All parents share the desire to see their children enjoy better lives than they themselves have experienced. Yet, across the world, overwhelming poverty has cut short the lives of millions of children and forced many other children prematurely into the labor force, forgoing the chance for schooling and limiting their opportunities for development.
Child labor, especially the more exploitive types, not only is a violation of human rights, but a disinvestment in children that perpetuates poverty across generations. In the extreme, children are sold into indentured labor or trafficked... contrary to Article 4 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all forms.” Moreover, Articles 2 and 6 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, enjoin states to “take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members,” and “ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.”
A vicious cycle of poverty can be perpetuated by child labor. In traditional societies, sons are usually preferred by parents as better sources of income and old-age security, since daughters require dowries and after marriage are ‘lost’ to their parents. This reality bolsters high fertility, in turn, stretching family resources and limiting parental investment in the education their children. Moreover, child workers increase the supply of labor, keeping wages low and perpetuating the reliance of poor parents on their children’s labor. Children forced to work are typically unable to attend school...at least regularly...and are thus deprived of education and the means to earn better incomes as adults. Poverty, high fertility, and child labor are perpetuated across generations.
Nepal and the Kamlari System
Nepal is one of the poorest countries in the world, in 2010 ranking 138th out of 169 countries in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index. For generations, agricultural laborers have been forced to work for landowners to repay debts incurred earlier, sometimes by their parents or grandparents. Often to have any access to land, these workers would have to pledge their children, usually daughters, as working collateral. The bonded children would also be forced to labor for the landowners. Under the kamlari system in rural Nepal, destitute families are pressured by hardship to sell their daughters…and not just as agricultural workers or as household servants. Indentured children can be found working in hotels, restaurants, brick kilns, stone quarries, and construction, among other areas. Sometimes these children end up trafficked in the sex trade.
There are existing laws in Nepal intended to protect children. Political instability, civil strife, corruption, and the lack of a coherent development strategy have all contributed to the lack of effective enforcement of the laws. Furthermore, Nepal’s Child Labor Act of 2000 does not cover family-based work, work in private homes, or work in agriculture--which account for the overwhelming majority of Nepalese child workers.
Nepal Orphans Home’s Provision for Rescued Kamlaris
Early in 2008 Nepal Orphans Home began collaboration with Society Welfare Action Nepal (SWAN), a Nepali nongovernmental organization operating in the Dang district, to rescue kamlari girls from indentured servitude. NOH renovated two buildings in Narti and opened the Lawajuni (New Beginning) Home, providing shelter, food, clothing, schooling, and health care for girls rescued by SWAN. Over that year more than 60 girls who had been sold into slavery came to the Lawajuni Home, gaining their freedom, recovering their childhoods and attending school. NOH was able to bring 12 of these girls to Papa’s House in Dhapasi.
In early 2009, NOH brought another 26 rescued kamlari girls from Lawajuni to Dhapasi, where the education was significantly better, opening up a third home, known as Papa’s Kalpana (Imagine) House. Later in the same year, 28 more girls rescued by SWAN came from Lawajuni to live in NOH’s fourth home, Papa’s Gumba (Sanctuary) House.
In 2018 Nepal Orphans Home began its fourteenth year of operations, providing for 76 children in three Papa’s Houses and 20 young adults living in transition housing while attending college preparatory classes. Nearly half are former kamlari girls rescued from indentured servitude. Nepal Orphans Home (NOH) provides a safe haven for children who had been living in extreme poverty, sometimes even neglected and abused. Before coming to NOH, the children had little hope for the future. After becoming part of a large, loving family at Papa’s House, the children’s cheerfulness, diligence, respect for each other as individuals, and integrity set a fine example for the community. Papa’s House children attend a local English-medium private school. They work very hard at their studies; but even then, due to their disadvantaged backgrounds, they need extra help. We have hired after-school tutors to supplement their learning. With their enhanced education, our children develop their aptitudes and gain the self-confidence that will guide them into adulthood as independent and responsible individuals who have the skills to earn a living wage. In the future, they will be contributing citizens in the growth and stabilization of Nepal.