Kamlari slave girls help to change lives in Nepal

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Kamlari slave girls help to change lives in Nepal

By Kevin Childs


A young girl washes up in Nepal. Nearly half of the children between 5 and14 are in child labour Jim Holmes

Recently things have got better in Nepal but the terrible earthquake in April 2015 made things worse. But one of the good stories from the last ten years is about the Kamlari slave girls. They were prisoners but now they are important supporters of girls’ rights. They are bringing class and gender equality in Nepal.

In the West we have a very positive picture of Nepal - the snow on Mount Everest and the old villages around Kathmandu. But there is a darker picture of poverty and abuse.

Nepal is 157th of 187 countries on the list of the UN’s Human Development Index. The average annual salary is less than $210. Child-marriage rates are at 40 per cent. Only 57 per cent of the people can read and write. Nearly half of the children between 5 and14 are in child labour. Child labour often includes the problem no-one sees - selling children as slaves.

One of the worst forms of domestic slavery in Nepal is the tradition of Kamlari. The story began in the middle of the 20th century. The Tharu live in the lowlands of western Nepal. It is an area full of malaria. The Tharu naturally do not catch malaria so they lived their lives alone for hundreds of years. But in the 1950s big business began in Nepal. With insecticide they killed the mosquitoes, and rich businessmen quickly bought land and buildings. Suddenly the businessmen took theTharu villages and over the next ten years forced them from their homes and their land or made them slaves in a system called Kamaiya. Kamaiya is illegal but it continued and the Tharu became poor and began to starve. All the fathers could do was sell their daughters to work in the big cities for money. They became the Kamlari slave girls (Kamlari mdeans ‘slaves’).

Kamaiya seemed legal but it is a one of the worst kinds of forced labour. The harvest festival of Maghe is held each January in Tharu villages. Then the families sell their girls for as little as $50 per year. Some of the girls are only five years old. They take the girls to rich families to work as servants. Kamlari girls should have beds, food, and education but they become modern-day slaves. They are often abused, attacked, raped, and kept in a kind of prison. They don’t have enough food or sleep. The families watch them all the time and they do not meet other people.

Kamlari girls often have no contracts or legal protection. Their families should have money every year but 16 per cent of families don’t receive a salary. And many girls disappear, or are found dead.

But there is good news. Some girls who were Kamlari slaves are strong enough to speak against the system. In 2013, the Kamlari labour system was stopped. Sixteen years ago there were over 20,000 Kamlari girls. Now there are perhaps only 500. Kamlari girls often still suffer from their past experiences. NGOs have spoken to support them.

Kamlari girls are victims and survivors. Now they have the chance to do well in society. With the help of international charities like the Nepal Youth Foundation, and the International Labour Organization, girls can go to school. Some can have small loans to start businesses. The girls who were recently rescued can find homes where they can begin to have a life. The Kamlari girls who were slaves have made all this possible. They knock on house doors and speak to people, they talk to the government, they organise meetings and marches. They have helped the girls who are still in the Kamlari system. We must thank these girls for helping to stop Kamaiya, and for the Nepalese government’s promise to help. This is a success for the girls, but also a success for Nepal, which has often not given rights to small country communities and to girls.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: http://newint.org/blog/2016/02/18/kamlari-girls-speak-out/

(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).