Through this hotspot, thousands of individuals and families in agricultural bonded labour are coming together for their rights to land, incomes, education and dignity – working for an end to this inter-generational form of modern slavery.
In south-eastern Nepal, a recent survey found that 97,000 adults and 13,000 children are in forced labour, through a system called harwa-charuwa. Within these families, men work growing crops, and women, children, and the elderly work as cattle herders or as domestic servants. Two-thirds of these households are from “dalit” castes, traditionally considered “untouchables”.
Most have no assets or land, so when they face financial emergencies their only option for a loan is from a landlord. Once a loan is taken, lenders expect families to provide labour to pay off the debt – often indefinitely. In another recent study, nearly a quarter of harwa-charuwa respondents interviewed said that they worked 13-17 hours a day and nearly all families interviewed had experienced violence of various forms. If the families were to refuse to work, they would be likely to be expelled from their homes. In addition, bonded labour of these families feeds directly into child trafficking and unsafe adult migration.
Above: A Harwa labourer. Photo: Sunil Sainju, Geneva Global
The South-Eastern Nepal hotspot is a comprehensive community-based program, currently supporting 9 local NGOs’ and 4 specialist NGOs’, and aims to contribute significantly to the eradication of this form of bonded labour. The inter-linked strategies of the hotspot, based on communities’ and local NGO’s understanding of the root causes include:
Creating over 275 community-based freedom groups of those in bonded labour, beginning with participatory literacy and human rights awareness sessions.
Enabling these groups to begin savings and be supported to develop independent sources of income. Helping them mobilise government land rights policies to access cultivable land.
Removing over 5,000 children from hazardous child labour, helping them attend non-formal education and be successfully integrated in village schools.
Bringing Nepali and international experts to help understand and find the best ways to help individuals cope or recover from the mental and emotional injuries of slavery.
In each local government area, training officials, teachers, and law enforcement to implement relevant services and laws for addressing bonded labour. Supporting advocacy by the freedom groups and NGOs so that the families’ rights to identity and to government services are achieved.