Female migrant workers’ health a concern

KATHMANDU: Experts today urged the government to ensure the health and safety of Nepali female migrant workers in Gulf countries.

About 70,000 Nepali women are reportedly working in the foreign labour market, contributing about 11 per cent of the estimated $1.5 billion that the country receives in remittance annually. Seventy per cent inflow is from Saudi Arab, Dubai, Oman, Lebanon and Kuwait.

“But this doesn’t mean all women migrant workers have a secure life in these foreign lands. Their dependency on an erratic male escort leaves the women more vulnerable since they lack information on safe migration,” said Sumitra Shrestha, who is in charge of shelter at Maiti Nepal.

Unskilled workers, these women embark upon their journey to a foreign land without knowledge of the host country’s language, tradition and culture. “Their only dream is to reach a foreign land, work hard there and send the money home, clueless about what lies in store for them,” Shrestha said.

Sabin Gurung, senior programme officer at Maiti Nepal, said the women were facing problems such as passport seizure, physical and mental torture and non-payment. “They are exploited physically, mentally and often sexually by their employer and do not even get an easy exit. The women have little ability to save themselves the ordeal and are without access to outside help,” he said.

According to the data available with Maiti Nepal, only 33 per cent of the total labour migrant women have so far returned from the Gulf Counties. Of them, 67 per cent had some sort of medical problem, 57 per cent were diagnosed with a psychiatric illness, 2 per cent were pregnant, 4 per cent had Pulmonary Tuberculosis, and 4 complained of other minor problems. Among the mentally ill returnees, 50 per cent had psychosis, 10 per cent were maniac, 20 per cent had depression, 13 depression with psychosis and seven percent were cases of anxiety.