They have committed no crime, yet must pay for the punishment given to their parents. Thanks to a local NGO, however, children born to convicted criminals get a stable, loving home and a chance at success.
Nishu Sah is only 10, but she's already chosen her career and knows her inspiration.
"I want to be a nurse and take care of helpless people when I grow up," the young student told Khabar South Asia. Though the odds were seemingly stacked against her, a groundbreaking assistance programme is helping her achieve that dream.
Instead of living in the stifling, dour conditions of Charkhal Jail where her mother is incarcerated, Nishu is one of 30 children who have found a new home through Prisoners Assistance Nepal, founded by Indira Ranamagar.
"I have so many friends here and she [Indira] loves us so much," she said.
Another home resident, 14-year-old Sabnam Nepal hurriedly completes her daily chores because she is excited about the hearing test being organised in the home. All of its young residents are from prisons that house their parents or guardians.
Ranamagar, 40, established the home in 2000 with the goal of enabling such children to overcome the disadvantages facing them. She too comes from an impoverished family.
The idea for starting the programme, Ranamagar says, came to her while she was touring the Nakhi prison in Lalitpur together with the famous Nepalese writer, Bishnu Kumari Waiba (1937-1993), better known as Parijat.
"I was just 17 at the time and was looking for opportunities to create an impact in the society. Seeing the suffering of children there made me think this was my call. I took a small girl from the prison to live with me in my rented flat and decided that I will dedicate my career to helping these children," Ranamagar told Khabar.
Prison families face stigma, obstacles
Initially, people viewed her disdainfully for reaching out to help the families of criminals, Ranamagar said. Nevertheless, she pressed ahead with the hope of making a difference.
"Things have changed now. The girl I rescued is already a mother of two children herself," she says, pointing the tangible impact the programme has had.
One of the poorest nations in the world, Nepal lacks government social safety nets for children whose parents are arrested, convicted and imprisoned. Often when a guardian is not available, arrested parents either take their children with them to prison or leave them into the streets.
As a result, the majority of Nepali prisons are full of inmates and family members who must share with them the grim conditions.
Anil Chitrakar, a well-known entrepreneur and social worker thinks a more preventative focus is needed in Nepal. "Rescuing these children is a curative approach," he said. "We should focus more on not letting the children get to the prisons in the first place."
More than 365 children nationwide are in the care of Prisoners Assistance Nepal, which has four branches in Sankhu, Palpa, Jhapa and Biratnager. The organisation has rescued children from 19 prisons throughout Nepal. Kathmandu Valley has two homes: one at Nayabazaar and a second at Sankhu. Combined, they shelter around 90 children, including 18-year-old Nima Lam.
"My mother died when I was a small kid," Nima told Khabar. "My father got imprisoned for a murder and I used to live with him in prison until I was rescued and brought here. After being freed, my father went abroad and I don't know his whereabouts.
"I feel fortunate to be living here. I am loved and cared for. It's my family now. I want to be a thanka (a painter of Buddhist scenes) and give back to the society in future," he said, smiling shyly.
Helping kids become good citizens
The cause of rescuing children from prisons has also been taken up by other individuals and organisations. Pushpa Basnet, 28, provided shelter to 40 children in her home. She has assisted more than 100 so-called prison children since 2005 and was nominated for a 2012 CNN Hero award.
"It's not fair that these children have to live inside the prisons without having committing any crime," she said. "My mission is to make sure no child grows up behind the bars."
Ranamagar shares her sentiments.
"If we let them grow up inside the prisons, it will be a huge challenge for the society to accommodate them and make them responsible citizens later," she said.
Such endeavours help to fill a gap left by the lack of state programmes to address the issue, according to the director of the country's Prison Management Department, Durga Prasad Bhandari
"The government has established Bal Sudhar Griha (Child Reform Centres) in Bhaktapur and Sarangkot which are mainly for juvenile criminals but children of prisoners are also sent there when possible," he told Khabar. "But there are no specific programmes for children of prisoners."
"Non-governmental organisations are doing a commendable job in rescuing them," he added.
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