The government should take the predicament of the bonded labourers seriously and provide them with land and also landownership certificates which most of them lack
As per the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS), in 2008, 12 per cent of the total labour force were forced and bonded labourers showing the grave nature of the problem despite attempts to eradicate them, which have not proved to be effective. According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), there are about 21 million forced labourers worldwide among which 5.5 million are children, 11.55 million are males and 9.45 million females. The ILO has been fighting to halt this inhumane practice since 1930. In Nepal most of the forced and bonded labourers are engaged in farm and domestic work, manufacturing and other such sectors. Therefore, there is an urgent need to halt this unhealthy practice. No doubt, this is not an easy task. The concerned stakeholders emphasise land ownership and imparting entrepreneurial skills for the forced and bonded labourers so that it can create a decent working environment for them.
Some examples for the types of exploitation are abuse of child labour in brick kilns, transport and manufacturing sectors and sexual exploitation of women. It is high time the government intervened in these sectors. A start could be made by ratifying the ILO convention on forced labour thereby leading to the formation of such legal provisions in Nepal. The launching of various programmes to realise the aim to eliminate forced and bonded labourers in the domestic, farming and industrial sectors has not proved to be successful. This can be attributed to the lack of effective implementation of the government’s livelihood support programmes. Effective coordination is necessary for the programmes to succeed in ending this inhumane practice and uplifting the living standard of the bonded labourers with the intention of eventually rehabilitating them in the mainstream society.
The ILO has a project called ‘The Bridge Project’ which aims to end forced and bonded labour practices, and human trafficking by raising awareness and also by livelihood support programmes. The ILO is working jointly on this project with the Ministry of Land Reform and Management and the Ministry of Labour and Employment and Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, employees’ organizations and also the various agencies providing security. Those given the responsibility to conduct livelihood support programmes have failed miserably in the past. A few years ago one such programme launched by the MoLRM to build houses for the bonded farm labourers could not work out as the Ministry of Forests and Soil Conservation had yet to expedite the process of providing wood that would be needed to construct the houses. An umbrella act has also been mooted in order to protect as well as provide livelihood enhancement support for the forced and bonded labourers. Many bonded labourers due to lack of accommodation are suffering and living in makeshift shelters in appalling conditions. The government should take the predicament of the bonded labourers seriously and provide them with land and also landownership certificates which most of them lack. This should be done to help bring a complete halt to the various injustices they are suffering from.
It is been our deep-rooted habit not to do anything about any problem that is brewing unless it becomes too big to handle or it has done considerable damage. Now it is the question of the squatters in the Thapathali area. The government has started collecting data on them to identify real squatters so that they could be moved into government-built apartments in Ichangunarayan. According to officials, if this model succeeds, it will be replicated in relocating other squatters in the Kathmandu Valley as well. Six multi-story buildings were constructed more than six months ago for this purpose.
It is good that government should feel a sense of responsibility towards real homeless people and do what is appropriate and realistic to help them get a shelter. Most of the squatters in the country have occupied public land, even riverbanks, also contributing to pollution. Regarding whether such squatters should be given free shelter forever, it would be lasting in the long term to charge them something reasonable per month for services they receive. It would make replication of such a model more likely too.
A version of this article appears in print on February 15, 2017 of The Himalayan Times.