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Copyright (c) 1995 Columbia Human Rights Law Review 
Columbia Human Rights Law Review

ARTICLE: Kamaiya: Bonded Labor in Western Nepal

Fall, 1995

27 Colum. Human Rights L. Rev. 123


by Sherab Posel*


I. Introduction

Forced labor is a poisonous weed, too hardy for most pesticides. Legal prohibition is practically universal, yet forced labor is found in many places. It is condemned by almost every type of law--constitutional, treaties, statutes, common and civil law and religious precepts--and still it continues to defy extinction. 1

How can rules of law, alone or supported by other social and political programs, deal with an acknowledged social wrong and human rights problem that refuses to disappear?

This Article analyzes the shortcomings and potentials of development programs for dealing with the slavery-like economic and social practices found in the Tharu tribal group in Western Nepal. It attempts to articulate an integrated legal and social approach for advancing human rights in that context.

Using both published and unpublished sources, this Article will first identify the kamaiya (bonded laborers, composed almost exclusively of members of the Tharu people), trace the historical origins of the bonded labor system, and discuss earlier social and legal programs that failed to eradicate it. Next, it will explore in some detail the Nepalese and international legal and human rights resources currently available to combat bonded labor. Then, using anti-bonded labor programs and legal regimes elsewhere in South Asia as points of reference, the Article will outline the legal and social support program the author helped develop to capitalize on these domestic and international resources, along with the social, political and economic impediments to its implementation. 2 Finally, the Article will offer ...
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