Millions of people are held in bonded labour around the world. A person becomes a bonded labourer when his or her labour is demanded as a means of repayment for a loan.
Bonded labour in Nepal has arisen out of unequal agrarian relations. Landless lower castes are often forced by their circumstances to borrow sums of money from rich land owners, to meet their various subsistence needs. Eventually, they end up pledging their physical labour as interest towards repayment of the loan. Often, generations of a family get trapped in this cycle of loan repayment – working as labourers without pay for the landlords. This vicious cycle does not allow them a life of dignity. The monetary value of their work is invariably greater than the original sum of money borrowed. Bonded labourers are routinely threatened with and subjected to physical and sexual violence by the landowners. Their poverty does not make escape an option.
In Nepal, bonded labourers are referred to as Haruwa/Charuwa, Kamaiya or Haliya in different parts of the country. Despite the legal prohibition on bonded labour, these practices persist in different locations in the country.
The problem of bonded labour has been recognized and addressed by the Government of Nepal in many ways. The most significant action has been the recognition of Kamaiyas as bonded labourers, and legislation that declared Kamaiya and other forms of bonded labour illegal. The implementation of the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act 2001 was taken up by way of identification, resettlement and rehabilitation of Kamaiyas, which was aided by giving land and skill training to some Kamaiyas .
Meanwhile, those bonded under the Haliya form of bondage were recognized and formally declared free in 2009. A large number of those bonded as Haruwas and Charuwas still need to be reached and supported to secure freedom. They need to be supported with resettlement and rehabilitation as necessary. Further, in a country with over 31% of its population living in chronic poverty, there are many who are vulnerable to bondage, hence it is important to establish systems whereby bondage can be monitored, eliminated and prevented, with targeted interventions and by creating an enabling environment that improves livelihoods of the most vulnerable.