18 July 2000 : Nepal bans bonded labour

October 27, 2000
Trinicenter Special

Related News

¤ Race & History Board
¤ Online Forums
¤ RaceandHistory.com
¤ HowComYouCom.com


KATMANDU: The Nepalese government on Monday banned the practice of bonded labour, under which the lower caste people work in large farms owned by upper caste land owners.

Anyone violating the ban could be jailed up to 10 years. Lower caste people have worked as bonded labors for generations, trying to pay off the debts incurred by their fathers or grandfathers.

"The council of ministers in Monday's meeting decided to make the practice of bonded labor illegal, Minister for Land and Management Siddhiraj Ojha told parliament.

The plight of the 'untouchable'
(or dalit, meaning 'the oppressed')
in rural Nepal

Until recently, bonded labour and servitude in Nepal were said to be confined to the Tharu community in the Far-Western region - where the Kamaiya system operates, but there is ample evidence that bonded labour and servitude are widespread across the country. Haliya is the Nepali term given to agricultural labourers, many of whom are bound by debt to work for landlords. The problem is not simply a matter of poverty and indebtedness; it is deeply rooted in the complex caste system which discriminates against groups identified as 'untouchable' by higher castes. The majority of haliya are 'untouchable' and the caste system locks them into a servile status in relation to high-caste Nepali land owners.

The stories of haliya and kamaiya (the term for those people enslaved under this system), make stark reading:

"The hardest months are Jestha and Ashar (May, June and July). Sometimes I have to work from dawn until it's very dark. If necessary I start work at midnight and continue through... Usually I get two meals a day and at harvest time I get a sack of grain." For many this is the only form of payment, whereas the need for cash to pay for medicine, and other basic necessities, forces workers to return to the landlord to ask for a further loan. In many cases the original debt may have been quite small, but ultimately its size becomes irrelevant since it is beyond the means of the worker to pay it off. In such cases, the whole family is likely to end up enslaved.

Under the kamaiya system, women are doubly enslaved, since they must work in their landlord's house and in his fields for no payment apart from a daily meal. From time to time they might receive some old clothes or a length of cloth.

The Social Clause - a Solution to Forced Labour and Bonded Labour?
Bonded Child Labour in Nepal

Separate law a must
to abolish bonded labour

January 06, 2000


Lalitpur, Jan. 5: Participants of a one-day workshop organised jointly by two human rights organisations INSEC and Anti-Slavery International (ASI) today concurred that Nepal needed a separate legislation to abolish bonded labour spread throughout Nepal in various forms. They also agreed that lack of a definition of bonded labour which is relevant to Nepalís situation and a mechanism to authorise as well as claim compensation for bonded labourers are key reasons for the continuation of the system.

INSEC data claim that over 100,000 individuals are affected by Kamaiya system, a debt-bondage system, and some 260,000 are kept under Haliya-Haruwa system in Nepal.

Dr. Kevin Bales of ASI said economic and social globalisation has proved to be the driving force to the dramatic increase in incidents of trafficking in human for slave-like labours in Europe and Asia. "Decentralisation of economy is pushing more people into the system of bonded labour," he said.

Dr. Bales also said that variations in bonded labour in practice in Nepal are making it more complicated to fight against it. "But all the variations have common feature of control of one person over another, denying of human rights and theft of labour power," he added. He also emphasised that since system of bonded labour is dynamic, evolving law to abolish the system should be "flexible" and that should support rehabilitation after liberation.

Swami Agnivesh of Bonded Liberation Front in India said that Indian anti-bonded labour act is best of acts, but is weakest in the implementation aspect. "Politicians and business community with vested interest are preventing the act from being enforced, and that can also be the case in other countries as well," he cautioned. He also claimed that fatalism and resignation to the situation advocated by religions practised in the region are making the fight against bonded labour more difficult. "Peopleís resignation to their fate is making them helpless from within, which is slowing down the anti-bonded labour campaign," he said.

He also criticised the new global economic structure. "Globalisation has turned out to be a new kind of god that is transforming smaller and economically disadvantaged nations into bonded states," he said.

Dr. Shiva Sharma of National Labour Academy said that 30 per cent of agriculture labourers in Nepal work under permanent labour relationship. He also said that excessively long working hours, low wages, engagement of more than one family member to earn a single wage, indebtedness circumventing mobility of labourers and inter-linked labour, land and credit contracts in the long term labour relationships in agriculture push the labourers into bondage situation.

The Constitution of Nepal 1990 and other human and civil rights acts prohibit slavery, serfdom or forced labour in any forms. However, advocate Pawan Ojha said that the existing laws are inadequate and inefficient to control bonded labour in Nepal. Advocating for formation of separate law to abolish bonded labour, Ojha said that the new law should provide appropriate and standard definition of bonded labour that suits local conditions, make arrangements for the waiver of unjustifiable loans taken by bonded labourers and make rehabilitation arrangements for the freed labourers.


International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour: IPEC
Grassroot Movements in Nepal
Web site on Nepal and Himalayan studies
International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour Programme Document for Italian Social Partners' Initiatives on Child Labour in Nepal

Back to Historical Views