This report presents the results of a rapid assessment of child trafficking and bonded labor in the carpet industry in Nepal. This study complemented the project’s large-scale Prevalence and Conditions Study in Nepal to further our understanding of the existence and conditions of child trafficking and bonded labor. Carpet production in Nepal was highly concentrated in factories in the Kathmandu (KTM) valley, where the factory-based labor force was primarily composed of hired workers, most of whom had migrated to KTM to work in the carpet factories. For that reason, research on child trafficking in the carpet industry in Nepal concentrated on the migration of children from rural areas to work in the carpet factories in the Kathmandu (KTM) valley.
This rapid assessment had a mixed methodology design that started with households in the sending areas (source of migrants) and tracked the journey of children from there to where they worked in the carpet factories. The methods included a survey of sending and non-sending households, qualitative interviews with school teachers/principals in sending areas, focus group discussions with children in sending areas, structured interviews with and case studies of child workers in carpet factories, and interviews with labor contractors and managers of carpet factories.
Families that had a child working in a carpet factory (sending families) were predominantly ethnically Tamang, as seemed to be the case with most households in the local communities where sending families were concentrated. When sending families were compared to non- sending families (families that did not send any children to work in carpet factories) in the same communities, the sending families were larger and poorer and had other family members who had previously migrated to work in the carpet factories.
Sending families were characterized by poorer educational indicators, including low education levels among adult members, low levels of school participation and enrollment among children, and a greater age-grade delay for the children who were enrolled. Those educational differences appeared to be related with household attitudes toward work and education. Heads of household of sending families seemed to have lower expectations about education and to be more open towards child work in general and towards the positive aspects of work in the carpet industry in particular.
Children who emigrated to work in carpet factories dropped out of school before emigrating. Some of those children may have been performing poorly or were not interested in school, but most seemed to be pushed to migrate due to household poverty or family conflicts. Most children travelled during the Dashain and Tihar festival period, a time when workers and labor contractors from carpet factories who had returned to visit their hometowns were returning to KTM. Those visitors from the carpet factories may have enticed children to emigrate, either directly through promises or cash advances to the child’s parents, or indirectly by providing role models to children, who were impressed by the visitors’ apparent wealth and lifestyle.
The migration process was highly organized. Although children usually agreed to migrate, the move was usually arranged by a labor contractor, who would sometimes give an advance payment to the child’s parents. Children generally migrated to work with a labor contractor, relatives, and/or friends, travelling by bus to KTM. Once the children arrived in KTM, they typically lived and slept in the carpet factories. Some children migrated multiple times, returning to the villages for festivals and then returning to KTM.
Once they arrived at the factory, inexperienced children spent between two and three months in training, during which time they received only lodging and sometimes food as compensation. When they had learned the required weaving skills, children started being paid in cash and kind (food and lodging), in most cases receiving a fixed salary from the labor contractor. Once a child became an experienced weaver, he or she might be able to negotiate the terms of payment. That would typically mean an upgrade to being paid on a piece-rate basis, although that upgrade might happen only after the child shifted to another factory.
Most children working in the carpet factories endured poor working and living conditions, including unsanitary surroundings, low quality food, long work hours, and abuse from supervisors. Children were vulnerable to deceptive and coercive practices from factory managers and contractors. In many cases, children started in debt or became indebted to the contractor and/or factory manager and had to work for long periods of time before the debts were cancelled and the children were permitted to leave their jobs. The exploitative working conditions of those children qualified as forced or bonded labor, which meant that the organized process of transferring the children from their rural homes for the purpose of working in the carpet factories in KTM was child trafficking.