February 14, 2011
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The government of Sri Lanka has raised its age limit from 18 to 21 years in response to the numerous cases of violence, abuse and torture on migrant women, often minors. Some Sisters are involved in this critical field and say the law is unnecessary. They are convinced that government must change the mechanism that regulates migration, increasing controls and giving more guarantees. The proposal on increasing the age limit was made by Dilan Perera, Minister of Promotion of Foreign Labour and Welfare. The debate on under age migrant workers became more heated when in June 2007 Rizana Nafeek was sentenced to death for the alleged murder of a newborn child of the family for who she had worked as a maid since the age of 17.
According to data compiled by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment approximately 50% of migrants are women, who work as domestic workers. Most of the complaints of abuse come from Saudi Arabia. In 2009 alone, the office received 5,796 complaints, of which almost 40% from the Kingdom. Of the total number 4,564 were women, around 18 or slightly older. At least 1.8 million Sri Lankans work abroad. It is estimated that the revenue from foreign migrants reached four billion dollars in 2010, compared to 3.3 billion in 2009.
Sister Noel Christine, of the Sisters of Charity, is the coordinator of the Shramabhimani Kendraya organization. The nun believes the law proposed by the government will be “ineffective” migrant women of all ages suffer abuse and violence: “Last week a 35 year old came back after just one month from Saudi Arabia, where she worked as a waitress. The doctors had to carry out an emergency operation after discovering that wires had been inserted into her body. ”
Sister Christine says more control by the authorities is needed, as in the case of Rizana, who managed to get into Saudi Arabia on a false document issued by a government office. According to the religious the government “sends” the women to work in other countries “to support the revenue of foreign remittances in Sri Lanka and alleviate the economic and social crisis of the state”.
According to Sister Janet, national coordinator of the Catholic National Commission (CNC) for migrants, tourists, prisoners and healthcare workers, the problem is that “there is no adequate system for looking work abroad. Most complaints involve unpaid wages, working too many hours, no rest, confinement to the workplace, physical and sexual violence”. “We should make women capable of working in different fields – continues Sister Janet – and find employment opportunities locally.”
Sister Ushani Perera, sister of the Cross of Chavade and coordinator of the Women Desk of Caritas Sri Lanka, calls for “effective control of responsible agencies, including the use of foreign agencies that help people to prepare essential documents”.