Nepali Times
At what cost the remittance economy?


LINING UP: Women stand on a long queue as they wait for their turn to submit applications for employment in Korea.
Kalpana Giri was a government school teacher in Bajura and her husband was a policeman. During the conflict, he was forced by the Maoists to leave the police and they had to leave their village because of threats. After failing to find a job, Kalpana decided to go abroad. She spent Rs 30,000 to learn Hebrew and paid Rs 450,000 to a recruiter to find her a caregiver job in Israel. In 2006, she left her five-year-old daughter and three-year-old son with her parents, and went to Israel.

She was contracted to work for five years, but she could not work more than five months. Although she earned $550 a month, her work to take care of a 82-year-old blind man was too demanding. He abused her verbally and tried to abuse her physically. "He would go mad when I said no and he even started torturing me physically," she recalls. He would beat her up and would not give her food.

She complained to his son, but he said the family had paid for her so she had to do everything he asked her to do. "I just couldn't continue, I feel nauseated even telling you all this," Kalpana said, relating how she became sick after she was attacked. His daughter admitted her to a hospital and with the help of a social worker, she contacted her agency. But the recruiter refused to send her home and instead locked her up in a room. One day, she climbed the wall and ran away. She went to a police station and explained her situation.

The police summoned the agency and had it pay damages and her trip home. Kalpana says the situation hasn't changed, and hundreds of Nepali women are going through the same problems she had. There is a Nepali embassy in Israel now, but Nepali caregivers who have problems at work still have no redress, she says, quoting friends in Israel.
Kopila Rai worked as cleaner and domestic help in Kuwait for two years.

Born in Bhojpur, she had come to Kathmandu to go to college. She met a Kuwait returnee who told her about a vacancy for salesgirl there. She could not resist the temptation to visiting a new place, earning money and living an independent life.

When she got to Kuwait, she found her job was to be a janitor in a bank. It paid her Rs10,000 per month, but after six months she also started working as a part-time domestic to augment her income. Unlike many other horror stories of Nepali women in Kuwait, Kopila was never abused. "Not everyone is as fortunate as me," she says, "female migrant workers are often vulnerable to abuses and violations."

BACK HOME: Kalpana Giri is glad to have returned after working in Isreal for five months as a caregiver.
After two years, Kopila is back in Kathmandu and has completed her Masters in Sociology. She completed her thesis on the issues of migrant workers and has now become an activist working for the welfare of migrant workers. Female migrant workers often work as domestics or caregivers which makes them even more vulnerable to abuse. They suffer multiple vulnerabilities: they are first exploited by Nepali recruiters and in the destination country often suffer physical and mental abuse. Back home, society attaches a stigma to female migrant workers. They can neither get any compensation nor have access to other facilities like insurance. At home, the society tends to suspect the character of female migrant workers.

Despite all the publicity about abuse and exploitation, women are still lining to go abroad, paying for Kuwaiti visas they know as fake, or passports that are not theirs. And when they get in trouble, they have nowhere to go.

Kalpana Giri hopes no one has to suffer what she did, but is sad that so many are so unprepared for what happens. "Unless there is standard employment contract and bilateral agreements with the country of destination, they are always vulnerable to violence," says Kalpana, who like Kabita, helps migrant workers back in Kathmandu.

Kalpana and Kopila say the government needs to set up embassies in countries with large concentrations of Nepali women, have rescue services and counselling, work for legal remedies in countries of origin and employment, effective monitoring of fake documents and pre-departure orientation.

Says Kopila: "We only talk about how the government benefits from the money migrant workers send home. But at what cost?"


(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)