Sausalito woman wins big in fight to end child slavery

May 24, 2010 5:40:29 PM PDT
A Bay Area woman leading a campaign to stop child slavery is celebrating a huge victory.

ABC7 has been telling viewers about Olga Murray's crusade to rescue children for more than ten years. Now, she is finally getting help from the government of Nepal and as a result, thousands of impoverished girls are getting a new chance at a good life.

The young girls are the face of modern day slavery. They are from rural villages in Nepal, living in the shadow of the Himalayas, in one of the poorest parts of the world.

"Little girls, little tiny girls, 6, 7, 8, 9, who are more or less sold by their parents to work as servants in the homes of strangers far away," Murray describes them.

Thousands of families sell their girls every year, often because they cannot afford to feed them. The parents get about $50 a year. The daughters are sent to big cities to work long hours. Most never go to school and many are abused.

Olga Murray, a retired lawyer from Sausalito, founded the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation. She went to Nepal on vacation more than 20 years ago. She fell in love with the country and its children, and she decided to spend her retirement making a difference.

"And, I realized that for the price of a good silk blouse, I could save a kid's life there," she said in 1998.

Murray first started raising money for scholarships. One of them went to a young man named Som Paneru. After college, Paneru became a children's rights activist. He was stunned to learn about the sale of young girls in some parts of his own country.

"Everybody had a little girl working in their house and even the media would not like to take the issue on because the journalists were employing the child labor. The lawyers were employing the bonded girl, and human rights worker," he said.

Paneru and Murray came up with a plan. If a family agrees to keep their daughter home, Murray's foundation gives them a pig which they can raise and sell for about the same amount of money they would have received for their daughter. The foundation also pays for the girls to go to school.

"The education of girls is the key to the improvement of Nepali society, because girls who are educated will marry later. They'll have fewer children and they're more likely to educate their own daughters," Murray said.

In the first year, about 30 families joined the program. The next year, there were a 150 and the program kept growing. Last year, Murray brought 400 rescued girls to Nepal's capital, Katmandu. They put on a huge public campaign to eliminate child slavery.

"As a result, the government appropriated $1.6 million to educate these girls, the girls that we bring home," Murray said.

With the government now paying for school, Murray's organization can spend its money rescuing more girls.

"We are on the verge of eradicating this custom all together in these areas," Murray says.

The foundation has now rescued 9,000 indentured girls and is expanding to other parts of Nepal. Last year, they spent $135,000 on the program, all of it from private donors, many from the Bay Area.

If you would like to help, visit the Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation website.

Written and produced by Jennifer Olney


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