'Female Migrant Workers' means women who move to another country in order to find seasonal or temporary employments. In today's world, there are more than 12 crore female migrant workers, among which almost 2 lac are from Bangladesh, and this number is increasing with every passing day. However significant this number might appear to us, sadly there is no effective legislation in any country to protect the rights of the female workers on foreign soil. As a result, every other day we see newspaper reports and Youtube videos of female migrant workers being underpaid, exploited, tortured, raped or even killed in countries like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Italy etc.
Now the question is, why have these women chosen to become migrant workers? The answer is poverty. Moreover, as these workers can bring much needed capital to their home countries, thus sometimes they get encouragement from their governments too. On the other hand, there are some sub-agents who fraudulently misguide poor villagers in order to grab big amount of money from them. Often these sub-agents falsify date of birth and other information of the workers, allowing them easier access to the foreign country. Later these workers fall in deep trouble in that country due to such falsification. Specially in Saudi Arabia, where the employers hold the employees' passports, the migrant workers cannot even go back to their homelands without the permission of their sponsor. This is strictly against the UDHR (Universal Declaration of Human Rights) which declares that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own. Human Rights Watch describes this condition as “near-to-slavery”.
According to Amnesty International's observation, the Saudi Arabian law does not give effective legal protection to female migrant workers or home-maids. In the absence of any interpreters or legal representatives, these migrants fail to defend themselves against any false accusation of crimes including theft, murder or even black magic. Sometimes the victims' families ask for millions of riyal as diyya (blood money) from the migrants in order to take back the accusation. Moreover, the migrants' home government is not even notified, in case the migrant is sentenced to death. In 2010 at least 27 migrant workers were executed in Saudi Arabia. In June 2011, an Indonesian home-maid named Ruyati Binti Satubi was beheaded for killing her employer's wife, reportedly after years of abuse. In September 2011, a Sudanese migrant worker was beheaded for sorcery. In January 2013, a Sri Lankan home-maid named Rizana Nafeek was beheaded after she was convicted of murdering a child under her care, an occurrence which she attributed to the infant choking.
At present ILO is taking initiatives to protect the rights of workers, including migrant workers, from abusive and fraudulent practices during the recruitment process. In Bangladesh, we have Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment and several private institutions and NGOs who are working for the betterment of female migrant workers. In addition, we have several legislations, e.g. the Prevention and Suppression Human Trafficking Act, 2012; the Overseas Employment and Migrants Act, 2013; the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Migration Policy, 2016 and the Prevention and Suppression Human Trafficking Rules, 2017. However, the mere existence of these bodies and laws will not ensure the rights of female migrant workers. We rather require effective implementation and international collaboration. To fight this new way of enslaving people, we need to build awareness right from the grassroots level. We have to remember that these female migrant workers belong to our country. So if we, the countrymen, do not stand beside them, then who else will?
Farzana Shashi Lecturer, Department of Law & Justice The People's University of Bangladesh