Counseling the Kamlari

Nepalese counselor Chhori Laxmi Maharjan speaks at Bradley on the issue of female enslavement in her native country.

April 26, 2013

By Steven Johnson ‘13

Chhori Laxmi Maharjan, a senior counselor and manager of Ankur Counseling Center in Kathmandu, Nepal, spoke at Bradley this month about the of enslavement of girls in Nepal. Maharjan discussed her work counseling traumatized children, especially young girls, in her native Nepal.

“I am working in Nepal to help needy children and youth. The girls, or the Kamlari, who were sold by their parents,” she said. “They were sold by their parents because of the poor economic conditions, as well as due to the cultural practices.”

The practice of Kamlari is a form of indentured servitude of young girls that arose from feudal practices in Nepal and persisted today despite being illegal. Often due to severe poverty, families sell their young daughters as slave labor for small sums to help them to survive. The Ankur Counseling Center was established to help address the trauma experienced by the children and counsel them. Years of menial labor and a wide range of cruelties can leave many of the Kamlari traumatized by the experience.

“We have about six or seven main programs in this organization. These include an introductory program, a safe house for girls and boys and an education support program that specializes in career counseling,” Maharjan said.

Dr. Christopher Rybak, a professor and chair of the department of Leadership in Education, Human Services and Counseling, introduced Maharjan before her lecture and talked about his own experiences when visiting Nepal as a Fulbright Scholar.

“In 2009, I did a semester long sabbatical in Nepal and in part of my work there, I searched for people who were knowledgeable about mental health and were good at working in the field in mental health,” he said. “One of the people that really stood out in my experience there was Chhori and her work that she had done.”

Maharjan explained how the Kamlari, girls usually ages six and older, are contracted away from their home to work as domestic maids in the valleys and plains of western Nepal. When they are sold, their parents receive about $50 a year by sending their daughter to work at a different house. Most are expected to clean and cook for hours a day in the households and can be subject to physical and mental abuse.

As a counselor in Nepal, Maharjan also talked about the different areas of Nepal who participate in the practice of Kamlari and how poverty, not cruelty, drives the decision to sell off sons and daughters as child laborers.

“Why are the girls enslaved?” she asked. “Because these families cannot feed themselves and they feel it is one less mouth to feed at home. These families are landless people and are very poor, so they do not have money to feed their own children. They feel it is their only source of income.”

Traveling to campus, Maharjan was grateful for the chance to speak about the issues she addresses in Nepal. “I give my thanks to Bradley University, and a special thanks to Dr. Christopher Rybak for providing me with this wonderful experience,” she said.