In February, BIC staff traveled to Nepal to conduct a field visit of the Rani Jamara Kulariya Irrigation Scheme-Phase 2 project currently beginning implementation in the Terai region. Our concern with the project is that there is a risk of children’s involvement in project works and a high risk of sexual exploitation and abuse of children by project workers. According to the International Labour Organization, enforcement of child labor laws in Nepal is often inadequate, making the project appear risky. Large infrastructure projects can also result in an influx of migrant laborers looking for work, though the influx in this case was mainly attributed by project-affected people to contractors utilizing their existing labor forces rather than hiring locally. Such an influx of workers for any project involving significant public works has the potential to result in sexual violence by migrant laborers. As seen in other infrastructure projects, workers without connections and accountability to the local community are more likely than local workers to cause harm to children within the community, including sexually exploiting and abusing children.
One key issue that arose during our site visit was the physical safety of the irrigation canals and the risk of children being physically harmed as a result of insufficient safety measures. All of the canals we visited lacked any kind of barriers, such as fencing, near populated areas to keep people from falling in. In the Badi community we visited, children are constantly having to cross the canal to go to school, and while there is a bridge for children to safely cross, there were no barriers on either side of the bridge. In the same community, they reported that one child had fallen into the canal and had to be rescued, and several livestock had died as a result of falling in the canals. While we visited the area, we saw children playing with marbles on the edge of the canal, with nothing separating them from a steep fall. We raised this issue in both our meetings with the Bank and the Ministry, and were assured that safety measures would be retroactively implemented in populated areas and incorporated fully into Phase 2.
In our discussions with community leaders, we were told that, to their knowledge, there were no children currently working on the project and there were no known reports of child sexual exploitation or abuse by project workers. This is not to say that it is not happening, but that there had not been reports of such issues around the project. One community leader from the local Badi community stated that there had been cases of both in the past that were raised with the contractor, though it was unclear how these were resolved.
The most common concern we encountered was that while many were grateful for the project benefits, such as consistent irrigation for crops, agricultural programs, and infrastructure connecting communities to essential services. However, some communities were excluded from benefiting from certain benefits such as value-added agricultural activities because they live in informal settlements. In terms of indirect benefits, a number of the community leaders we spoke to expressed concerns that the project work was being conducted primarily by outsiders to the community, even for unskilled labor. It is concerning that this occurred in a Bank project that, in its documents, stipulated that contractors hire locally as much as possible. Including local workers in the project could help build skills within the community in addition to reducing the risk of CSEA, improving their livelihoods.
Our findings from our field visit only present a snapshot of the situation in the project area, but we will have a clearer picture upon completion of our partner’s report. We look forward to continuing our engagement with the Bank and the Ministry around this project.