11 June 2010: To mark World Day Against Child Labour on 12 June, Plan throws a spotlight on its work to help thousands of Nepalese girls trapped in the Kamalari system of bonded labour.
It may seem unthinkable, but slavery is still alive and well. In parts of Nepal, girls as young as 5 are sold by their own families to work as domestic servants in wealthier homes. The girls come from extremely poor families, where they are often seen as little more than a drain on the family’s income, and sold out of financial desperation.
Under the Kamalari system, girls are sent to work as domestic servants in the houses of those richer than them – usually higher-caste landowners, business people or civil servants. The girls are usually aged around 8 or 9 when they are sent to work, though some are much younger.
Girls are often taken far away from their communities to different parts of the country and areas where they don’t speak the same language. Alone and without family or community support, they are vulnerable to all sorts of harm, including physical violence and sexual abuse. Some have been trafficked into brothels in India via open borders, where identity cards aren’t checked and no questions are asked.
Plan is working to dismantle the Kamalari system on a number of fronts. “We need to come at this from a variety of different angles,” says Donal Keane, country director of Plan Nepal.
“In addition to rescuing and rehabilitating these girls, we help them get back into school or provide alternative education support, we give them training in a trade, and support them in starting their own businesses. We also support parents so they can earn a decent living for their families and don’t have to send their daughters to work. And of course we run public awareness campaigns at all levels – from the villages right up on to the national stage.”
Geeta’s father made a deal with a local teacher when she was 12 years old, and so began her employment. She worked from sunrise until late in the evening, and had an annual income of 700 Nepali rupees (about US$10).
It was a situation that was impossible to escape from
“It was a situation that was impossible to escape from. Even with all the verbal abuse and all the threats, there was nothing I could do. My master was well connected, he knew everyone. He was highly regarded in his community. I was afraid of the consequences for my family if I left,” says Geeta.
Now aged 21, Geeta is not only free from the contract but she has started her own business, and employs her entire family. Through Plan’s Kamalari abolition programme, Geeta has been able to rent a roadside café and has made 32,000 rupees – roughly 46 times her annual wage when she worked as a Kamalari.
Plan estimates that between 10,000 to 12,000 girls are currently working as domestic servants under the Kamalari system. Plan is working to change this in 5 districts of western Nepal.