Many Tharu girls as young as five were sold into indentured domestic servitude by their families as a way of repaying the debts, where they could experience years of unpaid menial labor, violence and abuse, according to Shanta Chaudhary, herself a former kamlari.
When Nepal officially banned the practice in 2000, an estimated 200,000 bonded laborers from 37,000 households were emancipated, according to the survey statistics from the Backward Society Education, a non-governmental organization working to eradicate the practice.
But with the government ban focusing largely on men working in the farms, girls working as child slaves for their landlords were mostly overlooked, said Man Bahadur Chhetri from the Kamlari Abolition Project, a part of the U.S.-based non-profit Nepal Youth Foundation.
According to Chaudhary, some 12,000 kamlaris have since been rescued. However, he said, more than 500 girls, especially in Kailai and Kanchanpur districts in far-western Nepal, are still working as child domestic workers.
A family tradition
Shanta was among those rescued following the 2006 decision by Nepal's Supreme Court to make the kamlari practice illegal.
"I was born into a family of bonded laborers," said Shanta, now an activist and former Constitutional Assembly member in Nepal's interim parliament. "I was expected and forced to work since I was eight."
For the next 18 years, Shanta said she toiled under harsh circumstances as a domestic worker, serving her landlord in Dang in mid-west Nepal.
She was freed when she was 26. Now 32, she has taught herself to read and write, entered politics and successfully contested the 2008 general election.
Despite government efforts, Shanta thinks while poverty continues to exist in Nepal, so will child labor.
"It might be minimized but not completely eradicated," she said.
According to the United Nations Development Program's International Human Development Indicator, 44.2% of Nepal's population lives under the poverty line. In extreme cases, some parents send children to work. Sometimes, children themselves run away in search of a better life.
While many Nepalese children are still trapped in this abysmal situation, the ones rescued share optimism for a better future -- their traumatic past has not killed these children's dreams.
"I want to study and become a counselor so I can help children like myself when I grow up," Maya said.
Yangzee, on the other hand, said she wants to continue the alpine legacy of her community.
"I'm going to climb a mountain someday," she said. "It'll be Everest."