There are an estimated three million working children in Nepal.1 Most working children in Nepal are in the agricultural sector and in the export-oriented carpet industry. The percentage of child workers in the carpet industry varies from an official estimate of 0.76 percent to a non-governmental organization estimate of 50 percent. There are also reports of children working in the garment industry, "thanka" painting, and in handicrafts, but the extent of child labor in these industries and their direct link to exports is not documented.
II. Child Labor in Export Industries
In 1992, Nepal exported approximately $17 million worth of carpets to the United States.2 In Nepal, the carpet business is classified as a tax-exempt cottage industry.3 A substantial number of children under the age of 14 work in Nepal's carpet industry.
In the beginning of 1993, the Government of Nepal inspected 23 carpet factories, estimating that nine percent of the industry's work force were children.4 Another government survey, carried out in July 1993 on 419 registered and unregistered industries in the Kathmandu Valley, found that of the 23,418 workers, 178 were children below the age of 14.5 The American Embassy in Kathmandu reported that the July 1993 survey lacked credibility as many factories refused entry to labor inspectors, while others did not fill out the forms, and still others lied about the ages of child workers. The Embassy also noted that the 1992 Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center (CWIN) study reported a figure of 50 percent child labor based on a relatively large 1992 study, as compared to the nine percent figure mentioned by the government in its first survey based on smaller sample. Furthermore, a report by the Asian-American Free Labor Institute (AAFLI) contends that the government finding of only 178 child workers was uniformly greeted with skepticism.6
AAFLI researched 17 carpet factories in Nepal, interviewed over 400 children, and found at least 30 percent of the workers to be under 14 years of age.7 In 1992, CWIN conducted a survey of carpet factories, finding 3,322 children below the age of sixteen.8 Based on its study, CWIN estimated that 150,000 children work in some 2,000 factories in Nepal. CWIN found that most child workers are between 11 and 14 years old with about 7.8 percent below 10 years of age.9 Most children in the carpet industry are wool spinners and weavers, some also dye and wash carpets.10
In 1992, CWIN found that over 47 percent of the children come to the factories alone or in groups with a "naike" or labor recruiter.11 These children, sometimes as young as five years old, work long hours in cramped and stuffy rooms or sheds which lack air and light.12 Some child workers sleep in another shack or a "garage-like" room with no windows for which they have to pay rent.13 Children also pay for their food.14
Child workers in the carpet industry indicate that they work very long hours. Marcia Lieberman, a freelance journalist, interviewed a girl in Kathmandu, who looked to be 12 years old, knotting carpets from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The foreman said he too worked those same hours. In a visit to another factory, Lieberman interviewed a 10-year old girl who worked from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight. CWIN's 1992 study also found children working an average of 15 hours a day.15
AAFLI's research of carpet factories found that child workers are paid on a flat fee rate of 350-750 rupees per month (approximately $7.95-$17 per month), but do not receive any pay during the "learning" period (three to four months).16 According to CWIN's 1992 study, after the training period the naike may or may not pay the child workers.17
Child weavers generally work in unhealthy conditions.18 According to CWIN's 1992 report which extensively documents children's health in the carpet industry, health hazards include swollen knuckles, arthritis, eye strain, and lung diseases. Moreover, 32 percent of those interviewed were frequently sexually abused by male co-workers, naikes, and factory managers.19 CWIN maintains that among the 5,000 to 7,000 Nepali girls between 10 and 20 years old who are sold to brothels in India ever year, many are trafficked via carpet factories. Many young carpet girls in Kathmandu are also forced into prostitution.20
A 1993 study by the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development in Kathmandu reported cases of young girls and boys that have no choice but to render services to a factory under the constant threat of breach of contract and harassment.21 CWIN estimates that seven to eight percent of the carpet children surveyed are working to pay debts incurred by their parents, which ranges from 100 to 15,000 rupees ($2.50-$375).22
According to the 1994 AAFLI report, none of the children surveyed were "bonded," meaning that they were being held against their will to pay off a family debt. Of the children interviewed, 100 percent were from rural villages outside Kathmandu, brought either by a naike or some relative. The children were not aware of the amount of payment made by the naikes to their parents, but this is widely understood to be the situation. The naikes pay some amount in the range of $40-$100 to the families to take the children to Kathmandu to work in the carpet factories. The primary benefit to the parents or family is the initial payment from the naike, as few of the children reported sending money to their families.23
III. Laws of Nepal
A. National Child Labor Laws
According to the ILO, Nepal's law establishes a minimum age for employment of children at 14 years.24 The Constitution of Nepal stipulates that children shall not be employed in factories, mines, or similar hazardous work.25 The Constitution also forbids slavery, bonded labor, and the trafficking of individuals.
Other important child labor laws include the Children's Rights and Welfare Act 1992. This Act defines child as a person who has not reached the age of 16.26 Article 17 prohibits the employment of children who have not attained the age of 14 years. This legislation prohibits forced labor, requires equal remuneration for equal work (Art. 17), and prohibits employment of children in hazardous work (Art. 18). Child laborers are entitled to leisure for a half-hour for every three hours of work, and one day off every week (Art. 47).27 The Labor Act of 1992 prohibits employment of minors under 14 years of age and regulates the work hours of "minors" between the ages of 14 to 18.28 This Act applies to children working in urban industries and provides for labor inspectors in each district.
The Nepal Department of Labor has a "spotty" enforcement record.29 In 1993, the Labor Ministry fined 23 factories for employing children. Overall, however, the government's action has been inadequate to reduce the incidence of child labor. The Labor Secretary of Nepal states that there are 11 regional labor offices throughout Nepal and approximately 22 officers with responsibilities encompassing occupational safety and health, industrial relations, negotiations, training, and education, as well as the enforcement of the child labor law.30 The Secretary stated that in reality, inspectors do not look for child labor. And although factories were "penalized" for employing children, sanctions were never enforced. When surveyors and officials seek to enter carpet factories, they often are denied access.
B. Education Laws
Education is not compulsory in Nepal. The government has a stated policy of providing free education through the 6th grade, but this policy reportedly is not implemented.31 Anti-Slavery International and Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN) states that the government offers free tuition and textbooks and tuition for children in grades one to three, and grades four and five for children in rural areas.32 Parents, however, still have to provide stationary, which can amount to rupees 200 (approximately $4.54) per child per year. This is a substantial financial burden, especially on poor families. Moreover, access to schools is limited, especially in rural areas, and most schools have no latrines or drinking water.33
C. International Conventions
Nepal is a party to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. Nepal has not ratified ILO Convention No. 59 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment in Industry, or ILO Convention No. 138 Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment.34
IV. Programs and Efforts To Address Child Labor
Responding to the threat of an international ban on carpets made by child labor, the government, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector have expressed interest in creating a "child labor free" certification to be used in the carpet industry.35 According to the Minister of Commerce, the Rugmark certification will be implemented by the end of 1994.36 Carpet manufacturers, non-governmental organizations, and the Nepal-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry have formed the National Society for Protection of the Environment and Children (NASPEC) to eliminate child labor in Nepal, rehabilitate child workers, and control industrial pollution.37 NASPEC will work to eliminate child labor in all sectors, but initially will focus on the carpet industry. It plans to establish a "Producers Group" to implement a program to certify that carpets are produced without child labor.38 The group's first stated task is to establish an independent agency to inspect carpet factories. Carpet manufacturers who do not employ children or receive any materials produced by children under 14, and who pay at least the minimum wage, will be eligible to receive an internationally recognized "rugmark" certification to affix to their carpets. NASPEC also pledges to establish a non-governmental organization to support the health, education, and welfare of child workers who will lose their jobs.
The non-governmental organization, Child Workers in Nepal (CWIN), has been conducting a series of studies on children working in Nepal and is active on child rights.
1 ICFTU-APRO Sub-Regional Seminars on Child Labor (International Confederation of Free Trade Unions/Asian Pacific Regional Office, October 1993) Table 1.
2 U.S. Merchandise Trade: Exports and General Imports by Country (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, 1993) A299.
3 Omar Sattaur, Child Labor in Nepal (Kathmandu: Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center and Anti-Slavery International, 1993) 32 [hereinafter Sattaur].
4 American Embassy-Kathmandu unclassified telegram no. 6168, October 22, 1993.
5 Children Employing Industries Penalized in Nepal, The Xinhua News Agency, August 7, 1993. See also, "A Glimpse of Carpet Industries in Kathmandu Valley," Ministry of Labor - Nepal, July 1993. The government's survey found that there were 4,321 children between 14 and 18 years old, and 18,919 workers above 18 years old.
6 Child Labor in Nepal (Asian-American Free Labor Institute, June 1994) 5 [hereinafter 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report]. The reactions were confirmed from interviews with employers, trade union leaders, and other government officials.
7 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report at 6.
8 "Carpet Factory: A Source of Foreign Currency and the Misery of Our Children" (Kathmandu: brochure by Child Workers in Nepal Concerned Center, n.d.).
9 Id. According to the 1992 CWIN study, major districts for carpet factories are Kathmandu, Lalitpur, Rasuwa, Dhading, Nuwakot, Kavrepalanchowk, Sindhupalchowk, Dolka, Ramechhap, Kavrepalanchowk, Illiam, Jhapa, Sankhuwasabha, Terhathum, Panchthar, Dhankutta, Bhojpur, Morang, Solukhumbu, Okhaldunga, Khotang, Sindhuli, and Chitwan.
10 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report at 9.
11 Gauri Pradhan, ed. Misery Behind the Looms: Child Laborers in the Carpet Factories in Nepal (Kathmandu: Child Workers in Nepal-CWIN, May 1993) 26 [hereinafter Pradhan].
12 During visits to factories, Marcia Lieberman found children sleeping in crowded rooms with a water tap and latrine outside. International Child Labor Hearing, U.S. Department of Labor (April 12, 1994) (Statement of Marcia Lieberman) [hereinafter Testimony of Lieberman].
13 Lieberman found that children pay 200 rupees per month (approximately $4.54) for rent which is paid to the factory owner. Testimony of Lieberman. CWIN's study found more than 95 percent of the children sleep on factory premises while the rest rent rooms outside the premises. About 28 percent of the children sleep on the floor, without mattresses. Pradhan at 19-20.
14 Pradhan at 19.
15 Pradhan at 19.
16 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report at 7.
17 Pradhan at 25. In a visit to centers for street children in June 1994, Lieberman interviewed a 13 year old boy who worked for nine months in a carpet factory without pay, even though he was promised 600 rupees per month. Another 15-year old boy stated that he worked for three years in a carpet factory without pay. Many of the children (approximately 48 percent) had no idea how much they earned. Telephone Interview with Marcia Lieberman by Department of Labor official (July 1994).
18 Prabha Thacker, Technology: Women's Work and Status (The Case of the Carpet Industry in Nepal) (Kathmandu: Mountain development Population Employment Division of the International Center for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), May 1993) 23 [hereinafter Thacker].
19 Pradhan at 29. More than 15 percent of the rape incidents registered in the police department are reported to involve carpet workers.
20 Id. Recently carpet factories have attracted the attention of the media with the disclosure that many of them run a side business of trafficking young girls across the border to India, where they are sold to brothels.
21 Thacker at 20.
22 Pradhan at 32; see also Testimony of Lieberman.
23 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report at 8.
24 Conditions of Work Digest, vol. 10, no. 1, (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1991).
25 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1993 (U.S. Department of State: February 1994) 1369 [hereinafter Country Reports].
26 Gopal Siwakoti, "Nepal: Does The Law Really Protect the Child?," in International Children's Rights Monitor, vol. 10, nos. 1-2 (1993) 12.
27 Id. at 14. According to the State Department Country Reports, this Act calls for the establishment of Child Welfare Committees and orphanages. Many of these facilities are not yet in place. Country Reports at 1369.
28 Sattaur at 37.
29 Country Reports at 1369.
30 Interview with Dr. Prabha Basnet, Nepal Secretary of Labor by Department of Labor officials (December 9, 1993).
31 1994 AAFLI Nepal Report at 3.
32 Sattaur at 16.
33 Id. at 17.
34 Lists of Ratifications by Convention and by Country (as at December 1992) (Geneva: International Labor Organization, 1993).
35 Country Reports at 1369. In late April 1994, a German television show on child labor in the carpet industry allegedly caused a cancellation of carpet orders, leading to a flurry of industry debate and dissension. As a result, AAFLI reports that in one town, Phaperbari (Makawanpur District), 50 percent of children previously working in carpet factories have been fired from their jobs and have returned home. AAFLI further alleges that previous interest by factory owners to set up model schools for child workers has dissipated. American Embassy-Kathmandu unclassified telegram no.3742, July 7, 1994. In the meantime, a small group of carpet factory owners plan to establish a certification system for child-free carpets sooner and separate from the NASPEC program. Letter from Asian-American Free Labor Institute-Nepal to International Child Labor Study (July 5, 1994).
36 American Embassy-Kathmandu unclassified telegram no. 3742, July 7, 1994.
37 American Embassy-Kathmandu unclassified telegram no. 584, January 31, 1994.