More harm than good

  • Ban on women migrating to the Gulf for domestic work must definitely be lifted
More harm than good

Jul 28, 2014-

After countless exhortations from human rights groups and the media, including this paper, the government is finally preparing to lift the existing ban against women under the age of 30 migrating to the Gulf for domestic work. The Ministry of Labour and Employment has reportedly reached the conclusion that the ban has done more harm than good. The proscription, instead of discouraging women from journeying to the Gulf for work, has instead pushed them to seek alternate, illegal means of egress. Despite the ban, over 100 women leave for the Gulf every day through third-country routes in Mumbai and Delhi, according to the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies. The Nepali Embassy in Saudi Arabia reports that there are over 50,000 women in the Gulf kingdom alone.  

The ban, imposed in August 2012, was a woefully misguided response from a paternalistic and parochial state to a host of media reports about the abuse Nepali women suffer at the hands of exploitative employers. While it is definitely true that women domestic workers often suffer horrific exploitation, including low or no pay, unsavoury working conditions and mental, physical and sexual abuse, the state’s prescribed remedy only exacerbated the problem. Under the rhetoric of ‘protecting’ women, the state, perhaps inadvertently, imposed restrictions on the freedom of movement, a fundamental right. In addition, the ban also sharply contravened the ‘Prohibition on Gender Discrimination’ clause of the 2007 Foreign Employment Act.

Meanwhile, strong push factors at home like poverty and a dearth of employment opportunities have continued to force women to seek alternate routes through unscrupulous middlemen, who are often little more than human traffickers. Lured by promises of high-paying jobs, Nepali wo men have ended up in places as far-off as Kenya and Tanzania, dancing in bars. The ban even places women at risk in Nepal itself as evident in the case of Sita Rai. Rai, who had migrated on a false passport, was robbed of her savings by government officials and raped by a police constable.

So while it is welcome news that the government will be lifting the ban, supplementary measures must be enacted to do what the ban was intended to do: protect the rights of migrant workers. The government must begin in its backyard, by strictly monitoring foreign employment agencies and holding them to account for irregularities. Too often, agencies wash their hands of migrant workers once they leave the country. For their part, the employment agencies allege that there is an international trafficking racket preying on Nepali women desperate for work. This contention must be investigated thoroughly as, given the myriad examples of exploitation, there is certainly some truth to it. On the Middle Eastern front, the government’s initiatives to sign labour agreements specific to domestic workers with Saudi Arabia and Kuwait is a welcome move. Such pacts would accord workers at least some level of legal protection.

Published: 29-07-2014 09:05

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