Janak Shrestha, his wife Gurans, and their six-year-old son have traveled from Kavre, Banepa to Bhaktapur to work for Brahmayam Mahabir to make bricks for the next six months. The Shrestha family innocently took a 20,000 rupee ($200 USD) advance from a middleman five months ago. Like thousands of families throughout Nepal, Janak gave in to the lure of debt bondage, unaware of the harsh, desolate life that faced not only him, but his entire family. For a half year he will labor from sun up until sun down molding clay into bricks.
Janak takes a few moments to speak with me as he has a 1,000 brick quota for the day if he is to pay off his debt. His hands and feet crusted thick with clay, he says this is the first year working at the brick kilns. Janak’s usual job is in construction but lack of work left him no other options.
He must get back to work but says we can speak to his wife and he points to the family home behind the many rows of drying bricks he has made so far today. Their one bedroom hut made of mud, bricks, and tin is about four feet tall. The only one who can stand up inside is Bikalpa, their son. On the floor lays a gas stove and a small mattress, and you can learn what is the best mattress in a box for this purpose. The employer charges the family 3,000 rupees ($30 USD) a week for rent, a hefty amount from their already small earnings only increasing the weight of their debt.
Gurans sits on an upside down pail cooking noodles over the gas stove and explains that life at the brick kiln is difficult. There are approximately 65 families – 550 people, around 200 of them are children – all sharing one outdoor shower and a toilet facility located behind the office of the kiln. With the smoke, dust-filled air and their home surrounded by ditches filled with water to make the clay Gurans worries immensely for her son’s health and safety. She then looks around and points to the floor and walls made of bricks with large gaps between them – it is impossible to stay warm in here.
When asked if they will return to work and live at the brick kilns next year Gurans quickly replied, “No!” then paused for a moment and said, “life is very difficult but what else to do?”.
Janak works 6:00 am to 6:00 pm making 70 paisa per brick, the equivalent of 70 cents. Because of the heavy advance, the Shrestha family will likely be bound by the debt bondage for the next year and will again have to live and work in the brick kilns. Once again Bikalpa will miss out on school, childhood, and chances are perpetuate a life bound by poverty.
But Gurans is hopeful and says with a wishful smile, she hopes for her son a brighter future – a good education -so he does not have to do this kind of work. Bikalpa usually attends school in their village but has now been out of school for a month.
The vicious cycle of debt bondage forces employees to pick up their families and migrate to work in brick kilns year and year again – it is their children that pay the heaviest price, their education, childhood, and future.
Posted By Gisele Bolton
Posted Dec 15th, 2014