A victory for women
The International Women’s Day was
observed with much fanfare in Sri Lanka and around the world on
Thursday. Women in Sri Lanka had another reason to rejoice on Women’s
Day, as the Government announced a ban on foreign employment for women
with children aged five or younger.
Women’s groups in Sri Lanka have been advocating such a measure for
several years, having seen the social impact of mothers opting for
foreign employment, leaving their young children behind.
Moreover, even mothers who have children over the age of five will
have to prove that they will be on safe hands during the period of their
This proposal by Women Empowerment and Child Welfare Minister Sumedha
Jayasena is a step in the right direction. It also fits in perfectly
with the concepts envisaged in Mahinda Chintana for children’s welfare.
It is well known that the majority of foreign employment seekers in
Sri Lanka are women. This especially affects families with young
children, as a mother’s love and care are essential for very young
There are many instances where the fathers simply spend the money
sent by the mother working overseas on alcohol and gambling, ruining the
lives of the children. Their education and upbringing are totally
neglected in such cases.
Sri Lanka has a good record in women’s welfare, child care and
education spheres, almost on par with the developed world.
However, poverty has compelled many mothers especially in rural areas
to seek foreign employment, as the salaries are much higher.
They may go with the best of intentions, but the consequences for the
children are often not healthy at all.
Women going abroad also face many problems, including harassment by
employers, non-payment of salaries and abysmal working conditions which
ultimately shatter the dream of having a better life upon their return
to Sri Lanka.
Creating more employment opportunities within Sri Lanka is one
Although the salaries may be lower, a mother working in Sri Lanka
itself, ideally close to home, can look after growing-up children. The
Government plans to create more industries in remote areas, which could
help generate such employment.
The Government must also be commended for its plan to minimise the
migration of unskilled workers, both male and female. Skilled workers,
mainly professionals, can earn more foreign exchange than unskilled
Now skilled workers including nurses are gradually being sent abroad
to Western countries. The Government is also exploring the possibility
of sending more male workers abroad.
The importance of ensuring the welfare of Lankan workers abroad was
highlighted in Parliament yesterday, during an adjournment motion on the
recent execution of four Lankan workers in Saudi Arabia.
Foreign Employment Promotion Minister Keheliya Rambukwella endorsed
the proposal for a Parliamentary Select Committee on facilitating better
working and living conditions for migrant workers as well as more
comprehensive legal assistance.
He rightly pointed out that migrant workers should be given a
thorough briefing on the laws of the respective countries.
Conceding that there are shortcomings in the welfare process, he said
the Government’s attention has been drawn to formulating a comprehensive
welfare mechanism for migrant workers, who remit of millions of dollars
to Sri Lanka every year.
More welfare officers should be appointed to some of the countries
with a substantial Lankan population. The authorities should also study
the welfare mechanisms evolved by countries such as India, Philippines
and Indonesia for their citizens abroad.
For a start, the Foreign Employment Bureau should strictly enforce
the regulations pertaining to the overseas employment of women with
young children. We hope this is the beginning of a series of progressive
measures aimed at uplifting women in Sri Lanka.