Mobility of people from one place to another in search of better prospects of livelihood and living has been a common feature of Nepali society for a long time now. It has created a changing mosaic that we call Nepal today. As the law of the land allows people to move between places inside the country freely, seasonal migration of workers from the remote and rural to semi-urban and urban areas is very common. Many people, who see few options at home, are also going abroad for greener pastures. In normal situations, if people choose to move places as migrant workers, students, visitors or even settlers, that is not a problem. By doing so, many people have climbed up their economic and, therefore, social ladders. The quest for this upward mobility is near universal and fine.
But if hard circumstances, such as Nepalís decade of conflict, abject poverty, or vicious cycle of deprivation and debt, force people to leave their homes and villages, that is bad. Forced to move, in the absence of options and time to prepare, these people will suddenly find themselves in the midst of a new set of harsher circumstances. Women and children suffer the most. Kathmanduís brick kilns are one among the several destinations for these rural villagers running away, without knowing, from the frying pan into the fire. A news story likens the work conditions at the kilns to those Charles Dickens, in his novels, depicted in 19th century Britain.
Generally, media stories portray images of dingy workplaces, hardened workers with all hopes dashed, middlemen breaching their promises, masters seeking nothing but profit and opportunity to continue exploiting, and women and children toiling near hot furnaces under the smoke-belching chimneys. Coming from as far as Rolpa, Dang, Rukum, Ramechhap, Sindhupalchowk, Sindhuli and Kavre, some young women, who married at an early age, end up working at the kilns along with their husbands. They bear and raise their children in adverse surroundings. The health implications for these people aside, they are in a new kind of bondage. Some break free and move again. Some others return to their original places. But many get stuck up in sordid work conditions beneath the ladder of social mobility. The fact that half of the labourers in the valley kilns are women, below 20 years of age, makes the case compelling enough for the state and non-state actors to do something to help them out. The sheer number of sufferers is significant while taking into account the 50 brick kilns of the valley, each of which employs up to 500 workers. These factories may be providing jobs for the people in desperate needs, but the harm they do to peopleís health and the natural environment is too big to ignore.