As a blanket policy, the ban also does not distinguish among destination countries or domestic work categories. Not all countries where Nepalis are in domestic work are equally vulnerable. The UAE, for example, has made visible efforts on domestic worker safety. It has adopted a domestic worker specific law, and has set up Government-approved Tadbeer Centers that provide all services related to domestic workers. Similarly, not all domestic workers are equally vulnerable. A domestic worker is not just a housemaid, but they also work as guards, gardeners, personal cooks and drivers.
Because of the high demand for domestic workers and the push factors in Nepal, the ban has allowed unscrupulous agents to find loopholes to overcome the state-imposed barriers. The long open border with India has rendered the ban ineffective. And many domestic workers continuing to go abroad as cleaners or on tourist visas, with airport ‘setting’ — a widely understood phenomenon involving bribes to the immigration and labour counter.
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We criticise the limited mobility of Nepali workers abroad because their passports are confiscated by employers, yet we limit a domestic worker’s mobility by refusing them labour approvals to travel abroad legally. We emphasise skills training for migrant workers, but we deprive them of the 35-day mandatory, free, residential domestic worker pre-departure training as per Nepali law when the ban isn’t in place. We censure limited labour rights abroad, yet impose a ban that prevents thousands of women from visiting ailing parents or reuniting with their children back home. Until recently when the government finally allowed current domestic workers to come home for holidays, they could not return to Nepal for fear of not being allowed back out to well-paying jobs, and those who had to pay large sums to use unauthorised channels.
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The ban clearly does not take into account the factors that drive women to seek domestic work abroad. For many women, it is the first time they engage in work with renumeration and allow them to provide for their families.
Stories of abuse are prevalent and horrific, but surely numerous on-and-off restrictive policies in the last two decades (age bans, country bans, conditional bans, blanket bans) are not the appropriate response. The Parliamentary Committee owes it to current and future Nepali domestic workers to end the ban once and for all, and to emphasise more effective policy responses that get to the heart of the issue and not shrug off responsibility by attributing any malpractice to the domestic worker’s own irresponsibility for breaking the law.
Name of worker has been changed.