Bonded and forced labour is widely regarded in Nepal as a product of a feudal system that deprived people of their freedom, safety, security and human dignity. This system was reinforced and institutionalized during the 18th and 19th centuries by a regime based on agricultural production that left workers tied to landlords and subject to mortgage in the same manner as land and other property. Those affected by the survival of these systems include marginalized and excluded groups such as Indigenous Peoples, Dalits, migrants, women and children.

Bonded and forced labour is a gross violation of human rights, as provided for in numerous international norms and standards. Trafficking in persons has been defined in the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons, especially Women and Children, and the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (also known as the Palermo Protocol). Nepal has ratified all of the conventions on the rights of workers, including the ILO conventions on forced labour (Nos. 29 and 105), minimum working age (No. 138), worst forms of child labour (No. 182), indigenous and tribal peoples (No. 169), the UN Convention against Slavery, and the UDHR. It has also ratified the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution.

Bonded and forced labourers are a diverse group of people, necessitating separate discussions of their current status.

Kamaiya (‘hard worker’ in Tharu) is a customary practice among the Tharu people, especially in the Tarai of the West, Mid-West and Far-West.

Haruwa/charuwa (‘tiller and cattle herder’) evolved in a state regime under Indian control and was practiced among Madhesi people in Nepal’s Eastern and Central Tarai districts. The haruwa/charuwa labourer is compelled to work for little or no remuneration as a tiller and in other farm activities. Some of these contracts compel the wife and children of haruwa/charuwa to work for the landowner.

Table 5.5: Estimates of the size of various bonded and forded labourer groups





Former Kamaiya








27,000a rehabilitated

Found in five Far Western districts: Doti, Dadeldhura, Baitadi, Achham and Bajura

Found in seven Tarai districts: Sunsari, Saptari, Siraha, Dhanusa, Sarlahi, Rautahat and Bara

Brick kilns n/a Plan Nepal and World Education are conducting rapid assessment
Embroidery n/a Mostly children
Domestic Child Labour n/a Number of children(not household)

Source:MOLRM 2010; ILO 2010; ILO 2003

Haliya (‘agriculture labourer’) are bonded to their landlords both by custom and by debts that they are unable to repay over years, sometimes over generations. The system is common in the Far Western Hill districts and 95 percent of haliya are Hill Dalits. The major difference between haliya and haruwa is that the head of a haliya household works but his family members, unlike those of haruwa/charuwa, are usually not in bondage.

There are other forms of forced or bonded labour in practice, including trafficking and child and domestic workers. Trafficking encompasses the recruitment, movement, receipt or harbouring of a person by means of coercion and deception for the purpose of exploitation, including forced labour. Child labour and child domestic workers are closely related to forced or bonded labourers, usually coming from indigenous groups such as Tharu, Tamang and Bote. Many of these children work for very low or no wages and are denied educational opportunities.

Lack of local economic and employment opportunities is one of the key reasons forced or bonded labourers are unable to escape this predicament. It is mainly the absence of local economic and employment opportunities that binds a forced or bonded worker to repayment of a loan, perhaps incurred by his father or forefathers, compounded with an exceptionally high interest rate.

The government has ratified the key international conventions prohibiting the exploitation of labour and protecting the rights of workers. The Interim Constitution has institutionalized these rights and protections. Many acts have also been introduced to regulate bonded and forced labour, child labour and trafficking: the Foreign Employment Act 1985, the Labour Act 1991, the Children’s Act 1991, the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act 1999, the Kamaiya Labour (Prohibition) Act 2001, and the Human Trafficking and Transportation (Control) Act 2007. The CPA and the Three-Year Interim Plan include programmes on the social and economic empowerment of kamaiya, haliya and haruwa/charuwa.

The government and ILO have entered into an understanding on introducing policies aimed at the worst forms of child labour, with the Master Plan on Child Labour created in 2010. The government has developed a National Plan of Action against Trafficking in Children and Women, which is currently under review in collaboration with UN and other international development partners.