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Breaking the cycle of slavery: 3 generations of Kamalari women

A woman, draped in a blue pashmina, sits on her bed with a white curtain in the background

Lila, now 22, hopes to prevent the illegal trade of Nepalese women in the Kamalari system of slavery.

Young girls never dream of becoming slaves, but for those growing up in the poverty of southwest Nepal there is usually little other possibility. Lila was just 14 when she was forced to follow in the footsteps of her mother and grandmother, becoming a young Kamalari slave. Sold as a house servant for another family, she left home to support her family’s struggling farming business, helping them sustain a sufficient income of their own. This was Lila’s reality, but it was never her dream.

55% of Nepal's people live on less than $1.25 per day, resulting in many poverty-stricken families seeking other— in this case illegal, and tragic — means of income to survive. Due to the cycle of poverty, these financially-stressed families often feel they have little other choice than to sell-off their young girls; as such, participation in the slave-trade – which denies young girls the joys of childhood and the protection of a safe, supportive household -- becomes a rooted family tradition. Room and board are provided for Kamalari girls within their workplace, leaving less financial strain on the girls’ families. And though pay is minimal, all the earnings of Kamalari women are given directly to their fathers.

A childhood of labour alone
A woman in an orange and purple flowered dress stands in front of her hut

Once a Kamalari, Lila’s mother, Aangani, now has education and training she can use to support her family and community.

Unfortunately, Lila’s experience with the Kamalari trade is not unique to her or her family. As of 2013, Plan estimated that 10,000 to 12,000 Nepalese girls – some as young as five years of age – were sold into the system by their desperate families. At a young age, these girls are left deserted and vulnerable as they work away from home; their rights and safety threatened by stressful labour conditions.

"As a Kamalari I had to work hard all day," explains Lila. Despite all her hard work, she earned a mere 500 Nepalese rupees each year — the current equivalent of less than $10 Canadian. But Lila lost out on so much more. "I had no time for school or to read," she recalls, but fortunately, things have changed.

A new, hopeful chapter

Thanks to Plan’s support, Lila was able to leave the Kamalari system after 3 years. She was able to return to school in order to complete her education and empower herself through knowledge and training.

"I feel good," she says, addressing her new outlook on life and the importance of maintaining a healthy and safe lifestyle. "If I have children later, I'm going to do it differently."

An elderly woman wearing glasses and an orange and blue shirt laughs, while gazing into distance

With a new life for her and her family, Lila’s grandmother, Fulrami, has much to smile about.

Lila's transition out of the cycle of slavery marks a new chapter in both her and her family's life. Her mother, Aangani, has also gained valuable skills and opportunities through Plan: she, along with a group of other locals, received training for increasing farming production and starting businesses through the assistance of small loans.

As the first of her family to escape the Kamalari system, Lila vows to permanently end the tradition and prevent the suffering of future generations.

"My grandmother was a Kamalari, my mother was a Kamalari, I was a Kamalari, but I will not let my children work in this way!"

By supporting Plan initiatives you will be helping girls like Lila gain access to the education and training they need to safely and sustainably secure income. You have the power to help girls in developing countries pull themselves, and their families, out of poverty, securing a better life.

Help create a world where all girls’ dreams are not only possible, but attainable.