COVID escalates vulnerability of female migrant workers: Study


The National Human Rights Commission has expressed grave concern about female migrant workers, who it said have been rendered more vulnerable than their male counterparts due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Study Report on Rights Situation of Nepali Migrant Workers amid COVID-19 Pandemic, recently released by the NHRC stated that some of the problems and challenges being faced by female migrant workers in the cycle of labour migration are of special nature, which their male counterparts don't experience.

"Violence against women migrants has increased amid COVID-19 pandemic. Women migrants, mainly the domestic helpers have been most affected in foreign countries. As employers and their family members stay home all the time due to lockdown and other measures enforced by various countries to curb the spread of coronavirus, the women migrants have been forced to work for extra hours without getting time for rest. It has also resulted in their physical and mental torture," warned the rights body.

Statistics by the Department of Foreign Employment showed that as many as 11,21,525 persons obtained work permits for fiscals 2017/18 and 2018/19. Of them, 5.80 per cent were females. The number of female migrant workers could be higher than the official data due to the trend of trafficking of women to banned countries through informal channels.

The Government of Nepal has been imposing complete ban or sometime age restrictions on women migrant workers. In 2012, the government placed a ban on women below 30 years of age from going to Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and United Arab Emirates as domestic help. To make the provision further stringent, the age bar was reduced to 24 years in 2015 by imposing a ban on women aspiring to work in Oman, Bahrain, Lebanon and Malaysia.

The government took such measures to protect women migrant workers from forced labour and other forms of exploitation.

However, various studies showed that the ban did not stop women from going to Gulf countries. They resorted to illegal means for foreign employment, stated the report.

A woman, who leaves for foreign employment through illegal means, is considered an undocumented migrant. If she gets injured or dies during her illegal stay in the destination country, her family members will not be entitled to any kind of financial assistance from the government.

Returnee women migrants have been subjected to the ordeal of stigmatisation and discrimination in the home communities.

Many pregnant migrant women workers were rescued by the government after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Most of them used to live abroad with their husband.

However, various media and social media questioned their character and made negative comments against them without further investigation and verification.

"Various comments and allegations against pregnant returnee women, or those accompanied by their children, as rape victims without verifying the truth has stigmatised their status. That may severely impact women’s migration for work in future," said the NHRC. The rights body said returnee pregnant women or those who had children due to sexual violence or consensual sex abroad, faced further difficulty for their reintegration into home communities due to stagmatisation, discrimination and false allegation.

"Children born from rape or consensual sex are likely to be rendered stateless as they will be deemed disqualified to acquire Nepali citizenship," said the NHRC said in the report. Children whose biological father is untraceable face difficulty to obtain citizenship certificate to enjoy the state facilities.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on August 26, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.