Maiti Nepal
Nepal, landlocked between the global superpowers of China and India, is one of the most impoverished countries in South Asia, due in part to poor infrastructure, corruption and natural disasters. Staggering poverty rates and unemployment have created a crisis at the India-Nepal border, a hotspot for human trafficking. Women and girls are especially at risk of sex trafficking, especially girls in rural communities far from the capital city of Kathmandu. Maiti Nepal aims to address the growing issue of human trafficking in Nepal.

Women and Girls at Risk

Women and girls make up about “71% of modern slavery victims” worldwide. Illiteracy, poverty, unemployment and geography all contribute to the human trafficking crisis. Faced with few prospects, many girls are lured into the hands of traffickers with the promise of work and prosperity abroad.

Traffickers transport these girls to urban centers, either to Kathmandu or various cities in India. These girls must work in brothels, massage parlors, dance clubs, circuses and private homes. If the girls are lucky enough to make it back home, they then face additional discrimination and struggle to reintegrate into society.

COVID-19 Worsens the Trafficking Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating the risks of human trafficking for girls. As unemployment rises, desperate families are more likely to believe traffickers can provide a better life for their children. In a society that views girls’ education as less important than boys’, extended school closures leave girls at heightened risk of falling victim to trafficking. It is imperative that global actors and the government of Nepal take immediate action to protect girls and women during the pandemic.

Neither India nor Nepal requires documentation for citizens to cross their shared border, allowing traffickers to move people across without detection. Dealing with the COVID-19 crisis has further depleted the resources and ability of anti-trafficking officials to adequately monitor border crossings. Estimates indicate that traffickers move 54 women and girls into India every day.

Maiti Nepal Spearheads Anti-Trafficking Efforts

Anuradha Koirala founded Maiti Nepal in 1993 with the goal of addressing the trafficking of women and children. Named a CNN Hero in 2010, Koirala has devoted the majority of her life to rehabilitating survivors of trafficking and implementing prevention efforts. Maiti Nepal recognizes that without improving conditions in Nepal, trafficking will continue to persist.

Though the Nepali government attempts to monitor the border, women and girls continue to slip through the cracks. Maiti Nepal supplements the government’s efforts to guard the busy border between India and Nepal. Volunteers directly intercept traffickers at the border and safely return the victims to their homes or a transit center. To date, Maiti Nepal has intercepted more than 42,000 girls at the border and convicted 1,620 human traffickers.

Maiti Nepal began as one rehabilitation home to house survivors. Now, its programs include prosecution and legal counseling, transit homes, education sponsorships, job training, advocacy efforts, rehabilitation and HIV/AIDS treatment programs, among others. Maiti has provided rehabilitation services to about 25,000 women and children. The nonprofit spearheads multiple efforts to provide direct aid as well as prevention and advocacy efforts throughout the country.

Looking Ahead

The continued efforts of Maiti Nepal and the Nepali government safeguard impoverished girls and women from the lures of human trafficking. Understanding the links between poverty and human trafficking, a broader focus on poverty reduction can accelerate efforts to combat human trafficking in Nepal.

– Elizabeth Long
Photo: Unsplash

Aiding Nepalese Women
Landlocked between India and China and considered the modern-day birthplace of Gautama Buddha, Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world. One in four families lives in poverty in a country where food shortages, natural disasters and severe weather are extremely common. Women’s rights in Nepal are also limited due to lack of education, high rates of violence against women and historical patriarchal practices within their government. Here is more information about the situation in Nepal and how some are aiding Nepalese women.

The Situation

The United Nations recognizes Nepalese women’s need for aid. As a result, it has implemented volunteer programs centered around solving food insecurity and improving health education and much more to provide assistance and sustainable, long-term solutions to Nepalese communities.

Because of COVID-19 and the lockdown, approximately 41% of women in Nepal lost their jobs and main sources of income. Women who were once financially independent now faced a reality that meant relying on others to provide for their families. Seeing this widespread problem, the women of Nepal united during this trying time and established women-managed community kitchens centered around aiding Nepalese women in poverty and eliminating the food insecurity crisis the country has been facing.

UN Women

U.N. Women and the Government of Finland are working with local women to develop these community kitchens and provide a sustainable source of food. Only 20% of land in Nepal is capable of being cultivated. These community kitchens are not only providing food for the people of Nepal, but they are also empowering these women to combat local food insecurity due to their weather conditions.

The meals include “rice, daal (lentil soup), spinach, vegetable, pickle, fruits, ladoo (sweets), and a bottle of water.” Daily, these community kitchens cook up to 250 meals, but sometimes they have even produced more than 500 requested meals in a day. Women for Human Rights, Maiti Nepal, Nagarik Aawaz and Nari Bikas Sangh have all created women-run community kitchens in Nepal serving 95,000 meals and providing baby food to 30,000 people since June 2020.

In total, more than 100 women work for and run the Nepal community kitchens and are making a real impact in their communities through their work. By building trust and uniting a community, vulnerable groups of women like migrants, dwellers, ill or sick women, pregnant women or women with disabilities have been able to find leadership roles in their communities. Nepal’s women-run community kitchens show the impact women can have against poverty in their own country.

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHV)

The Female Community Health Volunteers (FCHVs) program began in 1988 in Nepal. The all-female volunteers are also advocates and educators on maternal health, newborn caretaking, childhood health and nutrition. The implementation of programs like the “National Immunization Program, Birth Preparedness Package, Community-Based Integrated Management of Neonatal and Childhood Illness (CB-IMNCI), Integrated Management of Acute Malnutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding, and Family Planning program” are all possible because of the U.N.’s FCHV program. The program also provides frontline workers during polio vaccine campaigns and other communicable disease advocacy efforts.

Clean cooking is also a problem in Nepal, so besides community kitchens, Nepal has rerouted the FCHV program to help combat this issue. FCHVs go from home to home to educate local women on the harms of certain fuels used when cooking. Alternating from wood and kerosene with an open flame to biogas, petroleum gas and electric stoves lowers blood pressure and decreases the risk of pneumonia. The long-term health effects are detrimental, and these volunteers are working hard to keep their communities safe and healthy through their FCHV programs.

Maiti Nepal

Besides providing food for the community and a living wage for the women running the kitchens, groups like Maiti Nepal have used these community kitchens as an opportunity to educate locals on the dangers of COVID-19. Providing masks and sanitizer along with the meals has also promoted better public health for the country which the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard. Women in the FCHV program aid in any area of the community that needs help, so they became frontline workers and educators during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead

The U.N. is constantly working to improve women’s leadership and empowerment in countries facing low rates of women’s involvement in politics and places of power. By 2022, Nepal is aiming to graduate from the least developed country status, and the work these women are doing is directly contributing to the completion of this goal.

The United Nations is aiding Nepalese women in more ways than one and is constantly developing programs like the community kitchens and the FCHV program to fit the needs of each specific community. The women volunteering in these programs are working towards a better tomorrow for their local people and nation as a whole.

– Annaclaire Acosta
Photo: Flickr

Global Dental Relief is Improving Accessibility
Dental insurance operates differently around the world. A lack of proper dental care can result in serious health issues that have lasting impacts. In developing countries, where dental care may not be as accessible, the money to afford treatment may be difficult to obtain. However, Global Dental Relief (GDR) is improving accessibility to dental care.

How Global Dental Relief is Improving Accessibility to Dental Care

Global Dental Relief started as the Himalayan Dental Relief Project. Former Director of the Colorado State Parks Laurie Mathews and dentist Andrew Holacek are the founders of the organization. After the pair traveled to Nepal together, they noticed the dental crisis present in the country. Nepal had 120 dentists for a population of nearly 24 million people. In 2001, they began their project to bring free dental care and oral hygiene education to the people of Nepal. With the knowledge that the organization could change the lives of children and adults across the nation, Mathews and Holacek dedicated themselves fully to their cause.

In 2003, Mathews and Holacek joined forces with travel adventure expert Kim Troggio. With Troggio’s expertise, the team sought to help both native families and international travelers. They also aimed to connect with the local communities they aimed to help to make their cause more personal. A large portion of the organization’s funding in 2003 came from travelers who visited impoverished nations. After seeing the lack of care and with the Global Dental Relief’s support, donations became plentiful. Since then, Global Dental Relief has made a huge impact. The organization has accumulated over 2,600 volunteers. In addition, Mathews and Holacek have provided over $35 million in donated care to more than 170,000 children.

Trips Around the World

Global Dental Relief offers trips to Appalachia, Cambodia, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico and Nepal. Dental hygienist Nour Shehadeh recently took a trip to Cambodia, where she treated more than 1,000 children with first-time dental care. These children had never seen a dentist before, making the experience life-changing. Shehadeh realized the immense power that a bright smile could have on a person’s confidence.

On another trip in 2018, several dentists and dental hygienists from Aspen Dental practices took a relief trip to Guatemala. During this time, they performed 1,500 dental procedures on the children of Antigua. These included 126 root planing and scaling procedures, and 596 fillings. By the end of the mission, dental professionals completed 488 fluoride varnishes and 195 extractions, showing how Global Dental Relief is improving accessibility to dental care.

How to Volunteer

Those who have participated in a trip described the experience as life-changing. Dentist Savannah Reynolds of Greenville, South Carolina explained that the experience was not only eye-opening but also intrinsically rewarding. Anyone is able to volunteer with the Global Dental Relief organization, as no prior dental experience is necessary. Global Dental Relief is also in need of non-dental volunteers to manage records, teach oral hygiene, manage the clinic flow and assist both dentists and dental hygienists. Applications to register to be a volunteer for Global Dental Relief are available on the organization’s website.

– Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Nepal’s COVID-19 ResponseCurrently, approximately 26.4 million refugees worldwide have had to flee hardship in their countries of origin. Though international laws protect them, refugees are often denied basic human rights such as protection from violence, stable employment, safe housing and adequate healthcare. Access to reliable healthcare is critical to preventing diseases, treating underlying conditions, providing medicinal resources and offering immunizations. Because refugees are often unable to join national health plans in the country in which they settle, lack of access to healthcare is a common experience. Nepal’s COVID-19 response intends to include vulnerable and marginalized populations such as refugees.

How COVID-19 Threatens Refugees

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the need for reliable healthcare access among refugee populations, who are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Many live in densely populated areas and lack face masks and adequate sanitation, such as handwashing facilities. This increases their risk of contracting the virus. Many have also lost their sources of income and are unable to pay for medical care. In addition to the high rates of poverty refugee populations experience, being too sick to work or caring for sick loved ones only compounds this issue.

The world’s ability to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic is incumbent on ensuring that all populations can limit case numbers and treat the infected. While the best way to mitigate the virus is to provide vaccinations, many countries are not yet offering them to refugees. As a result, many refugee populations live in a constant state of crisis and are unable to return to normalcy at the same rate as the general public.

The Nepalese Example

There are now more than 19,000 refugees in Nepal, most of them from Bhutan and Tibet. These communities experience high rates of poverty and are disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Nepal’s COVID-19 response has been markedly different from other countries in the region as it was “the first country in Asia and the Pacific to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to refugees.” Starting March 7, 2021, refugees older than 65 were eligible to receive the vaccine along with other eligible citizens. As of March 24, 2021, 668 refugees had received the vaccine and many more are set to be vaccinated as the country obtains additional doses.

Nepalese officials have made it clear that they believe ensuring the health and safety of the entire country means providing healthcare for everyone. Nepal’s COVID-19 response is unique because Nepal is deliberate in ensuring that refugees have access to healthcare that is on par with the rest of the country. Equitable access to vaccinations remains an important step to ensuring the country is able to fully recover from the COVID-19 crisis.

Next Steps

Nepal’s COVID-19 response sets an example of measures that other nations should take. As other countries observe Nepal’s vaccination procedures, refugees and other marginalized communities exist in an important context. Organizations like CARE Nepal advocate for a vaccine rollout with “the most vulnerable groups” being prioritized.

Nepal is far from the only country in the world, or even in the Asian Pacific region, with a large refugee population. All populations must have access to adequate healthcare to ensure everyone can recover from the COVID-19 crisis as quickly and effectively as possible. Ensuring that everyone has access to the vaccine is one of the best ways for countries to achieve this.

Harriet Sinclair
Photo: Flickr

airlifts from USAIDNepal is a small country in Asia that encompasses most of the Himalayan mountains. In May 2021, Nepal experienced an uncontrolled spread of COVID-19 and Nepal’s government could not contain cases without foreign assistance. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) responded to this need by sending airlifts of personal protective equipment and oxygen to help fight COVID-19. Airlifts from USAID have served to limit the poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With such support, it is possible to keep COVID-19 cases manageable while reducing poverty at the same time.

COVID-19 in Nepal

Nepal became the world’s fastest-growing hotspot for COVID-19 infections in May 2021. At the time, the country reported more than 513,000 cases and 6,300 deaths in a population of 29 million. Due to the rapid rate of infection, Nepal’s healthcare system was unable to accommodate such high numbers.

Vaccine accessibility was another issue for Nepal as only 7.3% of the population had received one dose of the vaccine as of May 25, 2021. With India bordered by Nepal, the vaccine shortage in India posed a major problem for Nepali citizens. In part, this was due to India’s government blocking vaccine exports as India needed to preserve its supply for Indian citizens. To solve this problem, foreign assistance was needed.

The dire situation in Nepal has severely hurt the economic welfare of its citizens. Recovery from COVID-19 in Nepal not only requires control of the infection rate but also economic support for the most affected citizens. Migrant workers who travel to India for work have accounted for a significant portion of the rise in cases.

Therefore, the COVID-19 surge in both India and Nepal has eliminated the primary source of income for many Nepali families. Nepal’s economy also suffers from a halted tourism industry, which previously generated a significant amount of revenue from the Himalayan mountains. Without the success of these crucial industries, Nepali families are at greater risk of sliding deeper into poverty.

Airlifts From USAID

USAID has had a long-standing relationship with Nepal. Over the last two decades, the organization has allotted $600 million in funding Nepal’s healthcare sector. To aid the currently overwhelmed medical system in Nepal, USAID responded by scheduling three airlifts to bring in medical supplies for healthcare workers. These airlifts are part of a recent $15 million aid package to the government of Nepal.

By May 2021, Nepal had received $50 million worth of COVID-19 assistance from USAID. The government estimates that this support has positively impacted 60% of Nepal’s population. Due to USAID’s COVID-19 support, Nepal has been able to perform nationwide COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Furthermore, the country has been able to treat COVID-19 patients more adequately.

In addition to medical supplies donated by USAID, the U.S. government has committed to sharing vaccine doses with Nepal. The U.S. government’s strategy for distributing vaccines includes a combination of direct donations and distribution through international organizations. U.S. ambassador to Nepal, Randy Berry, confirmed in early June 2021 that the U.S. will directly donate a portion of seven million vaccines to Nepal. The donation is part of an effort to assist Asia by distributing doses among 17 Asian nations.

The Effectiveness of Airlifts

COVID-19 has had a physical, mental and economic impact on Nepali citizens. Many Nepali citizens travel to India for work, but with travel restrictions in place, the people of Nepal face more instances of poverty. USAID has provided immense support for Nepal throughout the pandemic, especially during the resurgence of cases. Combined with a plan to distribute more vaccines to the country, foreign aid has played a significant role in helping Nepal fight COVID-19.

– Viola Chow
Photo: Flickr

Childhood Malnutrition in NepalChild malnutrition in Nepal, a relatively small nation in Asia, has been a persistent issue. The lack of food throughout the country has significantly contributed to illness and death. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the situation has worsened. Though there have been multiple failed government attempts to reconcile the food supply, Nepal is slowly finding its way back to proper nutrition for children with the help of organizations such as UNICEF.

Child Malnutrition in Nepal

According to the United Nations World Food Programme, Nepal ranks as the 148th most impoverished country in the world out of 189 countries. It continues to struggle with low general well-being because of civil unrest, a difficult geographical landscape and poor infrastructure. A combination of these factors has also impacted food availability. Food that is available often lacks the nutrients necessary for children to maintain proper health and growth. As a result of malnutrition, children battle stunted physical and mental growth, severe weight loss and compromised immune systems.

In addition to poor nutrition, many children are also exposed to contaminated water, which can lead to chronic diseases. According to the Nepali Times, a recent Johns Hopkins University survey showed that severe malnutrition impacting children younger than 5 could cause 4,000 childhood deaths a year due to insufficient food from lack of income caused by the pandemic. A quarter of Nepal’s population already lives under the poverty line. The pandemic has pushed more families closer to impoverishment.

The Solution

Due to multiple failed government efforts to help assist families, it is clear that part of the issue lies in the poorly structured national, provincial and local governments. Though the government has made efforts to tackle malnutrition in Nepal, including the Multi-Sectoral Nutrition Plan that led to major strides against child malnutrition in the past, the issue persists.

To combat child malnutrition in Nepal, UNICEF has partnered with the government of Nepal in order to treat malnourished children with nutrition response and recovery actions. It has also taken the initiative to educate and provide resources for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. Nutrition education aims to raise awareness of the importance of ensuring infants receive essential nutrients.

Furthermore, UNICEF is helping the government of Nepal to strengthen its response to prevent more malnutrition in the country. Nutritional assistance is also provided in the form of micronutrient powder for children and iron folate supplements for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers.

The Road Ahead

Though child malnutrition in Nepal has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is still hope. With help from UNICEF and other humanitarian organizations, Nepal has a chance to address this persistent issue. Moving forward, it is essential that the government and humanitarian organizations continue to prioritize child malnutrition in Nepal.

– Allie Degner
Photo: Flickr

Save the Children Aids Nepal In 2015, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake wreaked havoc in Nepal. The devastation left more than 22,000 people injured and almost 9,000 people dead, with hundreds of thousands of more people facing extreme poverty. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may prove to be an even more severe humanitarian crisis for the country. With more than 600,000 reported cases as of July 2021, the severity of the pandemic in Nepal is significant. In an effort to improve the country’s dire state and protect vulnerable populations such as children, Save the Children aids Nepal during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Impact of COVID-19 in Nepal

Nepal’s status as a landlocked nation with a medical system closely tied to India has resulted in serious healthcare concerns. Chief among these concerns is a lack of essential medical resources like oxygen tanks and COVID-19 testing kits, both of which are critical in the fight against COVID-19. Nepal normally obtains these supplies through India, however, the severe COVID-19 outbreak in India means India has minimal resources to spare.

Maggie Doyne is the co-founder and CEO of a nonprofit in Nepal, BlinkNow. Doyne, tells CNN Canada that “All of our medicines, all of our oxygen tanks, our ambulances, our food supply relies on India. So, you really can’t have a landlocked Himalayan country so reliant on another country that’s really struggling.” The nonprofit operates a school and a children’s home, among other facilities, in Nepal. It has also been one of the groups attempting to provide aid on the ground. In direct response to the country’s surge in cases, BlinkNow increased emergency food bank supplies available for vulnerable families and people out of work.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Children in Nepal

One particularly vulnerable population in Nepal is children. The Human Rights Watch and two partnering organizations released a report in May 2021 examining how COVID-19 impacts children. After speaking with 25 working children in Nepal, nearly all of them agreed that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their family’s financial stability. The children interviewed ranged from 8 to 16 years old.

The children worked jobs in construction, carpentry, mechanics and more, in an attempt to financially support their families. Many of the children work long hours, sometimes totaling 12 hours per day, which causes them pain, dizziness and fatigue. The use of child labor has increased in the country since the pandemic has forced lockdowns and school closures. Even as schools reopen, many children remain working to help supplement their parent’s income.

Save the Children Aids Nepal

Save the Children is taking action in Nepal to minimize COVID-19’s impact on children. The global nonprofit is dedicated to preventing child suffering, with efforts ranging from malnutrition prevention to emergency response measures. The nonprofit recently expressed concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on children in Nepal. School shutdowns hold back Nepalese children educationally and socially.

Not receiving an education hinders the chances of breaking free from poverty, according to Jennifer Syed, the country director for Save the Children in Nepal. Syed says that “The economic impact on households hurts children the most — they’re the ones who suffer the worst malnutrition; it’s the young girls who are forced into child marriage to reduce the financial burden on their family.”

To assist, Save the Children is donating more than 50 oxygen concentrators and 20,000 rapid testing kits. This will help Nepal’s government in the fight against COVID-19. In addition, Save the Children’s website states, “a further 100,000 PRC test kits, 200,000 rapid test kits and 1,000 oxygen concentrators will be given to the Ministry of Health and Population under agreement with the Global Fund.”

The Road Ahead

Save the Children’s efforts are essential to assist a country that has now surpassed India in COVID-19 related deaths per capita. The organization is also supporting Nepalese children through campaigns that promote personal protection measures and offer mental health support. Hopefully, Save the Children’s efforts will inspire aid from others in the near future as Nepal continues to fight the devastating repercussions of COVID-19.

Brett Grega
Photo: Flickr

Nari Bikash SanghPatriarchal values have long dominated Nepali culture. Prevailing attitudes have led to the belief that women in Nepal are inferior to men. As a result, Nepal has long suffered from high gender inequality, which has hampered the country’s overall development. Deeply entrenched views regarding the role of women in society have held back government initiatives, causing progress to be slow. Nari Bikash Sangh, a Nepali NGO, hopes to address gender inequality by directly aiding women in Nepal.

The Status of Women in Nepal

While women’s rights in Nepal have improved over the years, women still face many obstacles in their daily lives. Social values dictate a woman’s every move and women’s needs are often subservient to men’s needs. As a result, most social indicators for women lag behind those of men. The most striking example is Nepal’s literacy rate. As of 2011, the literacy rate for women was 44.5% compared to 71.6% for men, showing the vast disparity between the two genders. This disparity in literacy rates displays the challenges that Nepali women face in achieving upward social mobility as illiteracy inhibits one’s ability to acquire an education and eventually obtain gainful employment.

The patriarchal values that dominate Nepal can explain the disparities in social indicators between men and women in the country. These values mean a woman’s actions and wishes are often subject to the whims of the men in her life. For example, women are often discouraged from pursuing higher education or traveling abroad because of the idea that a woman’s role is to be a homemaker and caregiver.

Nari Bikash Sangh

Several initiatives have been developed with the aim of promoting women’s rights in Nepal. Nari Bikash Sangh (NBS) was founded in 1980 as an NGO whose goal is to help rural, disadvantaged women in Nepal become empowered and aware of their civil rights. With 89 paid staff and more than 2,200 volunteers, NBS reaches more than 100,000 women in Nepal.

Partnering with World Literacy of Canada, NBS started the Women Empowerment Project in 1999. The objective of the program is to encourage the social and economic empowerment of women from certain disadvantaged communities who have been unable to access formal education and employment opportunities. The project raises awareness about violence against women and also provides information on tools and services for victims of violence. Furthermore, this project includes a program to teach marginalized women vocational skills and how to generate income.

NBS also runs developmental programs seeking to promote self-sufficiency among impoverished, rural communities. The Participatory Integrated Poverty Alleviation Program involves developing rural infrastructure as well as improving agricultural standards. The program also consists of initiatives to mobilize disadvantaged people to create self-sufficiency through skills development and income generation programs.

The Road to Gender Equality

Nepal’s deeply entrenched patriarchal values have necessitated a response from ordinary Nepali citizens to ensure gender equality. Nari Bikash Sangh is an example of an organization that seeks to do just that. By raising awareness of women’s rights and initiating self-sufficiency programs, NBS is aiding women in Nepal in a crucial way.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

The Aama ProgramMaternal health is a pressing issue in developing countries as they often lack infrastructure and facilities to adequately care for pregnant women. Women often lack the incentive to use health service centers and choose to rather give birth at home, resulting in high maternal mortality rates. In Nepal, attempts to remedy this issue have led to a cash transfer scheme, which seeks to encourage pregnant women to use medical facilities to give birth by giving them a certain amount of cash to do so. Known as the Aama (or mother) program, the initiative aims to address Nepal’s poor maternal health by making sure that more births are overseen by health professionals.

Overview of Maternal Health in Nepal

Nepal’s healthcare system has long suffered from neglect due to civil strife and political instability. Despite this, it has seen an improvement in maternal health over the past few decades as more government attention has been spent toward this end. The country has received praise from the United Nations for its efforts in reducing its maternal mortality rate by almost three-quarters between the years 1990 and 2015, reflecting the government’s commitment to addressing the issue.

These developments can be attributed in part to improvements in infrastructure and education, as better infrastructure makes health facilities more accessible and higher levels of education raise awareness of medical issues. Additionally, government programs were implemented to assist Nepali women in receiving better healthcare and offset potential costs of doing so. These smaller programs, which were consolidated in the Aama program in 2009, have been an important aspect of Nepal’s attempt to improve maternal health.

The Aama Program

Predecessors to the Aama program were formed to address the issue of maternal health in Nepal. In 2005, the Safe Delivery Incentive Programme (SDIP) was introduced to pay pregnant women to use public health facilities to give birth. These payments vary based on region, reflecting the fact that women in remote parts of the country incur additional costs to access quality healthcare. As a result, women in the Himalayan regions of the country receive 1,500 rupees as these areas have a difficult terrain, and therefore, more costs are involved to reach medical facilities. Those in the middle hill regions receive 1,000 rupees because the terrain is still quite challenging. Those in the southern plains region receive 500 rupees as the land in this area is flat and easy to manage.

In 2009, the program was renamed the Aama program while a provision was added to provide reimbursement to health facilities and any costs associated with delivery services were removed. Finally, the program was further amended in 2012 to provide cash incentives for women to complete at least four antenatal care visits.

Since the inception of the program in 2005, there has been an increase in the usage of medical facilities to give birth. A study from 2005-2009 shows how this increase can be seen throughout every region of the country. Overall, births in medical facilities have almost doubled from 2006 to 2011 with an increase from 20% to 39%.

Room for Improvement

While Nepal has seen progress in increasing the usage of health facilities to give birth, there is still room for improvement. As of 2018, 58% of women still gave birth at home, even those with knowledge of the Aama program. This discrepancy can be explained by social and economic factors. For example, women who choose to give birth at home may do so because they are not comfortable with a hospital setting. Furthermore, women who are economically disadvantaged often receive substandard care. As a result, these women may still choose to give birth at home even after receiving a cash incentive to use a medical facility.

The Aama program is a promising initiative undertaken by the Nepalese government to improve maternal health in the country. It seeks to incentivize pregnant women to use health facilities to give birth rather than giving birth at home and risking complications. While Nepal has seen a decrease in maternal mortality over the past decade, the Aama program can be expanded even further by accounting for the various socio-economic issues women face.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr

Child Poverty in NepalChild poverty in Nepal is an issue that the country continues to struggle with. While the child poverty rate has decreased over the past few decades, it is still detrimental to the overall progress of the country. In combating this issue, it is important to understand the consequences that stem from living in poverty. Two of these consequences are high levels of malnutrition and child marriage.

Overview of Child Poverty in Nepal

While Nepal has seen improvements over the past few decades, the overall poverty rate remains high. The decline of the child poverty rate in the country has not matched the decline of the overall poverty rate. Between 1995 and 2006, there was an 11% decline in the overall poverty rate, yet the decline in child poverty in that time period was only 8%.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this issue by weakening Nepal’s economy and forcing children to stay home. The lack of income for parents and the lack of schooling due to the pandemic has pushed millions of households into a precarious situation. It is estimated that nearly 10 million children in Nepal live in impoverished circumstances. The presence of COVID-19 exacerbates the already damaging effects of child poverty, including malnutrition and child marriage.

Malnutrition Among Nepali Children

Maintaining high nutritional standards for children is vital for a country. It ensures children will grow up to be healthy and productive adults, fully able to break cycles of poverty. Child poverty in Nepal is detrimental, in part, because it leads to high rates of malnutrition. Malnutrition may cause developmental issues and results in chronic health problems later in life. While Nepal has made progress in lowering malnutrition rates among children, it is still a cause for concern. In 2019, 43% of children under 5 years old were malnourished. Moreover, 36% of these children suffer from stunting and 10% of these children suffer from wasting.

The country’s high poverty rate exacerbates this issue because low-income families are unable to afford a nutritious diet for their children. As a result, malnutrition rates in Nepal are directly linked to poverty. According to USAID, “17% of children in the highest wealth quintile are stunted as compared to 49% of children in the lowest wealth quintile.” These statistics demonstrate how poverty impacts child mortality. Malnutrition causes the deaths of almost half of all children who perish before reaching the age of 5 years old.

Due to the impacts of child poverty and malnutrition, the government has set up initiatives to improve nutritional standards in the country. Since the 1990s, programs such as the Vitamin A campaign have launched in order to increase the consumption of certain nutrients. In 2004, Nepal implemented the National Nutrition Policy and Strategy, which focuses on the nutrition of women and children.

Child Marriage and its Relation to Poverty

Child poverty in Nepal also directly impacts the rates of child marriage in the country. Despite the fact that marriage before the age of 20 is illegal, 37% of girls are married before the age of 18. Girls who marry at a young age are at a higher risk of facing domestic violence. Human Rights Watch states, “A study across seven countries found that girls who married before the age of 15 were more likely to experience spousal abuse than women who married after 25.”

Additionally, early marriages are associated with lower levels of education. Strict gender roles in Nepal dictate that married girls are expected to be homemakers so girls who get married while still in school often do not finish their education. Early childbearing also has health consequences for these young women. Poverty is a primary reason child marriages persist in Nepal, despite efforts made by the government to stop the practice. Young girls in impoverished families are married off to ease the economic burden on the family. One less child to feed is sufficient justification for a family to allow a child marriage. Some of these girls even welcome child marriage because it means they will have food to eat.

Looking Ahead

At a 2014 “Girl Summit” in London, Nepal pledged to end child marriage by 2030 in accordance with the U.N. Sustainable Goal to end child marriage by 2030. The government of Nepal partnered to develop the National Strategy to End Child Marriage in order to meet this objective.

Child poverty in Nepal continues as a challenge for the country and impacts a wide range of topics. Malnutrition and child marriage are pertinent issues associated with child poverty. With a government commitment and help from organizations, child poverty in Nepal can be combated.

Nikhil Khanal
Photo: Flickr