Sold into slavery: Urmila’s fight for justice in Nepal

At the fragile age of 6, Urmila’s life changed forever. She was sold into domestic slavery, forcing her out of school and robbing her of her youth. Urmila spent the next 12 years as a domestic slave in Nepal’s kamalari slave system. It began when her parents traded their daughter to pay off debt. They thought she would get the chance to study, but instead, Urmila was forced to perform endless chores, every day, for years.

Kamalari is a bonded labour system that sees girls as young as 6 working as maids in wealthy homes in Nepal. Too often, the girls are far from home, isolated and vulnerable to physical violence and sexual abuse.

Fighting for justice and girls’ education

Take a look at Urmila’s life in photos:

  • Urmila's employers paid her father $53 and promised they would send her to school. Instead, Urmila was mistreated, abused and never received the education she was promised.

    Urmila's employers paid her father $53 and promised they would send her to school. Instead, Urmila was mistreated, abused and never received the education she was promised.

  • Plan Nepal started the Kamalari Abolition Project in 2006 to rescue and rehabilitate girls like Urmila. So far, nearly 1,800 girls have been helped.

    Plan Nepal started the Kamalari Abolition Project in 2006 to rescue and rehabilitate girls like Urmila. So far, nearly 1,800 girls have been helped.

  • Urmila leads a support session held for former kamalari girls in Nepal. The group rescues girls still living as kamalari slaves and helps send them to school.

    Urmila leads a support session held for former kamalari girls in Nepal. The group rescues girls still living as kamalari slaves and helps send them to school.

  • Urmila poses with a young girl who was rescued by the Plan-supported project that helps rehabilitate kamalari slaves in Nepal.

    Urmila poses with a young girl who was rescued by the Plan-supported project that helps rehabilitate kamalari slaves in Nepal.

  • With the support of Plan, Urmila fled the kamalari slave system and was able to go back to school and receive an education.

    With the support of Plan, Urmila fled the kamalari slave system and was able to go back to school and receive an education.

  • Urmila shared her story with thousands at the global launch of the Because I am a Girl initiative  on the first International Day of the Girl.

    Urmila shared her story with thousands at the global launch of the Because I am a Girl initiative on the first International Day of the Girl.

  • On June 2, 2013 Urmila was injured during a three-day sit-in where she was calling on the Nepalese government to investigate injustices caused as a result of the kamalari slave system.

    On June 2, 2013 Urmila was injured during a three-day sit-in where she was calling on the Nepalese government to investigate injustices caused as a result of the kamalari slave system.

  • While recovering from her injuries, Urmila showed her support for Malala and her global fight for girls' education.

    While recovering from her injuries, Urmila showed her support for Malala and her global fight for girls' education.

  • Urmila raises her hand in support of girls' education!

    Urmila raises her hand in support of girls' education!

  • Urmila's relentless support for girls' rights helped the Nepalese government take steps towards abolishing the kamalari slave system.

    Urmila's relentless support for girls' rights helped the Nepalese government take steps towards abolishing the kamalari slave system.

After years of exploitation, Urmila was freed and began leading the fight to abolish Nepal’s illegal kamalari slave system. She teamed up with Plan’s Kamalari Abolition Project to help rescue and protect girls, just like her.

Although the kamalari practice is prohibited under Nepal’s legal framework, the law has been largely ignored and ineffective when protecting girls who fall into slavery. That is, until now.

Breaking news: Nepal moves to abolish kamalari slave system

In late July, Nepal’s government formally announced the abolition of the harmful kamalari practice. Plan welcomed the news and urged the government to follow through with legal action against those who continue to hire girls as child servants.

“This is a significant step in the right direction and it could not come at a better time,” says Donal Keane, Plan’s Country Director in Nepal.

“What we are seeing now is a direct result of the tireless campaigning of young women, like Urmila, who have taken a stand against a practice that exploits thousands of Nepal’s girls and often denies them their right to an education,” adds Keane.

A passionate advocate for change

Urmila, 22, has lived a life filled with unexpected injustices that have tested her courage. Most recently she was hospitalized after being knocked unconscious during a scuffle at an anti-kamalari demonstration in Kathmandu, Nepal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybPT454R9FA. Urmila has since recovered from the incident.

But her courage has not gone unnoticed. Urmila was recently given a Youth Courage Award for Education by the UN Special Envoy for Global Education, Gordon Brown. And today, major steps have been made to finally abolish the kamalari slave system in Nepal. A big step in the right direction, thanks to advocates like Urmila.

“We never imagined that we would hear such a great declaration from the highest level of the Nepali government,” says Urmila. “This is the outcome of about a decade’s worth of efforts that have made us all very happy.”

You can show your support for Urmila and raise your hand for girls’ education today!

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