ILO launches Phase II of the Bridge Project to continue its support in addressing forced labour in Nepal

The Bridge project, supported by the United States Department of Labor (USDOL) aims to support global and national efforts to combat forced labour, promoting ratification and implementation of ILO Protocol 29 on Forced Labour.

Press release | Kathmandu, Nepal | 27 July 2023

Participants of the workshop on 26 July 2023     ©ILO
KATHMANDU, Nepal (ILO News) - On 26 July 2023, the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Nepal invited key stakeholders to discuss the joint strategy to effectively address forced labour in Nepal, on the occasion of the launch of the second phase of the ILO Project “From Protocol to Practice: A Bridge to Global Action on Forced Labour” (The Bridge Project II).

Nepal is indeed one of the countries with high risk of forced labour in the Asia-Pacific region, with both-traditional bonded labour and new forms of forced labour. Bonded labour has been traditionally imposed to different groups, in particular Kamlari, Haliya, Kamaiya, and Haruwa-Charuwa. Under this system, they were forced to work for landowners under the pretext of a debt incurred by themselves or their ancestors, which often has high interest rates and is passed on from generation to generation.  The Government of Nepal abolished bonded labour and liberated these groups, Kamaiya (2057), Haliya (2065), Kamlari (2070) and Haruwa-Charuwa (2079) and implemented a rehabilitation package. Nonetheless, many of these former bonded labourers still lack access to housing, land and livelihood opportunities, which makes them still vulnerable to return to forced labour. According to the most recent data, there are 69,738 Freed Haruwa-Charuwas, 27,570 Freed Kamaiyas, 16,953 Freed Haliyas, and 9,490 Freed Kamlaris.

In Nepal, the first phase of the project has seen significant strides, including in increasing awareness of bonded labourers about their rights, improved national policies to protect bonded labourers and more integrated data collection. "Nepal is one of the only countries in the world that have included a forced labour module in a recurrent study like a National Labour Force Survey", explained Mr Oluremi Doherty, the Bridge Project Manager.

Thanks to the project, a total of 1,115 former bonded labourers received skills training, allowing them to access decent work opportunities and even for some of them to start their own business: “After the training our daily wages have doubled, and thanks to the certificate and skills acquired, we are getting more work”, reported Ms Dipu Dholi, one of the project’s participants, who has received training in tailoring. “Livelihood training gave me the opportunity to land in the occupation that I dreamed of”, reported Mr Dambar Nepali, who is now skilled in goat keeping.  

The second phase of the project will focus on consolidating the gains made so far and will continue providing technical assistance to the government and social partners in combatting forced labour through the implementation of national policies and action plans, and intensifying efforts in data collection, research, and knowledge sharing. “We aim to support in particular the ratification of Protocol 29 and the enactment of the Integrated Forced Labour Act – two fundamental steps in eliminating forced labour in the country. So, let’s take a proactive approach and work together to create a world where forced labor is no longer tolerated or accepted”, declared André Bongestabs, Officer-in-Charge for ILO Country Office in Nepal.

Mr Prakash Adhikari, Under Secretary of the Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security (MOLESS) confirmed the willingness of the Government to ratify the ILO Protocol on Forced Labour: ”We are eager to ratify the Protocol as soon as possible, which will benefit all our citizens. In order to do this, we must have serious discussions with relevant stakeholders and prepare ourselves for implementation first. Our ultimate goal is to ensure social justice, equality and to end all discrimination. Forced labour is a cross cutting issue, to tackle it effectively, we need to have wider interventions in education, income generation and labour rights.”

“The problem of former bonded labourers in Nepal is critical. To ensure their socio-economic empowerment and their fundamental rights, to live dignified lives, the Trade Unions of Nepal must take steps to unionize them with special policies and provisions,” stressed Mr. Dhan Bahadur BK, Senior Vice President of All Nepal Federation of Trade Unions.

More than 60 participants, including government officials, employers and workers representatives, NGOs, UN agencies, donors, civil society organizations, think tanks, implementing partners, beneficiaries, and media representatives, responded to the invitation, and contributed to these rich exchanges on the issue of forced labour in Nepal.