08/10/2012, 00.00
NEPAL
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Nepali government bans emigration of women to Gulf States

by Kalpit Parajuli
The ban affects women under the age of 30. It comes as the number of cases of sexually and physically abused women mounts in countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait.

Kathmandu (AsiaNews) - The Nepali government has decided to ban Nepali women under 30 from travelling to Persian Gulf nations for employment. The announcement was made yesterday. The decision comes after a string of cases of sexual abuse, mistreatment and exploitation involving Nepali women in Arab countries.

In February 2011, Nepal had lifted a 12-year ban on women migrating to the Middle East. The embargo had been imposed following the suicide of Nepali domestic worker in Kuwait in 1999. She had suffered repeatedly physical abuse at the hands of her employer.

"The ban will continue until we are assured that our workers are better protected in Gulf nations," Labour and Transport Management Ministry Secretary Purna Chandra Bhattarai said. "The ban is meant to discourage women to move to these countries and to protect our citizens in the Arab world."

About four million Nepalis live and work abroad, 10 per cent of them women. According to Nepali daily The Himalayan Time, most Nepali migrants prefer India or Western countries. However, the economic crisis is driving more and more of them to seek employment in Arab countries despite the risks and government bans.

Many Nepalis emigrate illegally. Some 20,000 to 70,000 live in Gulf States. According to Nepal's Embassy in Qatar, between two and four women contact the embassy each week for help. Many have escaped their employers seeking refuge in the embassy.

Most cases are in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, but Nepali women are mistreated in all Mideast countries. In Lebanon, 15 domestic workers committed suicide in 2010 as a result of sexual abuses.

Bishwa Khadka, director of Maiti Nepal, an organisation that defends migrant women workers, said that the situation in Arab countries is very critical, getting worse each year.

"We have met several housemaids who were not only raped by their masters but also forced to have sex with friends and the relatives of the masters," he said. Their situation "is more critical than that of slaves. They are confined" and "most of them are not paid".

Some women's groups note that the government ban applies only to women under the age of 30.

Equally, the government has no plan to stop human trafficking, which affects disproportionately women, through the border with India where their movements go unrecorded.

In Arab countries, employers prefer to hire illegal or unregistered workers because they are less likely to complain about abuses and mistreatment.

Nepal is not alone in reviewing its relations with Gulf States. The Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Kenya are doing the same.

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