Activists warn new anti-trafficking law requiring permission from families to travel is evidence of ‘deep-rooted patriarchal mindset’
Last modified on Wed 17 Feb 2021 06.32 GMT
A proposed law in Nepal that would ban women from travelling abroad without permission from their families and local government officials has been called unconstitutional and “ridiculous”.
The proposals, introduced by the Department of Immigration last week in an attempt to prevent women being trafficked, would require all women under 40 to seek permission before they visit Africa or the Middle East for the first time.
Following criticism, the department said the law applied only to “vulnerable” women and stressed it had yet to be finalised.
On Friday, hundreds of Nepali women gathered to protest against the proposals at the Maitighar Mandala in the heart of Kathmandu, as part of a “women’s march” to highlight rape and other abuses of female rights.
Hima Bista, executive director at Women Lead Nepal, told protesters: “What is extremely dangerous is the thought process behind it. The very fact that a policymaker is thinking about drafting this law restricting the movement of adult girls and women tells us how deep-rooted the patriarchal mindset is.
“A blanket approach targeting girls and women does not work. More homework is required if immigration rules are to be changed, across all genders and within the immigration department itself.”
Ila Sharma, a former election commissioner of Nepal, said: “It’s preposterous the way educated bureaucracy seems to be objectifying women. Clearly, they do not see women as fully fledged adults.
“Instead of empowering and building the capacity of women, as well as the rest of the emigrant labour workforce, they are being regressive, unconstitutional, not to say ridiculous.”
Nepal’s Human Rights Commission estimated that about 35,000 people, including 15,000 women and 5,000 girls, were victims of trafficking in 2018.
Activists pointed out that it is not just women who are trafficked, so immigration lawmakers should consider women and men in any proposed legal changes.
There have been several attempts over the past decades to combat exploitation through travel restrictions. The latest was in 2017 when the government banned Nepali citizens from working in the Gulf as domestic workers, a move that targeted women. Activists have long complained that banning women from travelling doesn’t work and infringes their rights.
Meenakshi Ganguly, south Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the current proposals could “force women into riskier, undocumented employment, increasing the danger of trafficking and abuse”.
Ganguly said the government “should better regulate recruitment agencies, work with destination country governments to put protections in place, and respond effectively to provide protection services when abuses occur”.