HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU: Despite the worldwide struggle for migrants’ rights, Kuwait — a major destination for domestic workers — still treats women migrant workers like slaves.
The US State Department Report on Trafficking in Person has placed Kuwait as a high-risk country for the sixth consecutive year.
Kuwait is a destination where men and women are forced to work in miserable conditions and women are even forced into prostitution, the report said. “Workers from Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Philippines, Indonesia and other countries migrate here for work but are forced to work in miserable conditions including non-payment of wages, long working hours without rest, deprivation of food, threats, and physical and sexual abuse,” it said.
Nepal has been sending women to Kuwait since November enforcing strict criteria. The criteria have been designed to safeguard Nepali women working in the domestic sector. However, illegal migration of nearly 20/30 Nepali women everyday has been rampant for the last six to seven years and the trend is continuing.
“Kuwait is not safe for domestic workers. Women are not safe there, so sending women to the destination should be immediately stopped,” said labour expert Dr Chiranjivi Nepal commenting on the report. According to him, the country should restrict from sending women workers where domestic workers are not included in the destination’s labour laws.
“I do respect the right to free movement but it should not be Gulf countries for women migrants,” he added. He suggested that countries sending workers should build a strong network and pressure receiving countries to abide with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Convention 189. If all the requirements of ILO 189 are fulfilled then only will the Gulf region be safe for women workers, he added.
According to the Department of Foreign Employment, about 57,774 Nepali women have reached Kuwait in the last two decades. Currently, 60,000 Nepalis are believed to be working in the Gulf nation and among them 90 per cent are domestic workers.
A UN Women study in 2010 had shown that about 22 per cent Nepali women migrants have faced exploitation and two per cent of them have suffered from sexual exploitation. Every year, about a dozen Nepali women commit suicide in Kuwait following exploitation and torture.
Women activists working in migrant women’s rights believe that the situation can be changed without restricting free movement. “Kuwait can be a safe destination if we provide better training and cultural orientation to domestic job aspirants,” said president of Paurakhi, a non-governmental organisation, Manju Gurung. According to her, forcefully stopping migration will fuel illegal migration, so exploring other options will be better.
“Strengthening diplomatic missions in the destinations and making them more responsible is the need of the hour,” Gurung said, adding that appointment of a labour attaché is
a must for women-centric destinations.
The Foreign Employment Act has provisioned a labour attaché for destination countries where there are more than 1,000 women migrant workers but it has not materialised yet.