Bill Brower is a Field Program Officer with GlobalGiving who is visiting our partners’ projects throughout South and Southeast Asia. On May 12-14 he visited sites in Dang and Bardia districts in western Nepal that are part of the Indentured Daughters Program of NYOF and its implementing partners (Help Society Nepal, SWAN and Friends of Needy Children). His “Postcard” from the visit:
Durgi and Kabita Chaudhry are living examples of the concept behind the Indentured Daughters Program at work. A few years ago, the sisters were rescued from a life of servitude and their family given two goats. That pair of goats quickly became seven goats. At the start of this school year, the family didn’t have enough to pay the school fees. (NYOF had been covering these fees, but this year the government is taking over the program, and budget delays caused a delay in disbursements.) So the family sold one of the goats to keep the girls in school. Success.
Realizing that just removing a girl from servitude doesn’t address the root cause of the problem, the Indentured Daughters Program of NYOF and its partners seeks to make the girls and, in some areas, their families more financially stable so that the pressure to resort to selling the girl for labor is reduced. They provide vocational training in sewing, making bamboo crafts and henna, running a restaurant, among others. They’ve also started co-ops run by and for kamalary (the local word for girls sold in to servitude) so that their families have a place to turn when expenses arise unexpectedly.
We stopped in many sewing shops, craft-making shops and a restaurant established by NYOF in conjunction with young women and run by these former kamalary. NYOF and partners often continue to support these businesses, for instance giving the seamstresses a contract to make the uniforms of other NYOF recipients, and a few voiced concerns about these guaranteed orders going away as NYOF hands over operations in the area to the government. If these businesses and their owners are to be truly independent and stable, they should be able to prosper without outside help.
The government is taking over the program, as it is doing with another NYOF program for rehabilitating malnourished children (see link below)--high official praise. I’ve written elsewhere that in the NGO world, imitation is the highest sign of a successful approach. As the delay in disbursing money for the program indicates, there will now be more bureaucracy to deal with but the government has far more and steadier resources with which to run and expand the program.
Which in speaking with the District Education Office in Bardia, it sounds like they are keener than I had expected to do. They talked about increasing the stipend the girls receive next year (perhaps doubling it). And they are interested in “flexible classes”, which would allow for older girls to catch up to their peers’ education level in special classes—sparing them the awkward situation of studying in a class of girls they stand literally head and shoulders above.
In Dang Province, where NYOF and its local partners have been working the longest, they claim the practice has been eliminated—evidenced by the fact that there are almost no girls younger than 14 in the local forum for former kamalary. In Bardia at least there has been a slight shift toward selling sons as the trade in girls is clamped down. NYOF has commissioned a report on this and while the number of indentured boys is far less than the number of girls who were until recently in servitude, it’s a problem that will hopefully soon also be eradicated.
In July, the government of Nepal appropriated 1.6 million DOLLARS to rehabilitate young girls freed from bonded labor. This is an enormous sum in Nepal. It is the culmination of a decade of lobbying by NYOF. The funds may be used for schooling and for vocational training. To my personal delight, and at our suggestion, the funds may also be used to provide housing and an education for bonded children who have no home to return to because they are orphans or their families are homeless.
Throughout the decade since our Indentured Daughters Program started, we have asked the Nepali government not only to enforce its own laws against the bonding of children, but to educate the young girls we have liberated. (See the last story about how a former J House boy helped in this effort.) Except for some actions by local government in the areas where we have been working, the result has been – zilch. Until this year.
March to the Central Government
In February, we brought 400 girls we had previously liberated in western Nepal on a 12 hour bus ride to Kathmandu to focus the attention of the central government on this practice. They marched through the streets of Kathmandu carrying banners, chanting slogans against bonding, and distributing leaflets. We arranged appointments for them to talk with the President, various government ministers, and the UN Human Rights Commission. We believe this high-profile campaign was a major factor in convincing the central government to make its move.
NYOF is the lead organization helping the government to plan and implement its program. We are working closely with various ministries to advise them on the most effective way to use the appropriated funds, and the government has adopted almost all of our suggestions.
This action by the government is an important step in helping us to reach our goal of eradicating this inhumane custom, but by no means the end of the line. It has relieved NYOF of the responsibility of educating the girls after we have liberated them, and as a result, we can use your donations to eradicate the bonding practice itself sooner than we had anticipated. Let me explain.
The government appropriation cannot be used to liberate the girls or to carry out the awareness campaign against bonding that we have been conducting for almost a decade. Thus, NYOF will have to continue to support efforts to identify the parents of bonded girls and convince them not to sell their daughters, and to confront employers to persuade them to release the girls from their contracts. We will also have to provide the piglet or goat that the families receive from NYOF if they agree not to bond their daughters or bring them home from their labors. And we will still have to fund the local anti-bonding clubs, a weekly radio program where girls talk about their suffering when they were in bondage, and to present street dramas against the custom in these largely illiterate communities. Without NYOF’s support, there will not be large demonstrations by the liberated girls or lawsuits against employers who refuse to release them from their contracts.
These activities, which are critical to permanently eradicate the custom, must still be supported by NYOF and our donors. Our eradication campaign, including all the elements above, costs approximately $100 for each girl liberated.
Thousands Remain to be Rescued
Next January, during the Maghe Sakrante festival at which the bonding contracts are made, our staff will fan out across the five districts in west Nepal where indentured servitude of little girls is prevalent, to bring our awareness campaign to the towns and villages where we have not had the funds to operate previously. We hope to rescue the thousands of little girls still in the bonding process or prevent them from being contracted away.
When we began to confront this cruel custom in 2000, there was no opposition to bonding away children. Fathers could hardly wait for their daughters to turn seven so that they could be sold for labor. The bus park every January was filled with weeping little girls about to be parted from their families for the first time and to go off they knew not where. Today,the practice is on its last legs in the Dang District, where we have been working since 2000, and it is on its way out in Bardiya, where we brought our campaign a couple of years ago.
But there remain thousands of girls who are the victims of this custom, so there is much left to do. We have an unprecedented window of opportunity to bring the bonding practice to an end. Now we ask your continued help in finally closing this sad chapter in Nepal’s history.
We are deeply grateful for your support. Please give as generously as you can, so that we can continue to help kids in Nepal to uncover and develop their full potential. We have a proven track record in making the most of your donations – you can do more good with a dollar in Nepal than almost anywhere else, and we spend a very small percentage of donations on administration (as evidenced by our four-star rating from Charity Navigator). We hope you will help us in our efforts to make a difference in these children’s lives.
Please let us know your thoughts by providing feedback in our comments section! Also, please tell your friends, family and colleagues about NYOF’s accomplishments!
We are deeply proud of the successes and accomplishments of the girls we have liberated from bonded servitude. Some of the girls who we saved from indentured labor at the age of 16 or 17 have never been to school. It would be too uncomfortable for them to be in a class with first and second graders, so we place them in an intensive literacy course for nine months and then train them for a job – preferably one which will allow them to start a business of their own.
Early on, we created a sewing program for these older girls. The success of this program is guaranteed because they make school uniforms for the thousands of girls we have liberated and now support in school. (The Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation (NYOF) pays the education expenses of former bonded girls, including two sets of school uniforms a year.) So there is no shortage of work for them. Better still, many of the girls we have trained have left the program and started their own sewing businesses in nearby villages.
We have also trained formerly indentured girls to run small shops, repair bicycles, etc. Many of the girls are remarkably entrepreneurial and have started their own businesses to generate income. One successful program sponsored by NYOF is a henna-growing project. The Dang District, where thousands of the liberated girls live, is ideal for growing henna, a profitable crop in Asia. (It is used by both men and women to give a reddish tinge to black hair and to paint designs on the hands and feet for special occasions.) Some of the liberated girls have formed a co-op to grow henna, have purchased machinery to process it, and are making a profit. We plan to increase the number of such projects.
Higher education is not the same stepping stone to job opportunities in Nepal that it is in most Western countries; even people with advanced university degrees have difficulty finding work. Our limited funding is sometimes better spent on providing more children with elementary and high school educations and on efforts targeted at eventual employment and self-sufficiency.
The unemployment rate in Nepal hovers around 50%. Thus, for many youngsters, guidance and training in a specific career path is far more helpful than years of higher education. We offer counseling to explore their strengths and interests, and then support them in training for 20 different careers, such as electrician, lab technician, cook, or midwife. These jobs often pay better than the office jobs many college graduates hold out for.
Our vocational programs actively encourage women to pursue careers that in Nepal are traditionally restricted to men. At a technical training school in Kathmandu, NYOF sponsors the only female in the plumbing course. Once she’s employed as a plumber, she hopes to serve as an example to others that women should not feel that certain careers are off-limits.
The vocational training staff makes an effort to maintain personal relationships with students in the training programs. Many of them are orphans or have no family support – an important advantage in getting a job in Nepal. We teach them general life skills such as compromise and negotiation, as well as specific skills to help them search for employment. After the training is completed, staff members guide them through the process of searching for jobs – which can be extremely daunting given the high unemployment rate – and facilitate interviews with potential employers.
A number of our vocational trainees who have found decent paying jobs are attending college on their own nickel. One of these is Bashudev Basnet. His father died when he was very young, and his mother earned a living by operating a small tea stall at the bus park in Kathmandu. We supported the education of Bashudev and his brother. After he finished high school and passed his college entrance exams, he enrolled in our vocational program as a cook and he found employment at a fairly snazzy restaurant on the fanciest street in Kathmandu. He was such a good worker that after only a month on the job he got a raise. He has enrolled in college in the morning and then goes to work on the day and evening shift. Not only that, he is now able to support his mother.
We are deeply grateful to you for standing with us. Please give as generously as you can, so that we can continue to help kids in Nepal to uncover and develop their full potential. We have a proven track record in making the most of your donations – you can do more good with a dollar in Nepal than almost anywhere else, and we spend a very small percentage of donations on administration (as evidenced by our four-star rating from Charity Navigator). We hope you will help us in our efforts to make a difference in these children’s lives.
P.S. Watch a video about Ramchandra, a student whose life was transformed by NYOF and who has a truly inspirational outlook, at http://www.nyof.org/newsroom/video.html#ram
Although the government of Nepal is undergoing more tumultuous changes, including a new Prime Minister, NYOF’s programs in Nepal are continuing to transform the lives of impoverished children and provide them with unimagined opportunities.
NYOF’s Indentured Daughters Program rescues girls from bonded servitude, sponsors their education, and provides each family with a piglet or goat to compensate for the income they would have gained from selling their daughter. We first introduced this program in the Dang district of Nepal in 2000, and we have virtually eliminated the bonding practice there. When we brought our program to Dang, fathers would boast about the number of daughters they had bonded away, local politicians would arrange labor contracts as favors to their constituents, the streets were filled with labor contractors coming to buy the girls’ services, and the bus park with frightened, weeping little girls about to be sent off they knew not where.
Today, nine years later, although a few girls are still bonded away in Dang, the arrangements are made between the fathers of the girls and the labor contractors on the sly and the family is looked down upon in the community. Thousands of liberated girls marched in a parade last January to celebrate their freedom, and at the rally that ended the parade, the Chief District Officer of Dang (similar to a Governor) declared Dang a zone free of bonded labor. For the first time ever in Nepal, the local police arrested the few labor contractors who dared to come to the district to make bonding arrangements. (The practice has been ruled illegal by the Nepali Supreme Court in a suit brought by NYOF.)
We recently visited the nearby Kailali district where the bonding custom is still prevalent because NYOF has not been able to start its abolition program yet. There, every January when the selling of girls takes place, men in leather jackets wearing dark glasses and sporting cell phones ride through the village streets on their motorcycles to buy child servants. One, a journalist, was there to renew the contract of a 16 year old. Another, who had engaged the services of a 10 year old in his home the previous year, also wanted to renew the contract and in addition, to buy another girl to work in his second home. The father refused an offer of $80 for a year of his daughter’s services, and the buyer went elsewhere to make his deal. As we discovered later, the father had already reached an agreement with another buyer for $95 for the year, half of it up front. (A price considerably higher than average.) All through these negotiations, Kausi, their daughter, sat silently and sadly on the bench in front of their hut, one parent on each side, as the adults haggled over the price of her future.
A couple of years ago, we extended our program to the Bardiya district, where it has been very successful - we have rescued about 1000 girls to date. With your support, we will soon eliminate the bonding tradition from Bardiya, and within a few years, from all of Nepal. Thank you for supporting some of the most disadvantaged children in Nepal.
Please let us know your thoughts about this project by providing feedback in our comments section!
Sumitra – who sold herself into slavery for an education
Most of you know about our Indentured Daughters Program, which liberates girls (some as young as five) from bonded labor. These little girls are sold by their parents to a labor contractor (for an average of $50 a year), who places them with families in far-off cities as domestic servants. Many suffer terrible abuses – beatings, back-breaking labor, sexual abuse.
A few months ago, our staff working in the area conducted in-depth interviews with some of the girls we have liberated. I was appalled at the things we learned. Here is just one of many stories: Get out your hanky.
Bonded at age five
Sumitra (not her real name) was sold by her parents when she was just five years old to work for a family in another district, and her younger sister was bonded to the same family a couple of years later. The girls were physically and verbally abused by the entire family. They slept on the floor on a rush mat, with only a thin sheet as a blanket, even during the coldest season. They were fed scraps of food and suffered constant contempt from the family they worked for because they were considered to be of a lower caste. The children tolerated the situation for seven long years until they could bear it no longer, and decided to run away, back home to their parents.
Their parents were not very pleased at their daughters’ return, for they were fearful that the employer would demand they give back the money they had already received as payment for the girls’ labor for a year. Nevertheless, they were allowed to live at home for a while.
Then Sumitra’s parents sold her again, this time to a joint family, consisting of a couple, their married children, and their spouses. The wife beat Sumitra mercilessly, and when the husband tried to intervene, the wife became jealous and the beatings became even more brutal. The adult children began to tease her and call her their stepmother, and the villagers picked up on the taunt. Although it is illegal to have more than one wife in Nepal, in rural areas it is not uncommon for a man to marry two or even three women, often much younger than the first wife. So the ridicule contained an implied threat that she would indeed be married off to the father, a man in his 60s. After suffering under these conditions for a few years, she again ran back home.
This time, her parents not only refused to send her to school, but wanted to arrange a marriage for her so that they could be relieved of the burden of supporting her.
Sumitra is an exceptional girl. Her desire for an education is the central goal of her life. She bravely resisted her parents’ attempt to marry her off (she was only 13 or 14 years old), and, instead, decided on a bold move which would relieve her parents of the burden of supporting her and at the same time fulfill her intense desire to go to school: she offered to work without wages for an employer who would enroll her in school. A family came forward that accepted the offer, and she went off to work for them. However, they did not keep their promise. They refused to enroll her in school, but she finished her work as quickly as she could and sat in on classes at the local school.
As it happened, the family lived in the Dang District, the area where NYOF has been working since 2000 to eradicate the bonding custom. One day, Sumitra met a group of girls who had been previously liberated from bonded labor by NYOF. She told them her story, and they knew just what to do. Our office was nearby, and they marched over and told Man Bahadur, our manager of the Indentured Daughters Program, about Sumitra.
Man Bahadur spoke with Sumitra, who said she wanted to go home. Throughout their conversation, she burst into tears whenever she talked about her past. He then went to the employer’s house and gave him a choice: He could either release Sumitra from her labors on the spot, or Man Bahadur would call the police. The bonding practice is illegal in Nepal, but persists because of poverty and local custom, so that was a real threat. We have an excellent relationship with the local authorities, who have pledged to assist us in our liberation efforts. Of course, the employer chose the first alternative.
A happy ending
Man Bahadur and some volunteers returned with Sumitra to her home in the Bardiya District. Her mother was not too pleased about her return because, she said, they did not have enough to eat even without Sumitra’s presence in the family. But our staff spoke with her at length and convinced her that she was damaging her daughters by bonding them away. The family received a baby goat to make up for her lost wages, and they signed with a fingerprint an agreement to keep Sumitra at home and in school.
NYOF will support her education through high school, and the NYOF staff continues to monitor her situation. Last year, NYOF extended its liberation program to the Bardiya District, and Sumitra is one of the most active and committed of the returned girls who are helping us to eradicate the bonding custom in Bardiya. She acts in street plays to bring awareness to other girls and their families about the dangers of selling children into servitude.
Project Reports on GlobalGiving are posted directly to globalgiving.org by Project Leaders as they are completed, generally every 3-4 months. To protect the integrity of these documents, GlobalGiving does not alter them; therefore you may find some language or formatting issues.
If you donate to this project or have donated to this project, you will get an e-mail when this project posts a report. You can also subscribe for reports via e-mail without donating or by subscribing to this project's RSS feed.