In many developing and undeveloped countries around the world, girls do not have the same access to education as boys do. Many people look at girls getting an education as a privilege instead of as a necessity, and that is where many problems, such as the kumlari system (a form of slavery) stem from.
When a girl sees her brothers and male neighbors going to school each day, she feels unimportant while doing chores around the house and catering to her family’s needs. As she grows up, she sees herself as being inferior to the men around her. This is a problem because girls are at a very high risk of violence and starvation, and this feeling of worthlessness only adds to those problems.
In places like Nepal, it is normal for poor families to sell their young daughters into the kumlari system. Giving their daughters access to an education is very uncommon, choosing to send their boys to school instead so that the girls can do housework, fetch water, care for younger children, or worse, be sold into human trafficking.
Suma became a kumlari, a form of slavery in undeveloped countries, when she was only six years old. When her parents were children, they too were part of the bonded system, because “that’s what the poor do,” according to the narrator of the Girl Rising story. This tradition of parents selling their young kids into the system benefited the wealthy who could afford to pay for manual child labor, because they were getting cheap workers to care for their home, but on the other hand, it was an awful situation for the children involved.
Suma's parents chose to bond her at such a young age so that she would have a place to live and food to eat, because they were struggling to provide for the rest of the family. In addition to that, the practice of kumlari had been in Nepal’s culture for hundreds of years, so it was unfortunately a very common thing to do.
The bonded system was a tough place for any child, and Suma’s story really shows the struggles and hardships she and other girls have gone through. She talked about having to sleep in a goat’s shed, eat scraps off of her master’s plates, and wear worn out rags. While working hard for wealthy families fetching water, cleaning the house, and caring for animals and children, girls had limited to zero time for getting an education.
Suma’s story is one with a happy ending. She was the last person in her family to be bonded, and since 2000, the kumlari practice has been illegal in Nepal. In the video, the narrator is heard saying three extremely powerful and important quotes concerning her thoughts and feelings on being free from the system, “I am my own master now. I have no mistress.” “After me, everyone will be free.” and “I feel as though I have power and I can do anything. And I have important things to do.”
Since Suma was released from the bonded system, she has used her education to empower other girls and she makes sure all girls are enrolled in school. She used, and is using, her experiences and past to benefit other girls around her, to ensure they have a better childhood than she had by being in school instead of being part of the kumlari system. If she had not had the opportunity to learn, she would never have escaped the holds of her masters.
“There is nobody more vulnerable than a girl.” This is how the Suma chapter of Girl Rising concludes. When a girl grows up uneducated, she is not only less knowledgeable than the boys around her, but she is also at a disadvantage when it comes to jobs and being able to provide for herself, as well as growing up with the feeling of being unequal to the boys around her.
It has been shown that there are many immediate positive effects for girls who have access to learning; not only do they gain knowledge and skills, but it also strengthens their social standing in the community, has health benefits, and makes them safer and more out of harm’s way. If something as simple as giving girls an education can lead to all of these positives, there is definitely a change that needs to be made in countries with similar systems such as the kumlari system of Nepal.