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Report of the workshop on Social Cost of Migration in Nepal

Organised by Center for Labor and Social Studies (CLASS)

21 December 2014, Kathmandu


Introduction

Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and CLASS Nepal jointly organized a day-long workshop on Social Cost of Labor Migration in Kathmandu on December 21, 2014. The program was organized to assess the social costs Nepal has been incurring over the years due to labor migration and discuss on possible measures to reduce it. The program drew participation of trade union leaders from across all major political parties, NGO activists working in the field of migrant workers, academicians and politicians, among others. While the CLASS Nepal representatives, FES-Nepal head Dev Raj Dahal and trade union leaders affiliated to various major political parties and senior government officials put forth their views on the issue during the inaugural session, two separate papers were presented in the following two working sessions. The participation of trade union leaders was especially important in view of the concerns coming from various quarters that industrialists are shying away from putting investment and creating employment opportunities in Nepal due to unruly activities of trade unionists. Two separate paper presentation -Social Cost of Labor Migration in Nepal: Legal Perspectives by Advocate Roshan Pokharel and Coverage of Foreign Employment-Role of Media by senior media professional Babita Basnet-- was followed by live discussions and comments from the participants.

Inaugural Session

Addressing the inaugural session of program, CLASS Nepal General Secretary Tilak Simkhada said the program was organized keeping in view of the need to make labor migration safer and more descent. While urging media to put additional focus on the issues concerning migrant workers, he said that it is equally important to see if the foreign employment is creating negative effects in the country. He cited a few examples such as decreasing agricultural production, lack of proper care to children and elderly people, degrading social and cultural values and increasing number of unhealthy and physically disabled people as negative effects of foreign employment. "We expect to hear experiences and insights from various concerned stakeholders of labor migration present here in the program," he said.

Chairperson of Paurakhi Nepal Manju Gurung in her key note speech shared her personal experience when women would hardly dare to speak in public that they had come back home from foreign employment. She said that although the situation has witnessed a significant change over the years much needs to be done yet to make foreign employment safer and more descent for both men and women. She said that she was particularly encouraged by the decision of National Planning Commission (NPC) to take the issue of safe labor migration as one of its prioritized issues. "Migration is an issue of every household in Nepal now. We are likely to face the fate similar to that of Philippines if we failed to address negative impacts brought about by it on time," she warned.

Gurung said that Nepali women, who go to work as housemaid in various Gulf countries, are forced to choose illegal methods to reach Gulf countries via India as Nepal has put ban on it. The absence of mother at home has forced girls in their early teens to bear all household responsibilities, depriving them of the opportunity to have natural upbringing. Arguing that the social cost of labor migration has both negative and positive sides, Gurung said foreign employment has enhanced decision making power of women and migrant workers have been able to bring new skills, culture and knowledge that can be helpful to bring positive changes in the Nepali society. Highlighting the negative aspect of labor migration, Gurung mentioned that there is an absence of male members in the village even to take the dead bodies to nearby rivers for cremation and more and more cultivable land has fallen barren and agricultural production has seen s sharp decline. "It is time to think about the situation of children, who are born from housemaids due to lack of abortion. A large number of people are likely to face a problem of statelessness if appropriate measures are not taken on time," she said.

Equally serious problem Nepal is likely to face, according to Gurung, is the growing number of handicapped and disabled people. She said that a large number of Nepali youths are returning home without their limbs due accidents at workplaces as they lack proper orientation, training and skills before going abroad for work. She said that since the dead bodies of three to seven Nepali migrant workers are brought home every day, the problem of their dependant family is also equally serious. "Foreign employment has also given rise to the problem of polygamy and polyandry. The cases of family disintegration are going equally high. I heard there are at least six cases of divorce every day in Chitwan district alone. It is important to see where our social structure is heading towards," she further said.

While highlighting on the problems of migrant workers at work places, Gurung also said migrant women have faced various problems in reproductive health and they are growing vulnerable to HIV/AIDS. Women migrant workers are also vulnerable to social stigma and they still do not have an environment to say with full esteem that they returned from foreign employment. "The 30-year age bar for women is gender discriminatory. As a party to CEDAW, Nepal needs to ensure women's rights to their mobility and freedom," she said. While urging the government to ratify ILO 1981 and ILO 1992 Convention, she said that there is need to regulate foreign employment agencies and share responsibilities of the foreign employment among all stakeholders.

In his welcome speech, Narayan Bhattarai of ILO Contract Committee lauded the initiative taken by FES-Nepal and CLASS Nepal to start discussions on the social costs of migration. He said that although they also held discussion on issues related to safer migration they never thought of talking about the social costs of migration. While pointing out the need to create employment opportunities at home, Bhattarai suggested trade unions to help ensure appropriate wage rate and proper working conditions for the workers. He also highlighted the role of trade unions to create awareness among workers on their rights.

Amnesty International-Nepal President Surya Prasad Adhikari urged the government to take up measures to promote interests of the migrant workers. He said that the hardships of youths, who go abroad for works, start right since they leave their villages. While in the village they are forced to pay high interest rate for the money they borrow to go abroad, they are cheated multiple times by brokers while processing their application for overseas employment. He criticized the government for creating discriminatory age bar for women wishing to go abroad for works.

Adhikari urged the government to make necessary arrangement to provide prospective labor migrants with loan at cheaper interest rate from the Foreign Employment Welfare Fund. While pointing out the need to deal foreign employment related frauds and other unscrupulous activities as per the Human Trafficking Act, he asked the government to take additional initiatives to create safer labor destinations for Nepali migrant workers.

CONEP General Secretary Shiva Adhikari argued that social welfare of migrant workers has to be the primary agenda of all trade unions operating in the country. He thanked the FES-Nepal and CLASS Nepal for initiating discussions on the social costs of foreign employment.

Jagat Simkhada of All Nepal Trade Union Front (ANTUF) said hundreds of thousands of Nepali youths are forced to go abroad for works even as Nepal is endowed with huge amount of natural resources. While adding that more than 400,000 youths come to the labor market each year, Simkhada said over 500,000 Nepali youths are forced to go to various Gulf countries for job each year. He said that it is very serious to note that dead bodies of at least five Nepalis working in Gulf region are brought back home each day.

Arguing that villages these days are left either with elderly people or with children, Simkhada blamed political leadership for failing to give heed to the rights of working class people. While in the youthful age they go abroad for works, they come back home when they are physically exhausted. "This will ultimately make Nepal an elderly home," he warned. Simkhada also expressed worry over Nepal becoming a source country for women trafficking due to foreign employment. While criticizing the government for failing to tap the skills and expertise that the migrant workers have earned, Simkhada urged trade unions in Nepal to raise this issue strongly with the government.

Trade Union Congress President Khila Nath Dahal said it is necessary to discuss on three different phases of migrant workers -- phase of their departure, phase of their work abroad and the phase of their return home after certain years of works abroad-to identify and address the problems of Nepali migrant workers. Although Nepal is receiving over Rs 6 billion a year as remittance from about 3.5 million Nepali migrant workers abroad, Dahal said that foreign employment is creating serious problems in the country as 3 to 7 dead bodies are brought back home every day and several Nepali migrant workers are rendered handicapped due to accidents at workplaces. Sexual exploitation of women and birth of children from those working as housemaids in various Gulf countries due to sexual exploitation is causing equally serious problem. Arguing that Nepali state cannot afford to bear the liability that comes through the social costs of foreign employment, Dahal argued that Nepal has to seriously work towards generating employment opportunities at home to avoid social costs emanating from foreign employment. "Although the foreign employment has some positive aspects such as helping Nepali migrant workers to bring in remittance, earn some skills and get foreign exposure, this cannot be the long-term solution to Nepal's unemployment problems," he said.

FES-Nepal Head Dev Raj Dahal said movement of people from one place to other in search of better opportunities is natural phenomenon. Referring to a statistics of International Organization for Migration (IOM) that about 232 million people live outside the border of their homeland, Dahal said migrant workers have been change agent with contribution of remittance in the world economy growing fast in recent years. Dahal said that Nepal's formal economy remains largely dysfunctional and more than 90 percent of Nepal's 11.12 million workers are forced to work in informal sector without any social protection.

Nepal government has opened 109 countries for foreign employment and allowed over 600 manpower companies to send Nepali nationals abroad for works as unemployment rate at home is as high as 42 percent. While mentioning about Nepal government's move to promulgate Foreign Employment Act in 1985 and set up a separate Foreign Employment Promotion Board to better regulate outbound migration of Nepali workers, Dahal presented a fact that over 450,000 youths in Nepal enter into shrinking job market out of which 350,000 migrate abroad to 131 different countries for works. Nearly 62 percent of them are in Gulf countries alone.

Although the migrant workers bring in over $4 billion remittance, which constitutes over 23 percent of Nepal's total $20 billion GDP, Dahal lamented that there is no agency in Nepal to protect labor rights of these migrant workers. He said that it is high time to identify the challenges faced by the migrant workers, review the national policy deficits regarding the migrant workers and explore possible areas where SAARC countries can harmonize their labor policies to promote well-being of regional workers abroad, lower the cost of migration and protect their rights and their hard-earned money. He argued that those workers, who are sent abroad by overseas companies without formal agreements on the government levels, face a number of disadvantages such as low pay, overwork, passport seizure by companies, unhealthy working conditions, workplace harassment, sexual abuse in the case of women, torture, kidnapping and even face threats of terrorist attacks.

Dahal argued that implications of increasing migration of youths abroad on political and social life of the region have not been properly analyzed. Also, he mentioned that SAARC has not been able to formulate coherent policy regarding labor market integration within the region and abroad and forge common negotiating position and policies on migrant workers as well on labor agreements. "It is high time to address the problem of workers working abroad, analyze domestic barriers, develop policy coordination among the regional countries and build their skills and capacity as per the provisions articulated in the core labor standards of ILO and global humanitarian rules," he said.

Stating that Nepal has yet to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and their families, Dahal pointed out the need to formulate a number of measures at the various levels to optimize the benefits of remittance economy and minimize social costs. He said that there is a need to work on three levels-national level, South Asian level and at an international level-to promote the interest of migrant workers from the region. These include formulation of appropriate policies and laws on social protection, establishment of proper institutional and regulatory framework and language and skill training provisions for migrant workers at national level, reviewing policy documents and formulating a model policy, establishing a SAARC Task Force on Migration, setting up a regional standards to collect data and establishment of a Labor Cell at SAARC Secretariat and a separate mechanism to protect their rights at SAARC level. Dahal pointed out the need to establish multi-lateral framework for decent works for migrant workers, forge a common position on WTO agreement on international norms on migration, ensure equal rights and protection for the migration of both males and females and forge partnership with various international organizations, international civil society organizations and non-resident Nepalese associations at an international level to protect the interests of Nepali labor migrants.

Dahal also highlighted on the activities of FES-Nepal on migration and social protection. While the FES-Nepal jointly with SACEP in 2006 organized South Asian Conference on Labor Migration, Employment and Poverty Alleviation in South Asia and published a book in the same title, FES-Nepal with the help of its trade union partners has been organizing programs on issues related to migration, social security and implementation of social charter. He said that FES and its regional partners organized three different programs on migration and social protection of migrant workers in South Asia in the year 2014 alone. All the three activities, according to Dahal, were designed to provide inputs to the 18th SAARC Summit that was held in Kathmandu on November 26-27. As such, Kathmandu Declaration of the SAARC Summit has adopted the issue of social protection and migration raised by FES-Nepal in its Article 20 and 21, respectively.

Arguing that the problems of migrant workers are many times more than they have come to the public, General Secretary of South Asian Regional Trade Union Council (SARTUC) Laxman Basnet said it requires an extensive study to assess exact level of social costs of foreign employment in Nepal. He suggested National Planning Commission to conduct a detailed study on the social costs of foreign employment so that it would be easy to formulate appropriate policies at the government level to improve this situation. "The study should focus on how we can maximize the benefits and how we can minimize negative effects of foreign employment," he said.

While lamenting that each successive government in the past 10 years did not care about creating employment opportunities at home, Basnet argued that it will take several years to bring Nepal into the right track as most Nepali migrant workers abroad without any proper skills are forced to work in hazardous health condition. Citing media reports that more than 400 dead bodies of Nepali migrant workers are now lying stranded in various Gulf countries, he urged the National Planning Commission to take some initiatives to improve the situation of Nepali migrant workers abroad.

NPC member Bharatendra Prasad Mishra assured that he will take the concerns raised in the program to the concerned ministries for necessary action. Stating that NPC is serious about the concerns raised by various stakeholders of the foreign employment, Mishra said that NPC will give suggestions to the ministries concerned as it is not an implementing agency of the government. Referring to a recent program organized by NPC on International Migration Day on December 19, Mishra said migration for development has to be the motto of Nepal that sends millions of its people abroad for works.

While underscoring the need to generate employment opportunities at home, Mishra said that migrant workers should be provided with appropriate training and orientation to minimize the risk involved in foreign employment sector. He also urged media and trade unions help inform them about pros and cons of the foreign employment so that those wishing to go abroad for works can take an informed decision. "We Nepalese are not poor, but we created poverty," he said while adding that there is a need to make people in the village educated about foreign employment.

Arguing that the issue of women's security while at work abroad is equally a serious issue, Mishra said this problem cannot be addressed unless all concerned stakeholders make concerted efforts. "We have set a goal to graduate from LDC by 2022. But how will we able to achieve if we keep sending our youths abroad for works?" he asked while urging media to highlight the problems seen in the foreign employment.

President of CLASS Nepal Lekh Prasad Burlakoti thanked all the participants for their active participation and finding time to attend the program. He said that the program was organized to assess the consequences of foreign employment as this issue has been hardly talked about in Nepal. This is a part of a series of programs that CLASS Nepal has been organizing on different issues related to entire labor market in Nepal.

Working Session

In his presentation entitled 'Social cost of labor migration in Nepal: Legal Perspectives', Advocate Roshan Pokharel made a brief overview of the history of migration in Nepal and various laws that Nepal government enacted over the years to govern outbound labor migration. Pokharel argued that migration has been a common phenomenon as there are pull and push factors in different parts of the world. According to International Labor Organization, some 30 to 40 million people in the world today are irregular migrants. While making a brief overview of the history of migration in Nepal that began in early phase of our civilization, he said that modern pattern of migration of Nepalese national is found to have begun in the 19th century when first Nepalese man migrated to Lahore city of modern day Pakistan to join the army of Shikh ruler Ranjit Singh. A large number of Nepalese had later migrated to Lahore when they were recruited in the British-Indian army.

Pokharel said modern day labor migration of Nepalese nationals extended to various countries far abroad after the government introduced Foreign Employment Act 1985 and made it easy for citizens to acquire passports easily along with visas for foreign labor migration. The start of the Maoist insurgency in 1996 that resulted into the slowdown in already ailing economy led to the mass exodus of Nepalese youths to various Gulf countries and beyond for works. "Although the labor migration from Nepal mostly was concentrated to India for long due to easy access, cultural similarities and open border, Nepali migrants today are going mainly to West Asia and the newly industrialized countries in East Asia, Europe, North America," he said.

According to Ministry of Labor and Employment, there has been increase in the total number of labor permits issued over the last six months, representing a staggering 137 percent increase between 2008/9 and 2013/14. Referring to a status report prepared by the ministry, Pokharel said an average of 1,500 Nepalese migrant workers fly abroad for work each day. "Foreign employment continues to be a strong demand among the young Nepalese looking for income and job opportunities as well as skills and technological enhancement," he said. While adding that remittance constitute about 25 percent of the total GDP in Nepal, Pokharel argued that it is not good to find only 1 percent of those going abroad are skilled and 25 percent others are semi-skilled.

Pokharel then highlighted on constitutional and legal frameworks that Nepal has enacted to govern foreign employment sector. While the Article 13 of the Interim Constitution guarantees rights to equality, Article 18, 20, 21 and 24 mentions about citizens Rights to Employment and Social Security, Rights of Women, Rights to Social Justice and Rights to Justice, respectively. He also said that Rights to Information (Article 27), Rights against Exploitation (Article 29) and Rights to Constitutional Remedy (Article 32) are also other fundamental rights mentioned in the constitution that govern this sector. Pokharel then shed light on the important provisions in the Foreign Employment Act such as prohibition on sending minors to foreign employment, prohibition of gender discrimination, provision of special facility and reservation, training, punishment and filing complaint for compensation.

Pokharel also briefly highlighted on the institutional mechanisms and legislative documents that govern foreign employment sector in Nepal. While the Ministry of Labor and Employment is the key stakeholders in labor migration in Nepal, Foreign Employment Act 1985 was the first legislative document to officially recognize the benefits of international migration. Since the Foreign Employment Act was restrictive in nature it was revised twice in 1992 and 1998 and a ban was put on female migrant workers due to increasing instances of sexual harassment and physical abuse against them in a number of different countries. He mentioned that all periodic development plans since the ninth five year plan (1997-2002) have incorporated the issues of foreign employment as an important tool to reduce poverty and unemployment problems in Nepal.

The Foreign Employment Act amended in 2007 envisions the creation of a Board to manage foreign employment with a provision to create a new government department responsible for handling the issues. This also has provisions to establish tribunals to adjudicate on complaints filed by migrant workers, form welfare fund and ensure rights of the recruitment agencies to operate outside Kathmandu. While adding that the new Foreign Employment Act makes it mandatory for recruiting agencies to deposit Rs 3 million to acquire operating license, Pokharel said, "The new legislation has eliminated gender discrimination in contrast to the previous Act of 1998, which banned the female migrant workers from working in West Asia and made special provision for foreign employment opportunities to women, Dalit, indigenous nationalities and disadvantaged peoples from remote areas," he said.

Pokharel then identified the important challenges seen in the foreign employment sector in Nepal and also made some recommendations to address these problems. While arguing that Nepal does not have any concrete national level data on the socio-economic impact of migration, he said that the role of the migrant workers and remittance continue to remain neglected in policy documents. Pokharel pointed out the need to enhance and upgrade skills of migrant workers and adopt some measures to tap the skills and expertise migrant workers have brought home.

Taking concrete measures including stiffer penalties to prevent human trafficking in persons in the name of foreign employment, formulating appropriate policies and procedures for the protection of rights and welfare of South Asian migrant workers abroad, formulating separate set of policies on labor migration within SAARC region and labor migration to other destinations, extending assistance through embassies to the migrant workers of SAARC countries and negotiating for bilateral labor agreement with all labor destination countries are some of the recommendations Pokharel made to improve the condition of Nepali migrant workers abroad. Reviewing SAARC convention against trafficking of women and children with a view to strengthening protection measures to those returned from work abroad, stepping up measures against trafficking of women and children for sexual and labor exploitation, addressing the needs of informal workers, who need greater social protection such as those working at hazardous sites, removing administrative, legal, fiscal and other challenges seen in the informal sector to facilitate employment creation process and improving access to training and credit facilities were also among the recommendations he made to improve the condition of migrant workers.

Although the government has taken slew of measures to better regulate the foreign employment sector with the formation of Department of Foreign Employment and Foreign Employment Promotion Board under the Ministry of Labor and Employment, Pokharel said Nepalese migrant workers are forced to bear various types of problems both at home and in their labor destination countries. He said that it is a big challenge to address social as well as other costs associated with the foreign employment to provide migrant workers with an opportunity to live a descent life and help them fully exercise their human rights.

Commenting on the paper, one of the panelists in the session, Gobinda Narayan, said the paper would have been additionally valuable had it dealt more on social costs of the foreign employment and elaborated further on what roles administration, political parties and society can play to minimize social costs of foreign employment. Arguing that Nepal remained poor due to its failure to mobilize valuable resources she is endowed with, he pointed out the need to ensure proper coordination between politics and voters in Nepal. "It is also necessary to hold discussion how much we could implement the existing laws," he said.

Another panelist in session Shiva Adhikari said although the foreign employment has brought about some positive changes including skill enhancement and leadership development among women Nepal is poised to face a dire situation as the trend of mass exodus of youths abroad for work shows no sign of abetting. Stating that most of the villages are now without male members, Adhikari said foreign employment has not only caused social disintegration and erosion of Nepali culture and values but also caused scarcity of laborers at home. He also said that most of the Nepalese women, who have gone abroad for works, are vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Arguing that most of the money that comes through remittance is spent mostly on consumption purpose, Adhikari said the remittance has not contributed to national development although the volume of remittance money is increasing each next year. While criticizing the government for its failure to fully implement the provisions set in the Foreign Employment Act, Adhikari said Nepali migrant workers are forced to undergo different hassles at Department of Foreign Employment. He suggested the government to make necessary arrangement to provide technical education to youths going abroad for work, take up measures to modernize agriculture and generate employment opportunities at home. "Nepal has to raise issue of social protection of Nepali workers while working with other SAARC countries," he said.

Adhikari also suggested government to make necessary arrangement to invest money earned by migrant workers in national pride projects such as mega hydropower projects. While pointing out the need to formulate additional laws, he also suggested trade unions to be active in their works to ensure dignified work environment to them and forge partnership with trade unions in other countries with the help of ILO to promote interests of Nepali migrant workers. The ILO has to work towards ensuring workers' right to organize peacefully for collective bargaining within the specified limits.

Adhikari also urged trade unions to conduct a national survey to determine the number of Nepali migrant workers and exert pressure on the government to work for the social protection of Nepali workers. Arguing that Nepal's trade unions have covered only about 2 million workers in the formal sector, he said that trade unions need to cover also those working in the informal sector. Highlighting the need to mobilize Nepali diplomatic missions abroad to properly take up the issues concerning Nepali migrant workers, he suggested Nepali diplomatic missions to set up separate help desk to address the concerns of migrant workers.

Comments/Questions

Jiwan Adhikari, General Secretary of Nepal Foreign Employment Medical Association (NeFEMA) said it is the compulsion of Nepali youths to go abroad for works. He added that the discussions would have been more productive had the representatives of Department of Foreign Employment, foreign employment entrepreneurs and journalists covering issues related to foreign affairs were also present in the program. Of the total 292 medical centers to test health condition of those going abroad for works, 242 are affiliated to the NeFEMA, according to Adhikari.

Adhikari said that medical test is important as it is the first step of those wanting to go abroad for works. Arguing that no one has to come back home on health reasons from foreign employment if they have undergone medical test with them, Adhikari said they have made an arrangement to provide Rs 40,000 as compensation should some persons in exceptional case are sent home on health reason. Each medical test center contributes Rs 200 from each person conducting medical test.

Adhikari said that a large number of people are forced to return home from Malaysia on health ground as Malaysian companies are found demanding workers far more than they actually are in need of. Likewise, many companies are found to have returned Nepali workers once they fall sick or meet some accidents and sometime they are found to have suffered from home sickness.

Lately, foreign companies are found returning Nepali workers back home as they engage in strikes and shutdown of companies to press for their demands. In such cases, companies are found to have asked them to undergo medical test again and fail them in the medical test. "We have now been pushing for a separate fund which can be of use to those who are displaced and returned home," he said while adding that the government is currently providing Rs 150,000 to the family of deceased in foreign employment.

Director of Department of Foreign Employment Hari Prasad Sharma said foreign employment has created various problems such as child labor, family disintegration and erosion of our culture and values. Although there are concerns that the government did not do anything to regulate foreign employment and minimize social costs brought about by this sector, Sharma said society and individuals concerned are also equally responsible for this situation. He mentioned that a large number of Nepalis have voluntarily gone to the countries that are restricted by the government. Arguing that existing laws are enough to regulate manpower agencies, Sharma said that government action against a few scrupulous manpower agencies would have helped to control malpractices seen in foreign employment sector. "But bureaucracy alone cannot do it. Political leadership has to demonstrate willingness and commitment to control these unscrupulous practices," he said.

Deputy General Secretary of Nepal Engineers' Association Dinesh Chandra Panthi said migration is a natural phenomenon and this should not be discouraged. He argued that Nepal now needs to invite more foreign direct investment to create employment opportunities at home. He also pointed out the need to introduce moral educations in schools in order to teach a culture of respecting labor. "Infrastructure development, foreign direct investment and respect to labor are some of the ways to address the problems seen in foreign employment sectors," he said.

Bal Dev Tamang argued that the program would have been more productive had it devoted discussions on ways to control foreign migration for works. Since poverty is the root cause of migration, Tamang said all should focus their discussions on alleviating poverty in the country. While urging political leadership to be honest in addressing the problems caused by foreign employment, he suggested government to introduce technical educations and creating employment opportunities at local level.

Central member of Trade Union Congress Jaya Bahadur Chand said although the paper discusses about the problems of migrant workers in Gulf countries it fails to talk about Nepali workers in developed countries such as USA, UK and other countries. While pointing out the need to make effective data keeping system on migrant workers, Chand complained that Nepali embassy officials themselves are found involved in duping Nepali workers.

Hiranya Dev Bhattarai of Amnesty International Nepal said the paper fails to make comprehensive presentation on various kinds of social costs that Nepal if facing due to foreign employment. He alleged that foreign employment agencies were involved in human trafficking and they often deny the work as promised in the labor destination country. While adding that this type of unscrupulous practice has to be discouraged through new legislations, Bhattarai argued that the situation of migrant workers is less likely to improve unless the representation of migrant workers is ensured in each political party and Nepali migrant workers are provided with voting rights.

General Secretary of AYON Arun Khadka said many youths have been unable to pursue further studies as they are left with household responsibilities with their father or mother leaving abroad for works. Informing that AYON along with Ministry of Youths and Sports are currently preparing to bring Youth Vision 2020 in order to address the problems and concerns of Nepali youths, Khadka said the discussions would have yielded concrete results had it focused on ways to create employment opportunities at home. He said that youths have started farming on the bank of Tamakoshi River as an innovative ways to create employment opportunities at home.

Lawan Chaudhari complained that the paper failed to discuss the problems of workers at local level. The issues of workers at local level and in the neighboring country India is no less problematic than the problem of those going to various Gulf countries. Arguing that laws alone won't solve the problem, Chaudhari said that people need to be made aware about pros and cons of foreign employment and facilitate them to take an informed decision while going abroad for works. "We all are equally responsible to improve the situation. It is we who have to work for it," he said.

After a brief comment on the part of paper presenter, moderator of the session Laxman Banset wrapped up the session. He said although a single program may not be able dig into all sorts of social costs involving foreign employment the program in itself marked a good beginning. Arguing that many Nepalese nationals tend to go abroad due to peer pressure and demonstration effects, Basnet pointed out the need to facilitate people going abroad to take informed decision. He said all people in Nepal are equally responsible to minimize negative impacts of foreign employment.

Third session

Next presentation in the program was made by Chairperson of Media Advocacy Group Babita Basnet. She highlighted various aspects of media coverage of labor migration including priorities and trend of media coverage on foreign employment issues. Stating that foreign employment has now become a story of almost every household in Nepal, Basnet said that the issues related to foreign employment have drawn due attention of the media in Nepal as two prioritized issues of media in Nepali context - crimes and sex -are often found within the issues related to foreign employment. These stories are normally based on humane, economic and social aspects of foreign employment.

Although a large number of Nepalese had already reached to various labor destinations for works, Basnet said Nepali media had not given much importance to this issue till early 2000A.D. When the first of its kind media monitoring was conducted in 2002, Nepali media had neither recognized foreign employment as an important area of media coverage, nor was there any exact data with the government about those going abroad for works. And the news reports that would come in the media on foreign employment were all negatives. There was also lack of clear government policy to govern foreign employment and hardly any reference materials were available then to raise the issues concerning foreign employment. Basnet said the trend of women to go to Gulf countries for work was continuing despite the fact that the government put restriction on women to go to these countries for works. "A new media campaign that was launched from 2011-2013 helped localize the issue of foreign employment and nationalize the local agenda," said Basnet, who coordinated the campaign.

Basnet said media now have covered various aspects of foreign employment including the hardships faced by Nepali nationals abroad, their success stories, legal and policy level issues and social costs that family of the migrant workers have to bear at home. Foreign employment issues have also started getting space in newspaper in the forms of news, commentaries and editorials in recent years. Basnet argued that Nepalese media that would only publish negative news about foreign employment have now started covering positive stories about it. She said that media have successfully raised issues such as landlord in villages charging exorbitantly high interest rate to innocent villagers opting to go abroad for work, stranded dead bodies in foreign land and failure of manpower companies to provide compensation to victim family and utilization of remittance in Nepal.

Basnet said that new issues related to foreign employment are coming up in recent years. Not only have the media exposed relationship between foreign employment and human trafficking, but also have they helped deliver justice to the victims of unscrupulous foreign employment agencies. She said that media have also successfully exposed various issues of Nepali migrant workers including the hardships faced by those in India and illegal network of human trafficking. "Nepalese media have also been equally raising human stories of those who are abroad for works and the dependant families of those migrant workers," she said.

While briefly highlighting the media coverage on various success stories of migrant workers in media, Basnet, however, noted that media coverage of the same issue differs between men and women. While such news about men focus on issues such as hardships faced in the foreign land, cheatings of manpower agencies, denial of salary on time and accidents that render them handicapped, the news of women working abroad mostly focus on sexual exploitation, lack of timely salary, rape cases and even suicide. Basnet said media have also highlighted on various social costs of foreign employment such as family disintegration, deserted houses and cultivable land left barren in villages and psychological problems faced by those going abroad.

Basnet pointed out the need to make regular monitoring of media and review their content, provide orientations and trainings to media persons and facilitate field visits to journalists covering issues related to foreign employment. While mentioning that media houses in Nepal are not in position to send their reporters abroad for field reporting, she pointed out the need to make an arrangement by the concerned government agencies to provide factual data related to foreign employment, conduct well-organized research, disseminate success stories of migrant workers and conduct workshops and orientation programs targeted to journalists covering issues related to foreign employment.

Comments/Questions

General Secretary of Madhesi Trade Union Nirmala Yadav argued that although the paper extensively talks about external migration it fails to take into account the internal labor migration in the country. She pointed out the need to create awareness about foreign employment among women wishing to go abroad for work. Referring to the ongoing constitution drafting process, Yadav said that a few women represented in the CA now need to work for the protection of the rights of women. "What's the point in talking about exploitation of women when they do not have their own nationality," she asked in reference to a constitutional provision that bars children to acquire citizenship certificates through the name of mothers.

I Bahadur Khatri said manpower agencies under the protection of political leadership are exploiting people by showing various kinds of threats. He said media have to bring their issues to the public as these people cannot fight legal battle against these unscrupulous manpower agencies.

Kamal Khatri of Agricultural Development Bank said although it is a duty of media to bring truth to the public they should equally think about negative impacts their news may bring to the society. Arguing that society is facing negative impacts due to lack of qualified journalists, Khatri suggested media persons to be labor-friendly. Although then Nepali ambassador to Qatar Dr Maya Kumari Sharma spoke truth about the condition of Nepali workers, Khatri argued that she was recalled home largely due to lack of labor-friendly media.

Central Committee member of Nepal Trade Union Congress Radhika Kuinkel Khanal argued that public trust on media is eroding every year. She said that media seems to have given more space to advertisement and news related to commissions than the real issues of ordinary people. While urging media to work further on the cause of migrant workers, she asked media persons to explore the causes behind the desperation of ordinary people to go abroad for works.

Bal Dev Tamang complained that although media is supposed to raise the voice of voiceless they have been the means to promote the interests of elite class people in Nepal. He also said that media in Nepal have failed to ensure accuracy, balance and credibility in their news.

Herambha Bhattarai of Amnesty International-Nepal said media in Nepal is focused on fashionable issues than on the real issues of laborers. While arguing that issues concerning migrant workers have drawn less attention of media, Bhattarai complained that media persons tend to take themselves as institution and undermine all others.

Pratima Bhatta of UNI-NLC Youth Committee said media have failed to be credible as they tend to serve only cheap things to people. Bhatt said that establishment of vocational training institutes and training to migrant workers could be some of the important ways to improve the condition of Nepali workers. "If we are able to provide skill-oriented trainings to all we can improve the situation of workers. They can also make a good income," she said.

Another participant Surya Nepal complained that the media talk only about remittance that is brought home by Nepali migrant workers, but fail to take into account the hardships and sufferings Nepali migrant workers are forced to undergo. He said that a large number of Nepali workers are left without their limbs, undergo mental breakdown and suffer various kinds of health problems. "There have not been any discussions on how the future of labors can be improved," he said.

Moderator of the session Shanker Lamichhane wrapped up the session saying that Nepal will not be able to make a journey towards development if it continued sending youths abroad like this. Although Nepal is 92nd largest country in the world with vast natural resources, Lamichhane complained that Nepal is identified by many as a poor country. "This has to be the issue of media," he said adding that Nepalese people these days are living under another form of servile situation.

Arguing that a Nepali migrant worker can be a CEO but not the owner of the company, Lamichhane pointed out the need to find possibilities of employment opportunities at home. Giving an example of Sweden, which developed the country by bringing back its students studying abroad, he said that media also can play important role in developing the country with such pro-active reporting.

CLASS Nepal President Burlakoti in his conclusion remarks said it is high time to discuss on the social cost of foreign employment as all Nepalis need to bear the liability of such costs in the future. While suggesting all concerned stakeholders to move ahead with a spirit of 'we can', Burlakoti said it is Nepali people, who are responsible to bring about development in the country. "We cannot always make an excuse of becoming poor. We now have to stop begging for money. Our prime minister, ministers and all others have to stop it," he said.

 
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