Kathmandu, 27 July 2013
It’s hard to believe that in the 21st Century, the system of bonded child labor, known as “Kamlari” in the local language, still prevailed in Nepal. The ‘Kamlari’ are minor girls (some as young as six) belonging to the indigenous and marginalized Tharu community in southwest Nepal.
In January 2000, the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF), through its local partner Friends of Needy Children (FNC), launched a movement to end this pernicious practice, beginning in the Dang District. NYF developed a creative solution to the problem of compensating the parents of the bonded children for the wages they would have earned if they had continued working: one piglet, one girl. Each family that agreed to bring its daughter home or not send her off to work received a piglet (later they could choose a goat instead), which they could raise and sell at the end of the year for the amount they would have received for their daughter’s labor. The rescued girls were placed in school or vocational training at NYF’s expense.
In the first year, 37 girls were rescued and returned to their families and were provided scholarships. The movement continued to grow, and by 2013, over 12,500 girls have been rescued, returned home, and enrolled in school or vocational training. 375 girls who had no families to return to are living in residential care facilities provided by the government.
Simultaneously, a vigorous awareness campaign was conducted at the grassroots level and in Kathmandu to turn the local communities and citizens around the country against the practice. The most effective advocates to abolish the Kamlari system were the returned girls themselves, who were provided with training to assert their rights.
In 2004, FNC filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court demanding the abolition of the Kamlari practice, establishment of a fund for the girls’ education and rehabilitation, and for ensuring their rights according to the prevailing national and international child rights policies. FNC prevailed, and on September 10, 2006, the Supreme Court ordered the government to fulfill the demands made in the petition. Since the government failed to comply with these court orders, FNC and NYF launched campaigns to pressure the government to obey. As a result, in 2009, the government appropriated 12 million rupees (Approx. 1.5 Million US Dollars) for the education and rehabilitation of the freed Kamlaris. Substantial appropriations for this purpose have been made in each succeeding budget since.
In 2010, with the assistance of NYF and FNC, the returned girls formed their own NGO, Freed Kamlari Development Forum (FKDF), to take over the entire anti-bonding campaign. Since that time, they have been vigorously promoting the anti Kamlari cause. Because of these efforts, the Kamlari practice is on the verge of eradication. But despite these achievements, hundreds of girls still remain to be rescued and many have been subjected to extreme forms of physical, mental and sexual abuse. There have been several cases of forced disappearances, and suspicious deaths among them.
In March 2013, a mass protest was launched by the freed Kamlaris seeking justice for the victims, and to pressurize the government to declare the abolition of the Kamlari system. The protest culminated in a 10 point agreement with the government. The demand of this movement has already been fulfilled: compensation has been paid to the families of Kamlaris who were suspected of having been murdered while they were employed. In addition, a committee has been set up to look into cases of disappearances and suspected murder. Most important, on 27th June, the Ministerial Cabinet declared the abolition of the Kamlari system.
NYF, FNC and FKDF welcome this progressive move and express our gratitude to the Government of Nepal. Similarly, we extend our appreciation to the political parties, human rights and civil society activists, intellectuals, INGOs and NGOs, national and international media, and the freed Kamlaris and their guardians, for their support in making this possible. We hope that this alliance continues to assure that the government fully implements this declaration.
Som Paneru, President Nepal Youth Foundation
Hem Prasad Shrestha, President Friends of Needy Children
Manjita Chaudhary, President Freed Kamlari Development Forum