Over 30,000 Nepalis still in forced labour, statistics bureau report says

  • Largest portion—44 percent—are in agriculture and forestry sectors
- PRITHVI MAN SHRESTHA, Kathmandu

Apr 28, 2019-

A total of 31,338 individuals are in forced labour in Nepal, according to the Labour Force Survey 2017-18 unveiled by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The assessment of forced labour in the country was done in line with the Convention 29 of the International Labour Organisation, a United Nations body,  which has suggested the guidelines regarding the measurement of the forced labour.

According to the International Labour Organization, forced labour refers to situations in which persons are coerced to work through the use of violence or intimidation, or by more subtle means such as accumulated debt, retention of identity papers or threats of denunciation to immigration authorities.

People are in forced labour, according to the survey, for—on an average—2.6 years out of the five years. Of the total people in forced labour, 56 percent are male and 17 percent are children.

As per the labour organisation guideline, a person is classified as being in forced labour if engaged during a specified reference period in any work that is both under the threat of menace of penalty and involuntary. Both conditions must exist for this to be satisfactorily regarded as forced labour.

The statistics bureau said it is the first time that it has conducted the survey on forced labour and Nepal is one of the first countries in the world to do so in the  national survey.

In the last five years, 61,252 individuals were found to be in forced labour in different times, according to the survey. Of the total prevalence of forced labour in the country, largest portion (44 percent) was seen in the agriculture and forestry sector followed by the construction sector (16 percent).

“Forced labour was exercised in these two sectors basically by withholding the wages the workers were entitled to,” according to Suman Raj Aryal, director general of the Central Bureau of Statistics. “The highest prevalence of forced labour is in agriculture as the largest number of workforce is engaged in this sector.”

According to the Labour Force Survey, the agriculture sector provides employment to 21.5 percent of the total labour force.

“As both agriculture and construction sectors are highly informal, chances of forced labour are high because there is no system to check such practices,” said Aryal.

Haliya, Kamlari and Kamaiyas were the systemic traditions of forced labour in Nepal in the recent past and these systems were basically prevalent in far-western Nepal. These practices had prevailed as part of making payment for debts taken from their creditors.

In July 2000, the government had announced the abolition of Kamaiya system, a practice of maintaining bonded labour while a similar practice of Haliya was abolished in September 2008. Kamlari system, under which young girls used to be engaged in forced labour, was declared illegal in June 2013.

According to the survey, there is a significant portion of forced child labour in the country. Most of the children who stayed with their parents at the workplace have been found to be engaged in forced labour, according to Aryal.  

Officials unveil the Labour Force Survey 2017-18, a project carried out by the Central Bureau of Statistics.Post Photo: AASHRUTI TRIPATHY

A significant portion of people who said they were pushed into forced labour were exploited abroad, according to the survey.

The report says 29 percent of total individuals who were put into forced labour were exploited outside Nepal.  

“These are people going for foreign employment and they were engaged in forced labour,” said Aryal.

During the survey, respondents were asked questions such as whether they were forced to work in exchange for debt, land, shelter or any other benefit and what the interest rate was if the loan was borrowed. They were also asked whether anybody threatened any family member to force them to work and whether there were consequences for refusing to work.  But, forced labour continues to exist in different forms, according to Aryal.

Filter questions related to the recruitment process, condition of works and freedom to terminate employment, were asked to identify whether respondents were at risk of forced labour in the last five years.

The most prevalent means of coercion to exact forced labour from workers are related to financial penalties such as fear of losing salaries or wages due and the fear of losing land or shelter, according to the survey.

“Most of those who are in forced labour in the agriculture sector,” said Aryal, “face problems related to land settlement.”

Published: 28-04-2019 09:36

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