Esther Benjamins Trust
In memory of Esther, his first wife
|Ian Kerr, Interim Chief Executive|
The Esther Benjamins Trust (EBT) is a UK registered charity that promotes children's rights in Nepal. As a result of the work of the Trust it is now illegal to imprison Nepali children alongside their parents or for them to work in Indian circuses. It is now aiming to end the use of large scale institutions to care for Nepali children, starting with the home where children they rescued in the first two projects currently stay.
Prison Children Project
The charity's first projects in Nepal involved the rescue of innocent children from prison; these were children who had been jailed alongside parents upon whom they were dependent and in the absence of any family members who were willing to look after them. The children were rescued with the agreement of the parents and looked after in community-based refuges where they could attend school and associate freely with their peers. This led to major articles in The Daily Telegraph, The Mirror, The Mail on Sunday, The Boston Globe, Gente magazine, The South China Morning Post, The Melbourne Herald Sun and the Esther Rantzen Show on UK television. It was also the cover story in the Telegraph Weekend section of July 2000. In November 2001 the Nepal government outlawed the jailing of innocent children, and although it still happened on a small scale, having highlighted the issue and brought the numbers down, a number of local NGO's were able to manage the vastly reduced number of children.
Circus Children Project
In 2002 one of the trust's Nepali partners heard about the trafficking of Nepalese children into Indian circuses where they were ostensibly employed as performers. The reality – as revealed by research commissioned by the Trust in 2002 – was slavery and extremes of abuse inside circuses that existed as de facto prisons. In conjunction with the Indian and Nepalese authorities, the Trust launched a rescue programme for the children with great success, and a child trafficking route was closed. The programme was instrumental in the release of around 700 children and young people, half of whom were freed by circus raids and the other half released by the circuses to avoid adverse publicity. The Trust's co-workers in Nepal tracked down the traffickers and 20 of them were imprisoned. In 2006 a Nepalese court first recognised the Indian circus as being a potential trafficking destination and this set a legal precedent. In April 2011 the Indian Supreme Court ruled that performers inside circuses could not be under 18.
The Trust has also supported the School for Deaf Children in Bhairahawa and the Disabled Day Care Centre in Butwal. When the Trust started working with the school for deaf children it only offered a primary education, it now offers School Leaving Certificate. Just six deaf schools operate across Nepal but the trust has built new classrooms, extended the hostel for boarders, employed the first deaf teacher, and funded a number of scholarships. The Trust supported the development of the disabled day care centre, installed play equipment and sent physiotherapy volunteers.
The children freed from the jails, the circuses (and from a smaller street children project who could not be immediately reunited with their families) were originally housed in a small community home. Gradually this grew into something of an institution. The trust is one of the first charities in Nepal working through the programme of deinstitutionalisation to support families to improve their own circumstances so that they can be reunited with their children without the children being at risk of further trafficking.