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বাংলা
Dhaka Tribune

Struggles of Migrant Workers

Returning rape survivors face misery, uncertain futures

This is the 10th of an 11-part series on the challenges faced by migrant workers        

Update : 25 Mar 2024, 09:33 AM

Over the past three decades, more than 1.2 million women have migrated from Bangladesh to various countries for employment. Saudi Arabia stands out as the primary destination for these women, yet recent months have witnessed the return of hundreds, bearing harrowing tales of abuse, particularly sexual violence.

Rabeya Basri (pseudonym) went to Saudi Arabia in February 2022. She returned in August 2023 after a year and a half; with a six-month-old baby. However, she handed over the child to another childless couple at the airport and promised that she would not see her child's face again in this life.

When asked why she agreed to such a condition, she said: "What will I do with my son? Where should I go with him? My husband divorced me and went abroad. When I was going abroad, I had no food. I left my previous child with my mother and went abroad. Now that I have returned, raped by the owner's son in KSA with the child that was born, I came back. I can't tell anyone this.”

She said no one in Bangladesh knows about her giving birth in Saudi Arabia. If she cannot hide this information, she believes she will not be able to survive in the family or society.

Not only Rabeya, but many women have been raped while working abroad in the last few years as maids, and several returned with children. However, no one knows exactly how many women have returned with children in their bodies or in their arms.

After returning home, many of these children are growing up without knowing their father, and sometimes not their mother either.

In the past few years, Brac has helped about 50 such women in various ways. The Wage Earners Welfare Board has taken the initiative of rehabilitating 20 women workers who returned home with their children.

According to Brac data, about 16,000 women have returned from Saudi Arabia alone in the last five years. There is no account of workers who have returned to government agencies. However, those who lost their passports and returned with outpasses (valid travel permits) are accounted for by the Expatriate Welfare Desk of the Wage Earns Welfare Board.

As per the statistics of women returning from different countries, 2,902 women in trouble returned to the country in 2023 through outpasses. A total of 249 women returned in December alone.

The Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association published a study in December 2023 that found that women go abroad mainly to work as domestic workers, caregivers, health nurses, in the ready-made garment sector, and as cleaners. 

Around 44% of the total expatriate women workers went to Saudi Arabia. In this country, women mainly go to work as domestic workers.

Apart from this, 17.1% of women have fled from the work of domestic workers due to sexual harassment. More than 37% of the women workers who returned home returned with back wages, and 47% have no future plans.

These women went abroad after completing all official procedures. But after coming back, no government recruiting agency is taking responsibility for these women, while non-government organizations are talking about various limitations. Some of the women even tried to commit suicide after returning home, and some have been forced to change their homes due to societal pressure.

Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (BAIRA) President Abul Bashar told the Dhaka Tribune that according to the rules, if something happens within three months, the agency brings them at its own expense. “If something like this happens anywhere, we do our best. We take action if any agency is responsible.”

Sanchita Talukder, executive director of the non-governmental development organization the Association for Social Development (ASD), said: "Sending women abroad cannot be stopped. But women who go and are forced to return for various reasons must ensure their safety. Victims of torture should undergo a DNA test to determine the child's paternity through the embassy while they are still in that country. Sometimes, allegations of sexual harassment are made against the domestic worker's house owner or someone else living in the house besides the son, Bangladeshi brokers, and even those working in embassies. Therefore, whoever is accused must be brought under the law and punished."

Zahid Anwar, deputy director of the Wage Earners Welfare Board within the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, said: "We have taken the initiative of rehabilitating 20 such women with training and employment. As part of the resettlement, a letter is sent to the embassy of the country from which the women have returned to seek compensation. We are trying our best, although it is not always very effective. I do what I have to do according to the law.'"

Istihak Rayhan, a teacher in the economics department of Jahangirnagar University, said: "Expatriates bring remittances to the country. Women are also a big part of it. Even if incidents like sexual harassment are on the rise, their economic impact is high. Because when it spreads, people suffer adverse reactions. And in the long run, those women can reintegrate into society. Can't play a role in the economy either. In this case, the state should take proper initiative to address this."

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