Bangladeshi workers, employed abroad, are the largest foreign exchange earners, in net terms, for the country. They deserve full appreciation. But media reports have recently exposed the kind of horrifying sexual abuses that the country’s expatriate women workforce sometimes suffers. The country certainly needs foreign exchange but the ignominy that women workers are subjected to, tarnishes its image.
A report published in a leading Bengali daily early this week brought to the fore the harrowing tales of 18 Bangladeshi women returnees from the Kingdom of Jordan. The report said the team of 18 women workers recently returned home empty-handed after they refused to be abused sexually any further. One of them told newsmen that she was among many women workers who were kept waiting in an office in Jordan on the first day of their arrival. Later, some male employers chose the workers as if they were in a sex shop and took them to their respective homes. The girl concerned was sexually abused by the employer in his house on the very first day of her joining work. When she refused to allow her employer to abuse her on the second day, she was forced into a bathroom, locked from outside for seven days with bread thrown to her through the windows. When she threatened to commit suicide, only then was she allowed to leave the house. She was later taken to the second place of employment but there too, she was subjected to sexual abuse.
The sad episodes of Bangladeshi women workers who are subjected to sexual abuse abroad are certainly known to the Expatriates Welfare and Overseas Employment Ministry. Knowing full well, the ministry ought to have restricted half-educated and illiterate women workers from going abroad before making foolproof arrangement for their safe employment there first. The government must strictly regulate export of women workers through manpower agents in the private sector and ensure that the latter do not flout or defy official instructions regarding the safety of the women workers abroad. It is now urgent for the ministry concerned to examine the terms and conditions under which 1,00,000 women workers are planned to be sent to Hong Kong in the private sector. The deal is alluring but could be risky, given the conditions in Hong Kong. Many quarters have been making strong pleas for not sending women workers abroad without thorough check-ups, follow-up actions that too at the level of the government and also under proper monitoring arrangements on a regular basis regarding their work conditions abroad.
Three years ago, the expatriates welfare and overseas employment minister said female job-seekers would be given mobile phones after they completed pre-migration training and SIM cards after they landed overseas. That assurance then came in the wake of widespread allegations from many returnee migrants that they did not get adequate cooperation from the Bangladesh missions abroad when they found themselves in troubles. If the domestic workers abroad get, at least, cell phones, it would surely be of help. But, more importantly, the officials at the Bangladesh missions abroad need to be worker-friendly. This, as the updated developments suggest, remains yet a far cry, making only a mockery of assurances about welfare of the expatriate workers.