GreenWatch Dhaka Report
A recent research has found that around 58 per cent of the women migrant workers from Bangladesh were forced to return home within the first year of their migration though the duration of the initial contract was two years. The majority of the returnee women migrant workers claimed to have faced horrific struggles including being overworked, having long working hours, being deprived of food, facing physical and psychological torture, and sexual abuse which resulted in them being forced to return.
The research on ‘Access to justice for Bangladeshi migrant workers: Opportunities and challenges’ was conducted by Shakirul Islam, chair of Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), a grassroots migrants’ organisation in Bangladesh with support from the European Union. One-fifth of Bangladeshi migrant workers are women.
It found 27 per cent of the returnee women migrant workers claimed illness caused by physical and psychological torture and abuse were among the key reasons for their premature return.
The research was primarily based on in-depth case documentation of 262 returnee women migrant workers who returned home as survivors of exploitation and abuse during recruitment and employment in the Middle Eastern countries.
Each case was identified by peer migrant networks mainly from four districts – Faridpur, Narsingdi, Munshigonj and Narayangonj and documented by gathering testimonies together with available documents and evidence. The research also follows and systematically documents 123 arbitration cases and six court cases filed by the women migrant workers in Narsingdi, Faridpur and Dhaka districts of Bangladesh, the study report published in March says.
The research highlights how a nexus of agents and sub-agents entice the women to migrate by providing false promises and information and take unlawful measures to send women abroad in the name of better opportunities for employment. They prey on the vulnerable socio-economic condition of the women to trap them in the migration cycle.
It found found 7 per cent of the 262 women surveyed were under the age of 24 (the legal age required to migrate) while 3 per cent were children below the age of 18.
The research also found 24 per cent of the women were provided with an ‘emigration clearance card’ without their participation in the mandatory pre-departure training organised by the Government-run technical training centers, while 17 per cent were sent with forged medically fit certificates.
Nearly 88 per cent of the women were not provided with a written job contract in time, or with appropriate translation and orientation. The women migrant workers are supposed to be recruited with ‘zero’ fees, but 65 per cent of the women paid between BDT 5,000 and BDT 150,000 (US$ 60 – 1,785) to migrate, the report adds.
The study notes, economic hardship is the main reason for overseas migration for both men and women. However, the research exposed gender-based violence resulting in divorce and separation as vital reasons why almost one fifth of migrant workers from Bangladesh are women. Women migrants not only contribute to their families through investment in food security, health and education, the remittances they send make a significant contribution to the overall economic development of the country.
The Government of Bangladesh has adopted laws and policies for the protection of the rights of migrant workers with a special emphasis on female migration. The Overseas Employment and Migrants Act (OEMA) 2013 ensures migrant workers’ rights to seek criminal prosecution for any offence under the Act. The Act allows any aggrieved person to file a complaint against any fraud, extortion or a breach of contract against any person including a recruitment agent.
The Government has established an ‘arbitration cell’ under the Bureau of Manpower and Employment (BMET) to provide a structural Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) system without forsaking the right to file a civil suit. However, without improvements in the institutional mechanism and implementation of this, accessing justice and reaching fair solutions for migrant workers, particularly women, remains a challenge.
The lack of proper implementation of the law and the policy continue to make the recruitment system in Bangladesh unfair and unsafe. Unethical recruitment practices make migrant workers, especially women, more vulnerable in the migration cycle.