In many developing countries, including Nepal, forced labour has disfigured the face of humanity. The extent of forced labour prevalent in Nepal is yet to be determined through authentic survey. But its existence in various forms has been recognised. The poor economy and massive unemployment make people desperate for jobs. And they seem to accept jobs where even minimum wages are not paid and other working conditions are pathetic. To make matters worse, people, including children, are reported to be forced to work under humiliating conditions whereby he or she is compelled to toil against his or her will. According to the International Labour Organisation’s report 2005 titled “A Global Alliance Against Forced Labour”, there are 12.3 million people in the world who are forced into labour, out of which Asia accounts for the highest number of victims — more than 94.9 million. The report says that 9.8 million are exploited by private agents while 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking.
In the present conflict situation, the picture becomes all the more gloomy for Nepal, as people, including children, are reported to be forced by the militants to perform various kinds of work. The other side in the conflict is not entirely blameless, either. Exploitation has been taking place even when men, women and children choose to take up jobs at hazardous places such as brick kilns, factories, and construction sites. Tens of thousands of Nepali girls have been lured into India and other countries and forced to work at brothels or at other degrading jobs. Back home, the situation is hardly better. Whether it is cabin restaurants or some other places, what is important to find out is whether the labourers are working there voluntarily or against their will.
Though the government abolished the Kamaiya system in July 2000, the condition of freed Kamaiyas is far from satisfactory, thanks to the lack of a sound rehabilitation programme. Socio-economic conditions may compel labourers to put up with exploitation, but it is the duty of the law-enforcement agencies and the justice system to take effective steps against this socio-economic evil. For this, firm action will have to be taken against those who benefit from the forced labour phenomenon. There is scope for improved vigilance and effective action in this sector.