Kamlari Girls and Slavery in Nepal

21st August 2013

Despite the colorful culture and spectacular lands, Nepal has a 90-year old tradition that has affected the lives of many people. Slavery is still prevalent in the lands where impoverished children as young as six years old are forced to do manual labor for another person or family.

The Kamlari system forces young girls to become slaves in exchange for money that will be given to their families. These young girls experience hardships such as doing hard labor for 19 hours without enough food, sleep, rest, and even medical attention. Besides the hard labor, these children are also in danger of being abused physically and sexually by their employers.

Some people thought that the Kamlari system was abolished a long time ago together with the overall slavery in the regions but that is not the case in Nepal. While the mainland is generally peaceful, displaying the vast traditions and captivating scenery, the southwestern part of Nepal still practices this inhumane form of indentured servitude. Girls from the Tharu tribe are sold to wealthy people usually belonging to the upper caste systems such as landowners and brokers. As the Nepalese culture upholds the caste system sacred due to its religious roots, many people value the upper castes and exploit those in the lower castes.

There are many activists fighting for the rights of these girls. Some of them are even former Kamlaris who have been rescued by international organizations in Nepal. Before, there were 14,000 slave girls in Nepal and after a decade of vigilant opposition from human rights activists, these numbers gradually decreased. Today, there are about 1,000 slave girls left unreached from their employers. The numbers showed a great decrease but it still indicates that many children are in need of support and help. Some girls who are still experiencing slavery are unreached by the international groups or even ex-Kamlari organizations because their employers are wealthy and powerful people, usually those that have high influence in society and politics.

With the joint efforts of international groups, the Nepalese government, and concerned citizens, the plan to abolish slavery by 2016 has been set in motion and hopefully more and more people would join this cause to provide freedom to children and women, giving them the rights to live with dignity and purpose. Besides freeing the slaves, various movements also help these people in their education and livelihood. As a slave, their basic right to education is forfeited, therefore they do not know how to read and write which will be their greatest adversary once they are freed since they will have no source of income besides labor. Illiteracy is also the main reason why some freed Kamlaris return to their previous job even though it is hard and dangerous because they cannot find food and money to survive especially when they do not know how to read.

Upon visiting Nepal and the Himalayas during a trekking trip, people should also be aware of what the society has been going through. While it's nice to relax during the vacation, keeping the victims of slavery in mind and contributing for this cause can go a long way for the Kamlari girls. Travelers can take time to visit the websites of international organizations that help free and educate the children in Nepal during their trip preparation. This will give them more information regarding the status of the projects and efforts as well as the contributions that they could provide whether in cash, in kind, or even through volunteering. Visiting Nepal and Mount Everest is not only restricted for a person's own entertainment as it can also become a trip that will save lives.

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