Women’s Welfare Should Not Be Compromised in Pursuit of Dollars | Print edition

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The immediate concern of the country at the present time is the accumulation of dollars to obtain the bare necessities for the survival of the population. The purchase of fuel, cooking gas, medicine and a host of other things depends on the availability of dollars.

It is therefore natural for the government to explore all possibilities of obtaining more dollars in the short term to meet the needs of the population. In pursuit of this objective, the government has implemented several measures to meet this need.

One of them is the decision to authorize civil servants to take unpaid leave for 5 years in order to obtain a job abroad. This is a healthy step because it serves two purposes.

The first is to obtain the foreign exchange that this category of employees probably needs, while reducing, even in a small way, the staff of a bloated civil service which weighs on the economy. .

However, dollars from this source may take longer to come in as jobs for this job category will be harder to find. However, it is a welcome start.

The other measure taken in this regard is the reduction of the age applicable to workers who go abroad for domestic work. Last week the government announced that it had decided to change the minimum
Age of migrant domestic workers at 21 years old.

The Department of Government Information said the Cabinet of Ministers had authorized the revision of the said age limit, after considering the recommendations of a Cabinet-appointed sub-committee.

According to a statement released by the Department of Public Information, age limits are currently in place for migrant domestic workers in various countries. “For Saudi Arabia, the minimum age is 25, and for other countries in the Middle East it is 23, and for all other countries it is 21,” the statement said.

According to the government’s decision, these limitations will now be revised to 21 years.

The welfare of female migrant workers seeking employment as domestic helpers has been the concern of successive governments which have taken various measures to address this issue.

One such measure has been to raise the minimum age for people allowed to migrate to work as domestic helpers.

In January 2011, the government approved a proposal by then Foreign Employment Minister Dilan Perera to raise the minimum legal age of employment for migrant domestic workers in Sri Lanka from 18 to 21 years old.

The very nature of domestic employment in foreign countries makes employees vulnerable and therefore the risk of abuse is greater. The older the maid, the better she is able to handle difficult situations. This is why most governments have considered imposing minimum age requirements as a means of protecting migrant domestic workers.

Another reason for raising the minimum age of migrant workers is to reduce the social cost of migration. Often those forced to seek employment abroad are young mothers who have children at an age when they most need maternal care.

In order to mitigate the social cost of migration, in 2007 the government introduced the Family Background Report (FBR) requirement in the labor migration regulatory framework.

The main provisions of the RBF policy were initially formulated in 2007 by the Ministry of Gender and Child Welfare and were fully implemented in July 2013.

Initially, they covered people with children under the age of five who went abroad to undertake female domestic work. Mothers of older children are allowed to migrate abroad for domestic work, provided they demonstrate that they have satisfactory alternative care arrangements in place to ensure the protection of children left behind.

The RBF policy has since been amended several times on the representation of different stakeholders.

The government should be encouraged to reverse its recent decision to lower the minimum age for migrant domestic workers. In the country’s desperation to make money, it is not advisable to jeopardize the interests of the female population.

The social cost is too great to be measured in dollars. Furthermore, the majority of migrant domestic workers come from the poorest and most vulnerable segment of society. It is incumbent on the Sri Lankan state to take care of these less fortunate members of society rather than exposing them to further hardships and tribulations.

We remember what a diplomat stationed in a Gulf country said to the then foreign minister, the late Lakshman Kadirgamar: “The state is the greatest exploiter of the poor migrant workers. They go into unknown and uncharted territory to face unknown difficulties and send their remittances to swell the coffers at home. The state reaps these rich yields without any investment but still does not do enough to protect them.

It should be mentioned that at the height of the armed conflict between the government and the LTTE, the annual war expenditure was equivalent to the annual remittances sent to the country by migrant workers.

In other words, the burden of financing the war fell on the poor and vulnerable, especially women. Will the poor and vulnerable be called upon to play a similar role in the country’s battle to stay afloat in the economic war?

( javidyusuf@gmail.com )

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