A parliamentary watchdog yesterday asked the foreign ministry to prepare a specific work plan to stop torture and sexual harassment of female expatriate workers, saying that even a single such incident was not acceptable.
At a meeting at the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban, the parliamentary standing committee on foreign ministry also advised the ministry to take the issue very seriously, said meeting sources.
The committee asked the foreign ministry to collect personal information of the female workers from the expatriate welfare ministry before they are sent abroad.
“If their names and other personal information are available, we will be able to monitor their condition,” a committee member told The Daily Star quoting a foreign ministry official.
Speaking at the meeting, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said around six lakh Bangladeshi women were working abroad. Of them, around 2.5 lakh were in Saudi Arabia.
“Of the total women workers abroad, around 1 percent [6,000] or less face torture and other problems at their workplaces,” he said.
The parliamentary body asked the top foreign ministry officials to take effective measures to stop torture and harassment of the female workers in Saudi Arabia and some other countries.
Ministry officials said the expatriate welfare ministry did not inform them about the female workers after sending them abroad.
The foreign minister told the meeting that they came to know about a particular incident of torture or harassment only after a victim informed the Bangladesh mission.
The foreign ministry also informed the JS body that it was planning to set up hotline numbers at different Bangladesh missions abroad and the numbers would be given to all female migrant workers. The workers would call the numbers if they faced any problem.
Officials told the meeting that some irregularities took place in sending female workers abroad, including sending job seekers aged below 14 and above 65 abroad.
They also said following communications from them, the Saudi authorities took actions against several Saudi nationals over torture of female Bangladeshi workers.
The parliamentary watchdog agreed with the foreign ministry officials that it would not be logical to bring back female workers as they send huge foreign remittances to home.
“According to statistics, a female worker sends home about 90 percent of her monthly income against 60 percent by a male worker. The country’s remittance income will be reduced if the female migrants are brought back home,” a member of the parliamentary body told this correspondent.
Committee Chairman Muhammad Faruk Khan, Awami League MP from Gopalganj-1, told the meeting that the government could not make a decision based on emotion.
Talking to reporters after the meeting, the lawmaker said most of the female expatriates work in good conditions. They also take their relatives abroad, he added.
Several lawmakers in the last session of the Jatiya Sangsad demanded that the government stop sending female workers to Saudi Arabia as several hundred bodies of female workers were sent to Bangladesh from there in the last few years.
They also said thousands of female workers returned home after being tortured physically and harassed sexually by their Saudi employers.
According to the Brac Migration Programme, bodies of 311 women workers were sent to Bangladesh from the Gulf countries, mostly from Saudi Arabia, between 2016 and June this year.