Every January, 83-year-old Olga Murray of northern California goes to southwestern Nepal for the annual Maghe Sankranti winter festival. That's where she can find impoverished Tharu farmers selling their daughters to higher caste families to work as domestic slaves. In the illegal trade, families get about $50 for what is supposed to be a one-year-contract, but the girls are often sold into a life of misery. For these indentured daughters, known as "kamlaris", school is replaced by years of cooking, cleaning and babysitting. Girls tell stories of being forced to sleep on the floor, being starved, beaten and raped.
For the past 20 years, Murray and her nonprofit Nepalese Youth Opportunity Foundation has worked to end the practice in the Dang district. She offers the families a highly valued pig or goat in exchange for the promise that they not sell their daughters. San Francisco Chronicle reporter Meredith May and videographer Carlos Avila Gonzalez follow Murray, a former research attorney for the California Supreme Court, as she attends the festival and attempts to prevent more girls from being sold into slavery. With Murray's help, thousands of former kamlaris have returned to school and are working to rescue the next generation. They have become vocal about their hardships, unveiling the horrors of their captivity on radio programs, in street plays and marches. They knock on doors in the Tharu village to dissuade parents from selling their daughters, and monitor the bus stops to make sure girls aren't leaving for Kathmandu to become kamlaris.