Breaking free from a life as a Kamalari slave

Reading Time: 4 minutes
Reading Time: 4 minutes

Young girls never dream of becoming slaves, but for thousands of Nepalese girls, slavery is thrust upon them. Girls and women of the indigenous Tharu community have been the victims of the Kamalari slave system for generations.

Faced with poverty, parents sell their daughters – some as young as 5 years old – to wealthier families or landowners in the hopes of settling a debt or to generate income.

As Kamalaris, girls are taken from their homes, and often forced to live and work in poor conditions, subjected to abuse and denied their right to education. Plan has been working with local partners to eliminate this practice and support the liberation, and education, of existing Kamalaris – freeing approximately 4,000 girls in the last few years.

[SEE ALSO: Real Cinderellas: Trafficked into domestic slavery]

In collaboration with award-winning Finnish photographer, Meeri Koutaniemi, Plan International gives former Kamalaris a voice and face in this powerful photo series titled, Free to Dream.

Kabita, 17 – Kamalari from age 10 to 12


“I couldn’t keep in touch with my family or go to school. I felt as if I was alone in the world.” – Kabita, 17, was a Kamalari from age 10 to 12. She has returned to school and dreams of becoming a dance teacher. “I love to dance. My dream is to one day perform for a large audience.”

Nirmala, 18 – Kamalari form age 7 to 13


“I have confidence that drives me forward, and I want to talk about what I’ve experienced.” – Nirmala, 18, was a Kamalari from age 7 to 13. With Plan’s support, Nirmala hosted a local radio show, where she discussed the campaign to abolish the Kamalari system. After her program aired, hundreds of Kamalaris were freed!

[SEE ALSO: Breaking the cycle of slavery: 3 generations of Kamalari women]

Rejika, 19 – Kamalari from age 11 to 14


“My happiest moment was getting back my freedom.” – Rejika, 19, was a Kamalari from age 11 to 14. As a Kamalari, Rejika’s education suffered so when she was freed, she wasn’t able to pass her high school examinations. But, she’s not deterred. “One of my best qualities is my perseverance: I’m going to keep trying until I succeed. I will become a teacher who treats children well.”

Subas Rani, 20 – Kamalari from age 16 to 17

Subas Rani

“There is a lot of sadness left inside of me from my time as a Kamalari. However, I do have a lot of self-confidence. I want to do and achieve great things in my life because that way I will also be able to help others.” – Subas Rani, 20, was a Kamalari from age 16 to 17. Through a Plan-supported photography workshop, Subas Rani wants to use her photography skills to help raise awareness and rescue other Kamalari girls.

Sunita, 20 – Kamalari from age 8 to 9


“People should be given more information on Kamalaris. There should be a television program to remind the public that hundreds of girls are still working as Kamalaris.” – Sunita, 20, was a Kamalari from age 8 to 9. When the government of Nepal official outlawed the Kamalari system, Sunita and her family were freed from their debt.

Anita, 18 – Kamalari from age 14 to 17


“I was depressed because I didn’t have any joy or freedom. That’s what bonded labour is like. Now that I’m back with my family, I have love in my life and can dream again.” – Anita, 18, was a Kamalari from age 14 to 17. Anita dreams of becoming a doctor or nurse so she can help others in her community. 

[SEE ALSO: Sold into slavery: Urmila’s fight for justice in Nepal]

A brighter future for girls

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