Scores of Nepali women continue to be victims of “trafficking” under the shadow of overseas employment every month, one year after a blanket travel ban on Nepali housemaids abroad.
Nepal’s missions in several Gulf countries rescued and repatriated nearly 100 Nepali maids in the past five months including 60 from the oil-rich kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The revelation comes at a time when a proposal to lift the ban without signing labour agreement with the host countries is under consideration in Cabinet.
Nepali women are currently prohibited to go to the Gulf to work as domestics helps irrespective of their age after stakeholders in May last year decided to impose a ban in response to a rise in cases of their abuse and exploitation there.
Despite the ban, human trafficking rackets have long been using a “setting” at the Tribhuvan International Airport and various Indian airports to smuggle women to Gulf countries and even as far away as Africa for various purposes, reports show.
Nepal’s mission in Saudi Arabia said 60 Nepali housemaids were rescued and sent back home between October 18 and February 19. The victims had endured various forms of violence including rape and torture at the hands of their employers.
An equal number of victimised women come to the Nepali embassies in Kuwait and elsewhere for help. Nearly 200 women have been stranded in Kuwait for months in the lack of exit visas and the figure is growing. Under Kafala, the domestic law described as a form of modern day slavery, domestic helps need the permission of their employers to leave the country.
According to the Department of Immigration, at least one dozen female workers return every day from abroad, including some who had left the country on forged passports.
“Many of them were smuggled here via Indian airports and the TIA setting. The situation is unlikely to change unless the government takes action against the agents,” said an official at the Nepali Embassy in Riyadh. The embassy had provided the government with the details of around 500 agents, but none has faced action.
Officials in Nepal say traffickers have been using Dubai as the transit to smuggle women across the globe in domestic jobs, entertainment industry and prostitution. Nepal’s Central Investigation Bureau recently busted a racket involved in trafficking women to South Korea, China and Africa.
India’s Central Bureau of Investigation in January revealed that at least 8,000 young Nepali girls had been trafficked to Dubai by December last year for alleged prostitution via Indira Gandhi International airport by an organised trafficking racket.
Stakeholders in Nepal say the government should ensure multidisciplinary approach to address the problems facing the workers.
Saru Joshi Shrestha, who heads economic empowerment programmes at UN Women, said the lack of job opportunities at home has left many women desperate to take high risks to work abroad.
“It’s important to create employment opportunities in the country to discourage new and returnee women from going abroad. The government should adopt a standard contract system, promote the right to information of the workers and their families and make full use of Nepali missions and the association of Non-resident Nepalis abroad to safeguard the rights of domestic workers,” said Shrestha.
The Labour Ministry has tabled new guidelines on domestic workers that make women above 24 years eligible to work as domestic helps in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Malaysia. The guidelines are aimed at lifting the ban before signing labour agreements with the countries.
Aasha Lama, who lobbied for an age restriction for domestic helps in 2012, says the government should sign labour pacts with the host countries before allowing domestic workers abroad.
“Sending housemaids to the Gulf without signing labour agreements is tantamount to women trafficking,” Lama, who also owns a recruiting agency, commented in a Facebook post.