Hardship continues to be a reality for thousands of children of former bonded labourers who are among the poorest and most neglected Nepalese citizens, according to Freed Kamaiya Society (FKS), a network of `Kamaiya’ (bonded labour) families and human rights activists.
The practice of `Kamaiya’, which existed mainly in five districts in southwestern Nepal and affected some 35,000-100,000 people, was outlawed by the government in July 2000, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.
Eight years after their liberation, the `Kamaiyas’ continue to suffer from illiteracy and landlessness, and survive on less than US$1 a day, according to FKS.
It is the children who suffer most, with around 25,000 working in hotels, restaurants and households in the main cities and towns to support their families, according to Backward Society Education (BASE), a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) helping to rehabilitate and support the former `Kamaiyas’.
“The state of these children is so horrible that they need to be rescued as soon as possible,” prominent anti-slavery activist Dilli Chaudhary told IRIN on 28 January in Nepalgunj, about 600km southwest of Kathmandu.
About 80 percent of them are working as domestic servants in exploitative conditions and most are paid less than $12 per year, according to the Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), a local human rights NGO.
There are an estimated 125,000 children of `Kamaiyas’ but only 40 percent of them are able to attend school due to food insecurity and extreme poverty, according to BASE.
Photo: Naresh Newar/IRIN
|Poor housing is one of key problems for most of the Kamaiya families as most of them cannot afford to build proper homes|
“State responsibility towards these children remains negligible and this is one root cause of their deprivation,” said rights activist Khadga Raj Joshi from INSEC. He said the Nepalese government had failed to provide free land to all liberated bonded labourers as promised.
According to local human rights activists, only 16,000 out of 36,000 freed `Kamaiya’ families have received land plots, while the rest live like nomads in makeshift huts wherever they find an empty space, in unsanitary conditions.
Government officials, however, said they were tackling the problem and would provide land to most of the `Kamaiyas’ by the end of the year. A group of parliamentarians recently visited `Kamaiya’ families in western Nepal to assure them of the government’s assistance and commitment.
“We are watching the government closely and if it fails to deliver on its promises, we will launch a mass movement in the capital in a few months,” said Chaudhary.
Chaudhary said several local and international NGOs, with the support of the International Labour Organization (ILO), were working to free `Kamaiya’ children, especially those working as domestics.
“But more needs to be done to prevent such exploitation and vulnerability of `Kamaiya’ children,” said Chaudhary, who warned that they were also at high risk of being trafficked abroad, primarily to India.
The ILO’s International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) has recently approved new action programmes worth about $575,291 to combat child labour in Nepal. Through the programmes, thousands of children of freed `Kamaiyas’ would get support for formal education or Out of School Programmes (OSP) in addition to literacy training and vocational education in western Nepal.