decision model of migration is questionable not only for adult but also for child migration.

Another economic approach is structural approach of migration. This approach views migration in the context of capitalist development and the relationship between different modes of production under capitalist and pre-capitalist economy. Migration is seen as the result of growing capitalist penetration into peasant and pre-capitalist society, and increasing proleterianization (Mehta, 1999: 35). Arthur Lewis (1954) developed this approach, which explains migration as a process of rural-urban labour transfer. Later on, Ranis and Fei (1961) formalised and extended it by explaining that the labour from the predominantly rural primary sector (e.g., agriculture) would migrate to the urban, secondary or tertiary sector (i.e., manufacturing and services). This process would continue until all ‘surplus labour’ is removed from agriculture and labour and, therefore, population transfers from rural to urban locations as part of a process of capitalist development, which is necessary to the system and is not the outcome of incidental choices about where to live (Crook, 1997).

This approach may be better to explain migration of children as a process of rural labour transfer to the urban informal sectors, which is the output of the process of capitalist development. However, it is important to understand that the reasons why children migrate, because child migration is quite unusual in the context. It is not only simply labour transfer from the rural agricultural sectors. It is also several social and psychological relationships that motivate and enforce children to migrate to the city, which may be the product of modernization.

Structural Differentiation Approach

Smelser (1964) introduces structural differentiation, a sociological approach under the modernization perspective, as part of globalization process. According to this approach, in the past, the traditional family had a complicated structure with large and multigenerational relatives living together under the same roof (So, 1991: 26). It was multifunctional and responsible not only for reproduction and emotional support, but also for production (the family farm), for education (informal parental socialisation), for welfare (care of the elderly), and for religion (ancestral worship). Mutual self-help and reciprocity were vital for carrying out many subsistence tasks, and frequently exploitation of natural resources occurring through co-operation by relatives. The traditional family institution, for instance, was largely spared the problem of integration. Many functions, such as economic production and protection, were carried out within the family. The children worked on the family farm and were dependent upon the family for protection.

In the modern society, the family institution has undergone structural differentiation. Smelser argues, apart from family is small and has become nuclear with simpler structure that has increased the functional capacity of institutions, integration problems arose in the modern society, which created problems of co-ordinating activities of the various new institutions. There is problems of co-ordinating the family institution, the protective institution, and other economic institutions, for the family can no longer protect family members from injustice in the workplace, especially for children need to go outside the family to find jobs. In these respects, structural differentiation has created problems of integration (So, 1991: 27).


This section briefly observes the socioeconomic as well as family and childhood development in Nepal. The development process has been assessed under the modernization perspective. Effect of modernization on society, family, and children and childhood socialization may magnifies the effect of modernization as well as structural differentiation on family and children's lives in Nepal. This may be the process that prevails in the children's lives for leaving home and become child labour as the survival strategy to be initiated by themselves.

Socio-economic Development of Nepal

Socioeconomic development of Nepal has been undergoing towards the process of modernization. Before 1990, Nepal had party-less Panchayat System. Under the Panchayat system, the mixed economic system was adopted. Due to active monarchy, the king as a feudal was directly accountable and credible to each and every progress as well as regress in the country. In 1990, multiparty democracy has been restored and presently, Nepal is experiencing multiparty democracy as a global wave of democratization.

During 1980s, economic modernization was begun in the country through the IMF sponsored stabilization programme in 1985, World Bank guided Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) during 1987-89, and again the IMF financed Structural Adjustment Facility (SAF) during 1987-1990 (Dahal, 1998: 55). It was to cure the existing economic ills - macro economic instability caused by low growth, growing fiscal deficit, and declining international reserves. Along with the democracy, in order to accelerate the process of economic liberalization, democratic government enacted the Privatization Act 1991. However, the democratic government has not been success to breakdown the feudal legacy, which controls over the mode of production as well as distribution serves for elites and feudals and there is lack of multiple producers and distributors. This situation has not been success to break the monopolistic control over the goods and services. It has been more advantageous for those who have money and power. As a result, the process of modernization has led to negative impacts on various sectors and consequently led to the exploitation of the people consumer, voters, women, poor, and workers (Dahal, 1998: 57).
Mode of production is based on feudal agricultural farming system. Capitalistic mode of production has still not been introduced in most of the agricultural sectors. It may be attributed to the high degree of land fragmentation and overwhelmingly large proportion of cultivated lands have greater than 30 slope that is unsuitable for agriculture and environmentally sensitive (Subedi, 1995), whereas the main component of property of the family is land. Land guarantees not only social status but also economic advancement, since all opportunities are mediated by access to land and land tenure is the main determinant of economic, social, political, legal and institutional relationships (IFAD, 1988 cited in Jazairy et al., 1992). National Planning Commission estimated that 6 per cent of the population owns 46 per cent of the cultivated land. Many families do not have subsistence level of land. About 69 per cent of landholdings are less than one hectare in size (NESAC, 1998: 117). High land fragmentation due to both traditional and legal system of property inheritance and growing population results into marginalization and landlessness, declining yields, and difficulties in adopting new technologies (Jazairy et al., 1992). Capitalist system is observed only in some of the commercial sectors, which has also been handled by a small circle of elites and traders. This has also been on the basis of monopolistic system. The process of economic globalization has thus widened the rich-poor disparity in the Nepalese society (Dahal, 1997, 1998).
Besides, urbanization is the number one component of modernization and one of the two sectors of the migration operation. The urban city is the centre of power and privilege. It exerts its influence in charting the direction of the country’s political, social, and economic development. It has disproportionately high share of consumption as well as investment in the urban sector (Gugler, 1988). These situations are even more prevailed in the case of national Capital City, like Kathmandu.

The urbanization process is new in Nepal, even though the history of Kathmandu Valley City is long. Among the Asian countries, Nepal is notable for the fact that large differentials between urban and rural population growth rates were sustained through out last three decades (Hardoy, 1992: 32). The percentage of urban population in 1971 was 4.0, which increased to 9.2 in 1991. The growth rate was 3.2 during 1961-71, which increased to 5.9 during 1981-91 (Bastola, 1995: 248). In terms of urban places in Nepal, it was 16 until 1971, which increased to 23 in 1981, 33 in 1991, and 58 at present (Bastola, 1995: 248). The percentage increment of urban places is more than 75 per cent even during the 1990s.

In this way, even though Nepal has already been entered into the transition that is struggle for modernization, ecological complication and socio-political and development system are still under the feudal legacy. All kinds of effect influenced people’s lives mostly in the rural areas. A few capitalistic system introduced in the country has been the means of exploitation of rural and poor people who are failed to protect their endowment for their livelihood.

Family and Childhood Socialization

Modernization is not necessarily a smooth and harmonious process, which are so common in the Third World (So, 1991: 28). Nepal is not an exception where the family, as a primary unit of the social organization, has undergone structural differentiation under the transition of modernization process. Values of family system has been changing over the time. Before, the integrative value system, such as family solidarity and harmony, was stronger that supported to the joint and extended family. Due to appropriate integration system, mode of production of the household functioned according to cooperation within the family. At that time too, children used to work in the farm. The type of child work was protected by family members in one hand and children did not go far from home for work on the other hand. This type of child work was not exploitative. When family underwent the modernization process, the family has been differentiated into specific structures. Each member of the family has their own taste. This differentiation affected the family basically through promoting nuclear families and creating problem of disintegration. This has been caused by the changing family demography due to structural differentiation, which is caused by several factors of changing and degrading socio-economic circumstances. Increasing market integration and globalization resulted into structural changes in the family, which in turn resulted into lack of control over their lives forcing many disadvantaged families into situations where personal relations break down under stress; loss of self-esteem both from parents and children, combined with joblessness, substance abuse and despair, are made worse by the fact that poverty also dispossess people of their political as well as their economic rights (Moore, 1994). The problem of coordinating the family institution and the economic institution arose. Child population is one of the victims of this process, today, in most of the poor countries. This has many implications for children’s lives, their involvement in work, and the ways in which we think about these issues (White, 1996: 829). Children are supposed to go outside the family to find jobs. These problems are equally present in Nepal, which has undergone a lot of changes over time.

The main component of family affected by crisis is family instability. Family instability has been mainly caused by disturbed and broken family. This may be caused by death of parents or breadwinners or the presence of stepparent(s) in the family and/or inability to manage the family due to lack of endowment and large number of labour surplus. This situation executes many children face exploitation, beatings, neglect and verbal abuse from their step parent/ other family members (CWCCD, 1997), children run away to the towns and end up working in some way or another to survive (ILO, 1995).

Regarding this situation, childhood socialization is very much important to understand while studying about children. This is the foundation of child development and the development of adult. Children will do in the future what they learned from the family, society, and peers. Bista (1991) identifies the process of childhood development in Nepalese society, thus:

At four or five, the child begins to work and then starts its separation from the mother. It either has to look after a younger child, especially if female, or herd the family’s sheep and goats following the advice of an adult in charge, meaning the 8-10 years old who trains the youngster. ... At about eight or nine, daughter becomes assistant to mother and son to father. By this time, they can work independently too. Then, they are more likely to have the rights and the responsibilities of adulthood, particularly the responsibilities of contributing to the economic sustenance of the family. As such they are expected to work early and, in many cases, are needed as workers for the survival for the family. … Characteristically, an excessive adulation develops for the father, based mostly on the observation of his activities connected with work. It is common to hear Nepali boys make great claims for their fathers, who assume almost superhuman dimension. Father symbolizes the ultimate in achievement (Bista, 1991: 66-69).
The childhood socialization outside home depends on peer group. Growing up and the development of children depend on how the peer group is. The peer group usually forms when they go to farm work, to cattle grazing, to fetching grass and water, and schools and games. They learn many things from the peer group in this age. Whether a child is involved in bad-habit, like drinking liquor or playing cards, which are supposed to be morally prohibited at an early age, or in good habits, that are called “Sangat Gunako Phal”, which conveys the influence of peer group and how strong it is.

However, after family underwent structural differentiation, rapidly growing urbanization and western style democratisation in Nepal, rapidly growing economic liberalisation, and computerisation (electronization) have influenced the Nepalese society and pushed towards a modern one. It created a generation gap that is between parents and children, in terms of the way of thinking and the expectations of life. Parents could not provide appropriate facilitation for their children’s development. They failed to provide appropriate socialisation for childhood, what they need according to time-change. This is because the parents don’t know about modern world. The way they think is still traditional. They are not able to meet what their children want. Because their children want different things than they think of. For example, they want their child, particularly male child, to continue the family name and parent’s occupation. But, a child does not want to do that. They are curious about city life – cinema, fast foods, new fashions, motorcars, etc. They want to have separate and new life. They do not see their future is safe with their parent’s assets and occupation, which is not sufficient and not fit for them. At the result, children are seen as having much more active roles in constructing their lives as well as their own social worlds.


Increasing migration of children from rural to urban areas apparently indicates two things. First, changing demographic pattern in terms of migration, that is age range of migration has been changing by widening the lower age limit. This change challenges the age selective theory of migration. Second, changing sociological phenomenon regarding migration, that is children began to migrate themselves by leaving parents and home behind, as migrant actors. They are seen as having much more active roles in constructing their lives as well as their own social spheres by themselves. Before, migrant actors were adult. Children were left behind. Even if they involved in migration, they were not treated as migrant actor. They migrated to follow the former migrant that is their parents.

The main reasons (poverty, parent's suggestion, domestic problems, personal reasons, and other's influence) why children move out of home indicate that these reasons have been emerged due to the effect of modernization process in the society. All reasons listed are interrelated each other in both economic and sociological way of development. Poverty is economic reason and subsequently social reason. It explicitly comes from failure of access to resources due to growing number of families to be landlessness and consequently low social status. Other reasons also depend on both social and economic development through the way how modernization defuses in the society. Economic insufficiency for the family survival may results into parent's inability to provide necessary food and clothes for their children and to provide basic education. Lack of resources may result into social disturbance, psychological torture among the adult family members who are to maintain the family. This, in turn, may result either into anger, domestic quarrels, violence, mistreatment and indifference behaviour with children or into indifference in behaviour of parents towards children that implies lack of love, care, and parental guidance, abandonment of children, thrown out of the home on the one hand and children may be psychologically disturbed and malsocialized and which results into children's own misdeeds like stealing, fighting, or causing trouble for the family or neighbours on the other hand. This vicious circle result into problems in the family and society, which affects children's lives creating frustration and dislike of social and family life in the village and they may be motivated with other people to leave home.

The situation described above is actually the result of Nepalese society has been struggling for the modernization. Modernisation process has begun in Nepal, but in the early stage of the transition of modernization. Modernisation has been discussed in earlier section. A number of processes of modernization can be observed as communication and media system like radio, television, newspaper, etc., privatisation and liberalisation in the market system, introducing modern technologies. Among various sectors, prominent change can be found in market system. There is big disparity in the price between agriculture products, which the rural farmer produces, and market goods that are necessary for daily use. Market economy has been captured by a small circle of elites and traders and they have monopoly. The another factor that contributes imbalance of price between market goods and agriculture products is there are a number of brokers emerged between the producers and consumers, which hike the actual price of goods. Rural and small farmers could not find appropriate price of their products as well as of their labours, whereas they have to pay more than necessary amount for consumer goods in the market. It widened the gap between poor and rich and poor have been marginalized further. This affected joint as well as extended family and family underwent structural differentiation. The family have been undergoing marginalized further. Family heads failed to co-ordinate the family members in an appropriate way. They could not be able to support the family members, actually, those who need support, that is children. Children are most severe victims of this complication. They have to look for alternatives for survivals.

One of the impacts of modernization is acceleration of population. The mortality, especially infant and child mortality, has been substantially declined during the last decade, whereas the fertility is still high although it has begun to decline (TFR of 4.6). It produces the population at present in Nepal is relatively younger. Decline in mortality has been established through the introduction of modern medical technology in the health sectors. Even though the several family planning methods have been introduced, the use is less significant because family planning method has been used by those who have already achieved their desired number of children in the family. This demographic transition produces a large proportion of child population (children aged 5-17 is almost 34 per cent of the total population shown by 1991 census) in the country. On the other hand, many small farmers have been converted into labourers. It is because, i) unequal land distribution pattern and ii) ongoing land fragmentation process through property inheritance further marginalizes the land distribution pattern. These two processes resulted at the majority of the family own less than subsistence land and even many families have become landlessness. When they have no or insufficient land for the survival, they have to become labourer for their livelihood. However, labour market has not been extended. Less land for each family is not in the position of absorbing more labourers. Whatever labourers absorbed by existing land are adults who could not be substituted by children. Both processes came into the growth of surplus labour in the rural Nepal.

There is a big gap between the generations. Occupational mobility is undesirable in the traditional society. The simple principle is son of the tailor is to be tailor, son of the iron-smith is to be iron-smith. But after the modernization has been introduced, new generation do not tend to continue their family occupation. The traditional occupation could not carry their interest simply because it is not appropriate in terms of modern carrier. Traditional occupation is not appropriate for competition for the modern market. So, children tend to shift their traditional family occupation, which is not beneficial compared to modern ones. On the other hand, children are very much curious about bright-light city life – cinema, fast foods, new fashions, motorcars, etc. They do not see their future is safe in the village. At the result, children tend to go to urban cities to have a new life.

As modernization has begun in the country, a numerous informal sectors have been emerging in the urban cities. Many sectors tend to employ children simply because they are cheap labour and easy to handle. Hotel, restaurants, carpet industries, brick factories, etc. are the most popular for child labour absorbing sectors in the urban cities. This urbanisation is well capable for attracting children from rural areas.

In this way, modernization process created the situation for children to have look for their own survival strategy as child labourer through structural differentiation and created labour surplus in the rural areas through changing demographic characteristics by converting many farmers into labourers, in one hand. It accelerated the urban growth creating several informal sectors, which are ready to absorb child labourers on the other hand. Consequently, as a process of capitalist socio-economic development, children have been migrating to urban cities being child labour as the survival strategy.


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1 Mr. Gurung is a Lecturer in the Central Department of Population Studies (CDPS), Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal.

2 Calculated by Suwal (1998) in the study on Bondage, Exploitative Employment Relations and Debt Situation in Nepal With Reference to Migrant Children, on behalf of ABC/Nepal for ILO/IPEC.

3 Calculated by Gurung (1999) in the research paper Child Migration to Kathmandu Valley City: Family and Other Factors in Process and Contexts, presented for the partial fulfillment of Master of Arts in Development Studies at Institute of Social Studies, The Netherlands.

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