It is time for Nepal to plan to bring migrant workers homeIn the absence of parents, the children have been suffering.
Nepal relies on the remittance sent home by migrant workers, that much is a well-known fact. However, in the rush to secure well-paying jobs and financial security, not to mention the health of the economy and much-needed foreign currency, many issues have been left resolved. Some of these issues have been getting more coverage and attention in recent years.
The Guardian’s 2013 exposé started a chain of events that forced Qatar to abolish its exploitative Kafala system, at least on paper. Coverage by the Nepali press on Malaysia’s unfair visa regime pushed the government to confront the Southeast Asian country. Similarly, coverage of incidents have helped remove migrants from exploitative situations—such as those related to unfair wages and contract breaches. But many problems are left under-researched and unaddressed. Yet, these issues might be hampering the economy, not no mention individuals and families, in severe ways.
One such issue that has come to light is the negative impact out-migration has on families—specifically, the psychological health of the children left behind. A 2019 report by the Centre for Mental Health and Counselling Nepal revealed that, among a study group of children whose parents were out-migrants, 48.2 percent had anxiety, 18.3 percent depression, 8.03 percent suicidal thoughts, and 11.68 percent behavioural problems. This is alarming, though not surprising. There are three significant ways in which parents influence their offspring: direct interaction, identification, and transmission of family stories. Whether a person is qualified to raise a child or not is another question. But an adolescent, in the absence of the guidance of one or both parents, is bound to look for a stabilising influence elsewhere. Lacking a real connection with their parents—remember, some migrant workers do not return for years—the children lack robust psychological development.
Nepal issued 3.5 million labour permits between 2008 and 2017. This means that the number of families affected back home is massive. We are looking at a whole generation of children, in significant numbers, who will have struggled with development due to separation. Even after knowing that such a major problem exists, the solutions do not come readymade. And that is the most troubling aspect.
The out-migrants have left their country and their homes to earn a livelihood, and Nepalis sent $8.1 billion back home in 2018. Remittance is a major contributor to the national income—it provides a larger contribution than domestic industries. In the absence of employment opportunities at home, it will remain an important income source for the foreseeable future.
Ad hoc reactive measures, such as banning migrants from going abroad, will not do. As such, a move like that will only push Nepalis towards exploitative situations, as the ban on women out-migrants from working in the Gulf region showed. Both the country and the workers need the income source. However, without the government being able to promote industries and service sectors to absorb the labour force, Nepal’s out-migrants will continue to suffer. And so will their children.
The federal government, in conjunction with the provinces, needs to come up with a long-term strategy to promote employment domestically. One potential area can be the ballooning tourism sector; many out-migrants could reapply the skills they have learnt abroad. Further, developing the agriculture sector would not only promote food security, but would boost a traditional sector. Many migrants could also apply the skills they have learnt to launch innovative, entrepreneurial ventures. In any case, one thing is sure—it is time for Nepal to plan to bring its people home.
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