I recently watched the Al Jazeera documentary “Nepal’s Slave Girls” which looked at the culture surrounding domestic slavery.
Slavery is officially abolished in Nepal, but the practice still continues. Young girls are forced to work in the homes of people to whom their parents, often poor farmers, owe debts.
Many of these kamlaris are from the Tharu tribe, which is indigenous to the southern Himalayan region and was historically looked down upon. Tharus were forced to work as labourers on the land that they had once owned before a caste system placed them near the bottom in terms of social status.
The girls, even as young as six, are often sold off by their parents to landowners for little to no money under the impression that their daughters will at least get access to education and a better life in exchange for minor domestic work.
Unfortunately, many of these girls are abused verbally, physically, and sexually. There have been a few cases of some kamlaris dying under mysterious circumstances with no legal consequences. They are often deprived of food, live and sleep in inhabitable spaces, and work long hours.
They do not get the promised education and even if they do, their work in the home is prioritized. Some of them never get to see their families again. Some of them that are reunited find it difficult to bond with their families after years of separation, especially because the landowners who they work for often brainwash them against their families.
Because the practice is so common even for high-ranking government officials, it is hard for these girls to speak up about their experiences. If they do speak up, corruption means that the justice system does not see to it that their interests are served.
I wish I could say this is an isolated case study. Unfortunately, it is estimated that at least 40.3 million people around the world are in some form of slavery. Women and girls make up a disproportionate percentage of that figure. This is not just happening in developing countries. They are found on every continent and are most concentrated in certain industries (agriculture, construction, factories, food processing, maritime, sex work, etc.)
Anti-Slavery International defines six types of modern slavery:
- Child slavery: using a child for your own gain, whether that’s as a domestic slave, soldier, sex worker, spouse, or any other form of exploitation.
- Debt bondage: getting someone to borrow money that he or she cannot repay and then forcing him or her to work to repay it whilst maintaining conditions that ensure that he or she is unable to do so.
- Descent-based slavery: keeping someone as a slave because his or her ancestors were slaves.
- Forced and early marriage: marrying off someone without the option to leave. This often happens to young girls who are married off to older men.
- Forced labour: punishing (or threatening to punish) someone to get him or her to perform work he or she would otherwise not choose to do.
- Human trafficking: “transporting, recruiting or harbouring” someone to take advantage of him or her.
It is truly heartbreaking to think of so many people living in such conditions. One can feel helpless about how to intervene in such a global epidemic. However, there are some helpful signs from Gangmasters & Labour Abuse Authority that might help you spot someone being trafficked or used as a slave.
Report any suspicions you may have to law enforcement or to a relevant organization working to change things for children and adults who have been trafficked for labour or for the sex trade. Their services range from raising awareness, rescuing individuals, providing housing, education and/or vocational training, working to change or implement laws.
In addition to local organizations that are also need funding, a few international organizations include: