Two lakh migrant women workers ‘missing’

KATHMANDU: The government has no record of around 2,00,000 Nepali women migrant workers abroad.

The Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) has listed only 10,000 women working in foreign countries.

According to the National Institute of Development Studies (NIDS) around 2,00,000 women are working in two dozen countries. Around 1,50,000 Nepali women are working in Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Israel alone has hired 10,000 Nepali women as care-givers.

However, the government has no record of the actual number. According to experts, illegal migration, unscientific data system of the Ministry of Labour and Transport Management (MoLTM) and line agencies are responsible for the officially ‘missing’ women migrant workers.

“We have started keeping separate data of migrant women workers since 2005-06,” said Chandra Prasad Joshi, undersecretary at the department, “Still, we have been unable to maintain a record of illegal migrant women workers as they do not go through us.”

Around 5,671 Nepali women left Nepal for foreign jobs after 2005-06, according to the DoFE records.

But, foreign employment experts and entrepreneurs said it was a negligible

number in comparison to the real one.

“We believe there are at least 1,80,000-200,000 Nepali women working abroad,” said Madan Mahat, an entrepreneur.

The number of Nepali women going abroad for blue-collar jobs has increased significantly over the recent past.

Around 390 Nepalis women left Nepal for foreign employment in 2006-07 and 4,504 in the first nine months of the current fiscal year. NIDS data of 2006 described Nepali women as working in war-torn Lebanon (4,000) and in industrial giant Japan (3,500).

Illegal migration through India is a major route

for Nepali women going aboard.

Everyday 30-40 Nepali women enter the Gulf countries through illegal routes. “DoFE cannot stop people from going to India, the main route to Gulf countries, so we focus on facilitation in destination countries,” said Joshi.

Last week, MoLTM appointed labour attachés for Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar to protect the rights of Nepali migrant workers there. But the government has not appointed labour attaches for Israel, Lebanon and Bahrain where the number of Nepali migrant women workers is above 5,000.

According to Foreign Employment Act, MoLTM must appoint labour attachés wherever the number of Nepali women migrant workers exceeds 1,000.

Labour expert Dr Chiranjivi Nepal said, “It is not the issue of migrant women workers alone,” he said, “We should trace the whereabouts of all Nepali migrant workers abroad and develop a data bank about them,” he said.

A study commissioned in 2007 by the Nepal Association of Foreign Employment Agencies (NAFEA) and the MoLTM had called for building a labour data bank. “We must update the labour data in destinations abroad if we truly want to protect Nepali migrant workers,” said Dr Nepal, who headed the study.