Monday, January 03, 2011

Kamlari; the practice of turning daughters into slaves

The practice of kamlari can earn a Nepalesse family $25 to 50 dollars a year. To participate, the family has to sell off a daughter so she can become a bonded servant. Activists are negotiating with families to make them stop the practice and bring their daughters back home. They often bargain with the families by providing them animals that they can use for food or cash. Still the girls who return home have many scars that need healing from the forced servitude.

From this Los Angeles Times article that we found at The Sacramento Bee, writer Mark Magnier describes kamlari to us.

For generations, ethnic Tharu girls as young as 6 have been handed over to landlords and brokers under a bondage system known as kamlari. The legacy of crushing poverty, caste and intergenerational debt has left many of the young victims scarred by sexual and emotional abuse.

"The landlord's son beat me many times," said Bishnu Kumari, 17, who was rescued a few years ago. "I felt dirty, unlucky to be born a girl. I was a slave."

These days, however, former kamlari victims are fighting back with notable success, the result of changing laws, activist pressure and nascent democracy in Nepal.

Charity groups have rescued thousands of girls in the last year, generally during the brief period when the annual agreements are renewed, by convincing parents that the practice is unjust, a daughter's education is worthwhile and that there are far less exploitative ways to earn family income.

Since most deals have traditionally been struck during the winter Maghe Sankranti holiday, rescued girls assisted by aid groups are staging street dramas, anti-exploitation marches and musicals. They also mount rescue missions in which parents and landlords are confronted and embarrassed into releasing the girls during the annual festival and other high-profile events.

The approach has proved so successful that the U.S.-based Nepal Youth Foundation estimates that 1,000 Tharu girls remain indentured, most in remote villages or with powerful families in the capital, Katmandu, compared with about 14,000 a decade ago.

Former victims Sunita Chaudhary, 17, and Anita Chaudhary, 18, who aren't related, sing, act and write scripts for the street plays put on here in this rural part of south-central Nepal, drawing on their experience of dire poverty, alcoholic fathers, exploitative landlords and low female social status.

At the end of the drama about girls forced into bondage, the troupe asks audiences who is to blame and how the play should end, sparking spirited debate. Many villagers are illiterate, have never seen a play and forget that it's not real. "People grab me and threaten to beat me up," said Hom Roka, 23, who plays the landlord.

These are complemented by "girls clubs," composed of former victims who urge new kamlari recruits to resist, backed up by adults in the community who have agreed to help fight the practice.

"Sometimes the landlords try to hit us," said Manjita Chaudhary, 21, Sunita's sister and a former indentured servant. "They lie, saying they educate and help the girls. But we usually wear them down."

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