For generations, ethnic Tharu girls in Nepal, some as young as 6 years old, have been indentured as servants to wealthy households in a system known as ‘kamlari’. With crushing poverty among the Tharu, families gave their daughters to this work as a way to increase family income.
Since 2000, charities such as the Nepal Youth Foundation (NPY) have organised campaigns to rescue girls committed to indentured servitude. Charity groups have spoken with families and persuaded parents that giving their daughters an education is more likely to provide opportunities which improve the family’s income in the future. Former servant girls have also been raising awareness about the evils of the practice by staging dramas and marches. With such activism and the backing of new laws, NPY estimates there are currently around 1,000 Tharu girls still working in remote villages or for wealthy families, compared to 14,000 ten years ago.
However, IRIN reports that funding meant to support former indentured girls in their education has not been dispensed. The Nepalese government has a budget of over 2 million dollars this year for the education and vocational training of freed kamlari girls. But activists say most of this funding has not yet been issued. 11,000 kamlari girls rescued from servitude are meant to receive a monthly payment of 20 dollars towards school fees. However, families of the girls (aged 6-19) say they are not seeing the benefit of any funds, which should be received by the school administration departments of the local district offices. Money allocated in previous years has also been frozen and non-governmental agencies fear many girls will be forced to leave school and return to servitude. One young woman said that many of her friends were planning on resuming their life as Kamlaris because their families could not afford to keep them in school. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Education said that the government would look into the issue.
Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) has this week launched a moving film about the struggle faced by many girls to receive an education in the developing world. ‘To Educate a Girl’ was produced in conjunction with the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI) and includes the story of Manisha, a teenager in Nepal. Manisha works in the fields in order to earn enough money for her three younger sisters to attend school. Manisha’s sisters are the lucky ones. The film documents how common it is for girls to miss out on an education in developing countries, though this would allow millions of youngsters the chance to build a better life for themselves and their families. There is growing evidence that educating girls not only promotes equality but also improves the productivity of a society. Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah, who introduces the film, reveals the secret weapon to moving millions of people from poverty – “it’s educating girls”.