The Nepali government should revoke its new ban on women under the age of 30 from working in Arab Gulf countries and instead should improve protections so domestic workers can migrate safely, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.
The US-based group said that at the same time governments in the Gulf should adopt long overdue labour protections and immigration reforms, including ending the discriminatory treatment of domestic workers, to combat abuse of Nepali and other migrant workers.
On August 9, Nepal’s cabinet approved a ban on women under the age of 30 from travelling to the Gulf for work.
The ban is a response to several publicised cases of abuse of Nepali domestic workers, including long work hours, unpaid wages, and in some cases physical or sexual abuse.
“Nepal is right to be concerned about its migrant domestic workers, but imposing a ban on women under 30 from travelling to the Gulf does not solve the problem and discriminates against young women”, said Nisha Varia, senior women’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“A better strategy would be to crack down on abusive recruitment practices, ensure that women migrate with an enforceable contract in hand, and equip embassies to respond quickly to complaints of abuse.”
Human Rights Watch said labour laws in the Gulf exclude domestic workers from basic protections guaranteed other workers such as a weekly rest day, limits to hours of work, and compensation in case of work-related injury.
It added that a ban on work in the Gulf may drive women desperate for work to migrate through irregular channels, putting them at greater risk of exploitation and trafficking.
Instead of a blanket ban on young women that denies them important employment opportunities, Nepal's government should work with other labour-sending governments to demand stronger protections for migrant workers in the Gulf, Human Rights Watch said.
It urged the Nepali government to improve training of migrant workers, to monitor recruitment agencies rigorously, and to ensure migrant women know where to get help if they need it.
“Governments in the Gulf should heed the concern about abuse against domestic workers in their countries,” said Varia. “They should move quickly to include domestic workers in labour laws, prosecute abusive employers, and improve cooperation with labour-sending countries.”
Thousands of young Nepalese women leave the impoverished country every year to take up domestic and construction jobs in Gulf states.
Officials in the Himalayan country lifted a 12-year ban on women being employed in Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar in 2010, introduced after a domestic worker subjected to abuse in Kuwait committed suicide.
Despite the ban, several thousand Nepalese are thought to work in the Gulf illegally. Nepal authorities estimate around 160,000 workers live in the Gulf, compared to 125,000 in 2008. The majority are thought to be under the age of 25-years old.
The GCC relies heavily on foreign workers to fill jobs at all levels of the economy but protection of migrant workers has become a serious issue following reports of poor working conditions and low pay.
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