Far from home and quite alone

Hindustan Times

India, June 15 -- Human migration is as old as civilisation itself but the magnitude and heterogeneity of migration have seen a phenomenal rise in the last two decades. This story of human populations moving from one end of the world to the other has another leitmotif today: a spurt in migration of women workers. According to a new report - Migration of Women Workers from South Asia to the Gulf - Indian women form the third largest female migrant workforce from South Asia in the Gulf. However, there is a side story to this news: many of these women often end up in vulnerable situations thanks to unscrupulous employers and lack of legal support in foreign lands. Interestingly, the report says, it is likely that women migrants will continue to encounter discrimination and exploitation at different phases of the migration cycle, in both the sending and receiving countries. It is even critical of a provision in the Indian law that has made it mandatory for female emigrants to complete matriculation or be of 30 years of age before going abroad on work. This provision, the report adds, has only given rise to a thriving industry of unregulated migration.

In 2010, 6.45 million international female migrants originated from South Asia of which Nepal sent the highest number followed by Sri Lanka and India. In the same year, Saudi Arabia received the highest proportion of Indian migrant workers to the Gulf region. To understand the dimension of the problem that we have at hand thanks to the increased outflow of female workers, one must read the figures given above with the Human Rights Watch's (HRW) 2011 report on Saudi Arabia. The HRW's report found women (and men) living in "conditions resembling slavery" and highlighted the widespread practice of forced, around-the-clock confinement of women in unsafe conditions. CNN's ongoing series - the Freedom Project - only corroborates the findings of the HRW report. The episode on Nepali women workers showed their plight in Saudi Arabia and one of the women interviewed recounted the horror of how an employer raped her and refused to give her passport back.

Given that migration from India will not end, considering that local jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to get, the labour-intensive manufacturing sector is in the doldrums and skill development programmes have not yet picked up, keeping many people at the lower end of the employability scale, the government needs to wake up to this problem and see how best to tackle the issues that women workers face abroad. There are some structures already in place, like pre-departure briefing and insurance, but the problem is much more acute in the unregulated migration sector, which should now become the focus area for action.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Hindustan Times.