by Indra Gurung, Kathmandu
More than 650 Nepali youths leave each day in search of green pastures elsewhere in the world. The figures started soaring up during the insurgency period in the late 90s, when the country’s economy was in doldrums and employment generation was a meagre.
During those days foreign employment was a compulsion for many youths not only to escape from insurgency but also to earn bread and butter for their families. An appeal of the foreign employment still continues and the flow of Nepali migrant workers has been growing in an average rate of 20 per cent each month even after the successful peoples’ revolution -Jana Andolan-II in April 2006.
The basic reason was lack of employment opportunities in Nepal, where more than 300,000 strong workforces enter the job market every year. In contrary to this rising graph of workforce, employment generation has significantly dropped in industrial sector, while the trend has remained almost stagnant in service and other sectors.
Today, the number of Nepali migrant workers is estimated to be about two million, mostly in Gulf countries and Malaysia. Recognising the importance of foreign employment and remittances, Nepal government has already opened 107 countries for the migrant workers. In recent years, increasingly women have also started opting for foreign employment.
According a study by UNIFEM and Nepal Institute for Development Studies (NIDS), there are about 70,000 Nepali women migrant workers working in various foreign labour markets. Annually, Nepal receives more than Rs 100 billion (approx US$ 1.5 billion) as remittances from these migrants, and the contributions of women migrants make up about 11 per cent to this figure.
Today, the impact of remittances is clearly evident in every sphere of the national economy, as its contribution to the gross domestic products (GDP) has already crossed 17 per cent and the volume of remittances is more than double of what Nepal receives as development assistance annually. The hard earned money of the migrants has already proved to a lone saviour of the country’s economy, particularly during the fiscal year 2001-02, when Nepal’s GDP growth contracted to 0.5 per cent.
The noble contribution of foreign employment is not only limited from solving unemployment problem to keeping afloat the country’s economy, it has had vital role in empowering people with increased access to resources. The social parts of rural populace have also seen significant changes in recent years with increased flow of money directly to rural households.
But a million dollar question lies ahead that how serious is the concerned authorities for protecting these migrant workers, who often become victim of various fraudulent means, and at different stages in course of labour migration. With an increased number of migrants going abroad, the number of cases related to them has also significantly gone up.
The rising number of death of Nepali migrants in foreign land as well as increased incidents of fraudulency strongly calls for immediate steps to be taken for the protection of the migrants and their rights. A total of 754 Nepali migrants died in four major foreign employment destinations during the year 2007 alone. This is a sharp rise of 37 per cent over the previous year, according to the official data of 547 deaths in 2006. It means each day two Nepali migrants die in foreign lands during the year.
Another shocking news came last week that a Nepali domestic help -Dolma Sherpa of Shindhupalchowk – was recently slapped the death penalty by a local court in Kuwait, alleging her for murdering a Kuwaiti woman. In another incident, more than 150 Iraq bound Nepalis were arrested in a suburb of Dubai, UAE. Those arrested were put into police custody, as they didn’t have proper documents for entering Iraq and staying in UAE.
This few but tragic stories call for the government to devise special provisions to protect the rights of migrant workers, especially women migrant workers, who become vulnerable in the process due to their biological and gender makeup. Setting up of embassies and consulates with labour attachés in those countries where there are concentration of Nepali migrant workers and where they are more vulnerable to risk and exploitation.
There are three kinds of internationally practiced approaches for the protection of the migrants that begins with domestic law at the national level, agreement between source and host countries at bilateral level and multilateral approaches include international conventions adopted by the United Nations and its bodies.
The UN General Assembly in 1990 adopted the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, whereas the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has adopted two conventions concerning the migrant workers in 1949 and 1975. Of these two conventions, the Convention No. 97 contains a series of provisions designed to assist migrants for employment. For example, it calls upon ratifying States to provide relevant information to other ILO member States and to the organisation, to take steps against misleading propaganda, and to facilitate the departure, journey and reception of migrants.
The Convention No. 143 deals in Part I with migration in abusive conditions, and in Part II with equality of opportunity and treatment. The Convention also provides that States must respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers. They must also prevent clandestine migration for employment and stop manpower trafficking activities. Furthermore, States must declare and pursue a policy to secure equality of treatment in respect of matters such as employment and occupation, social security, and trade union and cultural rights.
In addition to this, ILO has also issued recommendations to these conventions in order to ensure better working conditions and human rights as well as to protect the migrants from becoming victims of any circumstances.
However, Nepal has yet not ratified any of these conventions. But, as a member of the UN and ILO, it becomes moral obligations for Nepal to implement the provisions of these conventions.
“These conventions can be effective tools to raise issues of violation of human rights and labour rights for the source country like Nepal,” says Saru Joshi, programme manager, UNIFEM, Nepal Office.
Contemplating these rising number of death cases and accidents, Ganesh Gurung, a noted foreign employment expert and president of National Network for Safe Migration (NNSM), urges that Nepal needs to take the issue seriously to ensure basic human rights to its citizens anywhere in the world.
links: Labour standards in Nepal