Speech Urmila Chaudhary

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Esteemed Laureates, Members of the Roosevelt family, Ladies and Gentlemen.

 

It is my greatest honor to be receiving this prestigious award today. First of all I would like to thank the Roosevelt Foundation for recognizing our fight against child slavery, which was taking place in one corner of the world, far away and removed from the center of attention.

 

Until 20 years ago, thousands of girls from the Tharu community used to be sold into slavery like herds of animals in the rural villages of Western Nepal. The girls faced gross violation of their fundamental rights, and most of them suffered unimaginable abuse and trauma. In the year 2000, a retired lawyer from the US Supreme Court- Olga Murray-set out to free the girls with help from activists and journalists from Nepal. I am also one among the nearly 13,000 girls who have been freed from slavery since then.

 

When I was finally free at the age of 17, I went to school for the first time. I believed that education alone could lift us out of ignorance and extreme poverty –the two key reasons for the slavery to have survived for generations. I used my freedom to mobilize and lead the campaign to bring an end to the practice. In 2009, the government of Nepal finally declared the abolition of the Kamalari practice.

 

But fighting against the powerful people in the society was not easy and it put myself and everyone involved at risk. But I did not stop because I was determined that I will stand up for the girls so that no girl will ever have to suffer what I had suffered as a child.

 

We freed Kamalaris now have our own organization. We work with the government and organizations like Nepal Youth Foundation for the empowerment of the thousands of freed girls. We are not only limited to the issue of child slavery, we also advocate for girls rights to education and freedom from violence. 

 

Many of the girls have now become leaders and role models in their own communities, and are creating economic transformation in their communities through co-operatives. Some of them ran for office in the recent election and few are in the government. The girls are proving that when you can exercise true freedom, you can achieve great things for yourself and the wider community.

 

Therefore, I accept this award on behalf of the 13,000 girls freed from slavery and everyone involved in making this happen. Once again, I thank the Roosevelt Foundation for bringing the issue of child slavery and girls' rights to the attention of the national and international community through this award.