Nepal | November 12, 2019

Unwanted newborns in Riyadh

Rewati Sapkota

Kathmandu, March 16 

The Embassy of Nepal in Saudi Arabia is facing difficulties sending back Nepali migrant housemaids who have given birth due to sexual exploitation by employers.

While the Saudi government does not want to keep such women and children in the country, the Nepal government will only recognise Nepali citizens, not the children.

Although the Nepal government has banned women’s employment in Gulf countries, women land there through various illegal routes.

According to Nepali Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Mahendra Prasad Singh, the embassy sends home at least 50 such housemaids annually. “Two such women with their newborns are in the embassy’s shelter presently, and one woman who delivered last week is in hospital,” Singh said.

Sources said Nepali migrant housemaids end up in the streets as owners sack them after they become pregnant. The embassy then rescues them and keeps them in its shelter.

A source said the embassy did not have enough budget to run the shelter, and they managed funds from the embassy’s budget under the miscellaneous expenditure heading and donations made by non-resident Nepalis.

Ambassador Singh said 99 per cent Nepali housemaids reach Saudi Arabia illegally through Kuwait. “They come to Saudi Arabia on a six-month tourist visa from Kuwait and their status becomes illegal after that period.”

A source said although such practices amounted to trafficking, the embassy had not been able to track such activities due lack of human and financial resources. The source said hundreds of women had been trafficked to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain as housemaids.

Singh said although such illegal migration could not be completely controlled the number could be reduced through awareness campaigns.

After being sent back home, the women face difficulties in Nepal because of rules related to citizenship. The Parliament is witnessing heated debates on granting citizenship to children born out of unwanted pregnancy. In the Parliamentary State Affairs and Good Governance Committee, women lawmakers have demanded that citizenship by descent be granted to children whose fathers are not known on the basis of their mothers’ citizenship.

Ambassador Singh said out of 129 Nepali migrants imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, 51 had been granted amnesty in the past two months, while 28 were acquitted by the courts. Recently, three Nepalis were released from jail. There are now 47 Nepalis in Saudi jails. “We are working for their release too,” Ambassador Singh said.

There are more than 350,000 Nepali migrants working in Saudi Arabia though the two countries have not signed a labour agreement. The Saudi government has forwarded a draft agreement to Nepal for its approval.

Ambassador Singh, who is presently in Nepal, said he would discuss issues related to migration and labour agreement with the government.

A version of this article appears in print on March 17, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.

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