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Migrant workers

Fighting forced labour with education

Nepalese women migrating as domestic workers often risk falling prey to human trafficking. A little knowledge can go a long way towards reducing their vulnerability.

Feature | 04 January 2013
KATHMANDU (ILO News) - Every day, as many as 1,500 people migrate from Nepal, hoping for a better life for themselves and their families. But many fall prey to unscrupulous employers, recruiters or even family members, and end up in forced labour.

Nepal’s economy is heavily dependent on remittances – which account for about a quarter of GDP - while poverty and instability lead many women and girls to travel abroad for employment as domestic workers. Lack of information about the risks involved leaves them highly vulnerable.

Poverty and unemployment are forcing people to look for greener pastures abroad."

“Poverty and unemployment are forcing people to look for greener pastures abroad, oblivious to the perils of human trafficking,” Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai said recently.

A need for knowledge …

The International Labour Organization (ILO) believes that knowledge can play an important role in helping migrants stay safe.

“In order to prevent these women and girls falling into the pitfall of trafficking and forced labour, it is essential to reach out to such vulnerable groups through educational and awareness programmes,” says Bina Thapa of the ILO in Kathmandu.

In 2012, the ILO organized a series of orientation workshops, as part of a UK-sponsored pilot project aimed at reducing the vulnerability of women and girls migrating as domestic workers.

The project sought to raise awareness of the challenges of migrant domestic work, including the growing threat of forced labour. Participants also learned about preventive measures for safe migration and the laws that protect the rights of domestic workers.

… and financial planning

One of the issues discussed was the need for financial planning, including the importance for migrants to save some money for themselves – even as they send funds home to their families – in order to retain a measure of financial independence, for example by starting a business of their own.

The workshops were run by Pourakhi, a Nepali NGO set up by returnee women migrant workers. They were held in the Sunsari district, close to the Indian border, which is notorious for high levels of human trafficking.

The government has provided some orientation training for potential migrants but only for a limited number of participants. Because these courses were held in Kathmandu, only those who live in the capital or have relatives there willing to put them up could afford to attend.

Far away from the central administration in Kathmandu, vulnerable girls and women in districts like Sunsari fall under the radar despite the government’s efforts to promote safe migration.

At one of the workshops, Geeta Gautam told how her husband forced her to work abroad as a domestic worker, how she was raped by her employer, and was eventually thrown out of her home by her in-laws after giving birth upon her return.

Young women often migrate to flee domestic violence, poverty or civil unrest, and end up falling into the trap of forced labour and trafficking.

Pourakhi, which also broadcasts weekly radio programmes aimed at helping future migrants prepare for the challenges they face, has called on the government to ensure migrants are properly trained and educated before they travel abroad for employment.

Forced labour is a worldwide scourge, with about 21 million people trapped in jobs into which they were coerced or deceived and which they cannot leave. More than half of them – 11.7 million – are from the Asia-Pacific region, according to the ILO's 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour. Of those, 4 million are in Bangladesh, India and Nepal.