HIMALAYAN NEWS SERVICE
KATHMANDU: A New York-based rights watchdog today urged the government to revoke its new ban on women under the age of 30 from working in Arab Gulf countries and appealed to it to improve protections so domestic workers can migrate safely — such as by ensuring full monitoring and accountability of recruitment agencies in Nepal instead.
The Human Rights Watch underscored the need to adopt long overdue labour protections and immigration reforms, including ending the discriminatory treatment of domestic workers, to combat abuse of Nepali and other migrant workers by governments in the Gulf.
The Cabinet on August 9 had decided to ban women under the age of 30 from travelling to the Gulf for work amid increasing concerns over abuse and exploitation. The ban came in response to several publicised cases of abuse of Nepali domestic workers, including long work hours, unpaid wages, and in some cases physical or sexual abuse. The recent move comes two years after Nepal lifted a 12-year ban on any women working in Middle Eastern countries.
“Nepal is right to be concerned about its migrant domestic workers, but imposing a ban on women under 30 from travelling to the Gulf does not solve the problem and discriminates against young women,” said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at HRW in a press statement. “A better strategy would be to crack down on abusive recruitment practices, ensure that women migrate with an enforceable contract in hand, and equip embassies to respond quickly to complaints of abuse.”
A ban on work in the Gulf may drive women desperate for work to migrate through irregular channels, putting them at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking, said HRW said. “HRW interviewed Nepali domestic workers in Saudi Arabia during the previous ban and found that they were especially likely to encounter abuse. They had no information about their rights, no employment contracts, and were more likely to migrate with illegal recruiters who left them heavily indebted. If they faced abuse from their employers, their precarious legal status made it more difficult for them to approach or receive assistance from authorities,” it stated.
Instead of a blanket ban on young women that denies them important employment opportunities, HRW said the government should work with other labour-sending governments to demand stronger protections for migrant workers in the Gulf.
It urged the Nepali government to improve training of migrant workers, to monitor recruitment agencies rigorously, and to ensure migrant women know where to get help if they need it. “Governments in the Gulf should heed the concern about abuse against domestic workers in their countries,” said Varia.