The Kamlari Abolition Project
From 2005 until 2015 SWAN ran a project which aimed at freeing Kamlari workers, the Kamlari Abolition Project, in partnership with Plan International. The Kamlari system was a traditional practice were young girls were sold by their families to work as domestic slaves in the households of landowners, which was banned in 2013.
The Kamlari System
Most of the girls come from Tharu communities, which have a long history of being subject to socioeconomic marginalization and of working as bonded labor. The Kamlari system started as a way for poor Tharu families to either take loans or get a small amount of money from their landlords. Sending one or more of their daughters away to the landlord’s home, they could repay their debt by working. For a lot of families, sending their daughters as Kamlari was a last resort. Although they would not see their children for many years, perhaps not knowing where they were sent off to, they got food and shelter.
However, the families were often unaware of the working conditions for a Kamlari. These girls were forced to work under terrible conditions and were often victims of physical or sexual abuse. Most Kamlari girls were not allowed by their landlord to go to school, or in some cases even to leave the house. They were often denied access to basic health services and many girls had to sleep on the floor. Despite working very long days, many did not get enough food. Scolding and beating were usual ways of punishment.
The majority of these girls were sent away when they were very young and stayed for many years. There were no written contracts, just an oral agreement made between the landlord and the girl’s parents (mainly her father). The initial agreement were often for one year, with the parties intending to renew it each year, however it often continued for several years.
During the project, our objectives were:
- To prevent and protect the girls from the Kamlari practice, through mass awareness campaigns and advocacy for the enforcement of the laws and policies.
- To strengthen the capacity of both right holders (Kamlari children), duty bearers (government,civil society organizations, families) to abolish the Kamlari practice.
- To ensure the access to education and sustainable livelihood of rescued Kamlari girls and their families in coordination and collaboration with concerned government agencies.
There were three major components of the program:
- School support
- Livelihood program
- Gender and child rights program
In 2007, SWAN built two hostels for the rescued girls together with Plan International and the Nepal Youth Foundation (NYF). Since many of them did not have a family to return to, they needed a safe place to live to be able to go back to school (or even be able to attend school for the first time). We also provided support and training for those who wanted to start their own businesses, for example small shops and restaurants. The gender and child rights program was also a central part of the project, were we worked to raise awareness about the Kamlari practice, child rights, human trafficking and safe migration.
The ultimate goal of this project was that the government of Nepal would abolish the practice altogether, which became a reality in 2013 after many years of tireless advocacy. We rescued and rehabilitated more than 1845 girls. Many girls are however still working as Kamlari, and SWAN continues to work with both rescue and rehabilitation.