Recent rapes of minors and allegations of long-term child abuse in Nepal by, among others a high-profile international civil servant, has once more forced us to ask the question: are our children really safe? How can we ensure their safety?
Added to the dangers faced by Nepali children from domestic and foreign predators, the 2015 earthquake has put more children in the vulnerable category. Thousands of families have been pushed below the poverty line, and three years on there are people still in flimsy shelters. A quest for better future drives many parents to believe in any one who offers help.
There have been many wake up calls to the Nepal government and public to be more wary of the helping hands being extended, especially in times of emergencies. The abuse cases of the Bal Mandir and Happy Home are still raw, yet policy-level interventions have been massively inadequate or missing. Perhaps it is poverty, desperation and lack of information that has forced Nepali families time and again, to extend open invitation to what looks like local and foreign do-gooders without any scrutiny of their past.
Some have criminal records, others may be alimony refugees, still others could actually be working for child welfare organisations, but we trust them implicitly for their philanthropy or charity work.
Perhaps it has become a norm that we ignore street children who seem too cosy with a tourist in Thamel, or who all of sudden have brand new clothes or bicycle after a trek. Dig deeper, and there are dark secrets of exploitation and abuse.
In the light of the recent arrest of Peter Dalglish, who served with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Nepal office and other UN offices around the world, we must really ask ourselves what can be done to ensure the safety of our children.
Dalglish’s Wikipedia profile is everything a parent or a child can hope for in an angel that ‘saves children’. He has projected himself as a formidable friend of children: the founder of Street Kids International, someone who has been working to improve the lives of children since 1987, chief technical adviser for the UN’s anti-child labour program, Unicef, senior adviser to UN-Habitat Afghanistan. He was decorated with the Order of Canada, the second highest honor of merit accorded to Canadians for their community service or service to Canada.
The 60-year-old Canadian was arrested last week in Nagarkot in the company of two children by the Central Investigation Bureau after a tip-off from Interpol. He is to be arraigned on Wednesday. But what lurks behind these accolades are three things: is his reputation and circle of friends going to create pressure on the investigating team, if yes, how do we prevent such pressures?
Then is a serious OMG moment: how much of an unparalleled access to vulnerable children and parents Dalglish’s child protection platforms must have given. There is also a cold sensation of the loss of comfort: who else could be in the paedophile ring if indeed he is convicted? How many knew and did nothing? How many will continue to access children through those platforms?
This is not the first arrest in Nepal related to pedophilia. In 2016, an American Kenneth Joseph Coombs was caught: he had a history of sexual misconduct and assault in the US. Yet, he made it inside Nepal because of lax immigration laws. In 2015, Ernest Fenwich MacIntosh was found guilty and is serving a seven year sentence.
It may be time to warn street children about foreign and Nepali paedophiles, take better care of them in shelters with vetted child protection policies and actions, where they will be safe from such predators. Last time I checked, the Nepal government has a ministry specifically called Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, but it remains to be seen what it has done to reduce the number of street children, child survivors of the earthquake, and implement policies against exploitation by aid workers.
Bal Mandir rapists jailed