Bonded Labour in Nepal: Life and Work of Children in Communities

Giri, Birendra Raj (2010). Bonded Labour in Nepal: Life and Work of Children in Communities. PhD thesis The Open University.



This dissertation focuses on the lives of Nepali children working under haliya and kamaiya systems. The former refers to people from various castes and ethnicities, including Musahar, predominately found in the far-western hill region of Nepal, who work as 'temporary' agricultural labourers for kisan (small landowners) to meet their daily needs, and also, often, to pay their debts. The latter exclusively implies ethnic Tharu families from the western Tarai districts, who have been tied to their kisan for generations. The United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery calls those people bonded labourers.

Although detailed research is almost non-existent, especially concerning haliya practices, advocacy groups and the International Labour Organisation argue that bonded labour has continued even after the government banned it in 2000. Children in particular have increasingly taken on the activities previously carried out by their parents. This study was carried out in the pseudonymous Bayibab and Nayajib settlements of Morang and Bardiya districts, respectively, exploring Musahar/Tharu children's bondedness at work, including their motives and rationale for entering into bonded labour, the ways in which they understand it and its significance in the context of their lives. I conducted a series of semi-structured interviews and group discussions with 58 haliya/kamaiya children (ages ranging from 8 to 16 years), applying 'child-friendly' research techniques in order to uncover their everyday life-worlds from their own perspectives. My interviews with, and observations of, working children, parents, and kisan also provided a rich source of ethnographic data concerning bonded child labour.

This research shows the complexity in Musahar/Tharu children's constructions of haliya/kamaiya systems. It includes their assessment of their own health and well-being and their current and future prospects while being engaged in bonded child labour.

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