A proposal by the Nepali government to require women under 40 to get permission from their family before traveling abroad for work has triggered outrage.
The Department of Immigration, led by three men, cited the need to curb trafficking of Nepalese women when they proposed the requirement this week.
“The girls and women in this age group are at a higher risk of human trafficking and other abuses. The new rule is proposed for their protection from potential abuses,” Tek Narayan Paudel, a spokesperson of the department, told reporters.
Paudel also told Khabarhub that the rule will “not apply to women who go abroad time and again”. “And this rule does not apply to educated women either,” he added. “The amendment will help ensure that women are not further exploited.”
The process is likely to be implemented soon, according to local reports. In an interview with MyRepublica, Paudel said that the rule is meant to reduce risks since officials are unable to rescue trafficked women.
The new rule requires the family of the visiting girl or woman and the local council office to issue a “recommendation” that would enable her to travel abroad. The family member will first write a consent letter, stating that they are well informed about the trip and its purpose. Additionally, female visitors will also be required to buy insurance of minimum 1.5 million Nepali rupees ($12,862) and carry currency equivalent to $1,000 as travel expenses.
The rule does not address the oft-reported collusion between local recruiters, immigration officers and foreign-based agents that run these trafficking rings.
The proposal comes on the heels of another controversial guideline under consideration since last year: those wishing to fly abroad must have a high-school diploma and should be able to speak English. This was to curb the illegal flow of Nepalese migrant workers to foreign countries on tourism visas. The decision was based on data from 2020 that showed a high number of citizens flying abroad and was quickly rescinded after public outrage.
The new immigration proposal has understandably triggered anger, specifically on social media. The Constitution of Nepal promises equal rights to men and women in terms of freedom and mobility. Many called the move misogynistic.
Human rights lawyer Anurag Devkota told Kathmandu Post, “Regressive moves of this sort send across a negative message to the national and international community.” He also called the proposal “unconstitutional and legally wrong.”
The Department of Immigration, reacting to the outrage, released a statement on Thursday saying that no concrete decision has been made and that several news reports are publishing “misleading” information about the issue. “The department has also urged one and all not to spread misinformation regarding the issue,” the department said. “The subject is currently under informal discussion in the department.”
Recent news reports highlight the endemic problem of Nepalese migrants going abroad on visit visas with the intention of working and facing exploitation and abuse as a consequence. Thousands of Nepalese, especially women, fall victims to human trafficking after being promised employment abroad. Human trafficking is the world’s second-largest criminal activity and rakes in close to $32 billion annually. In South Asia, Nepal is among the top countries where this trade is lucrative. On average, 50 Nepalese women disappear from their border areas every day.
The country is also witnessing anti-rape protests after recent incidents of sexual violence against young women. The new proposal, activists say, adds another layer of restricting women’s movements while failing to protect it from violent abuse. An editorial by Annapurna Express pointed out the problem of ignoring crimes of sexual violence, mostly by men. “Yet the same men are expected to act as women’s protectors, 24/7, as is evident in the new requirement for women leaving Nepal,” the editorial read.
“The protesting women are saying Nepali women don’t need men to guard their purity and conduct. What they ask for are equal laws and their equal applicability.”
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