Bangladeshi migrant women and their struggle with abused children
Almost five years ago, Jameela left Bangladesh to work as a domestic servant in Jordan, hoping to improve the lives of her parents and younger siblings with the money she would send home.
In Jordan, however, she faced a nightmare. After being physically and sexually assaulted for months by her employer, when she returned home, she was pregnant.
Currently, the child – four years old – lives with Jameela and her parents.
When this correspondent spoke to Jameela she looked tired and dejected, the struggle to survive as a single mother seemed to have taken its toll on her.
“I have no respect. I have no job, no money,” she said. “The baby had a fever earlier and I could not get her treated. I do not know what to do.”
Jameela’s child has already reached school age, but neither the child’s mother nor the grandparents are sure they can afford his education at this time. They are just struggling to manage three meals a day.
Jameela is one of 300 to 400 Bangladeshi migrant workers who return from the Middle East each month after being tortured.
In August 2019, after investigating 111 cases, the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment found that around 35% of migrant women had experienced abuse in many forms, including working conditions similar to those of slavery.
Between 2017 and 2019, the Brac Migration Program found that 25 to 30 female workers who returned from the Middle East suffered from major mental disorders and that five to six of them were pregnant.
Most workers who return pregnant or with a child in tow naturally do not want to keep the child. The social stigma of giving birth without being married is unimaginable for them and there are no known facilities for these pregnant women.
While some resort to abortion, others give the children up for adoption. The public children’s establishment “Choto Moni Nibash” sometimes deals with cases of adoption of children who are sent there.
This year, in April, a returnee from Saudi Arabia abandoned her eight-month-old baby girl at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka. At the time of writing, the baby’s adoption papers were being finalized.
In Bangladesh, NGOs such as Brac and Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) regularly deal with migrant workers who return after being abused abroad.
However, concrete plans for the social, financial and psychosocial reintegration of women migrant workers and their children by the state do not yet appear to exist. Most of these children remain undocumented and their fate is unknown.
The broken return: just a statistic?
Far from realizing dreams of a better life for themselves and their families, overseas employment leads to the abuse and neglect of many Bangladeshi migrant women; and in some cases, they are left to die in a foreign country.
In the years before the Covid-19 pandemic hit global travel, more than 1,000,000 women went abroad to work each year, according to data from the Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET).
The number fell to less than a quarter in 2020 and is slowly picking up in 2021 with 28,824 women having already migrated for work, through May of this year.
Although most workers migrate to countries in the Middle East, other countries include Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Italy, and the United Kingdom.
Most of them returned penniless, often bearing traces of inhuman torture.
It has been a few months since Salma returned to Bangladesh from Saudi Arabia. According to her brother, she usually spends her days locked in a room and becomes violent if people approach her. The family cannot afford the cost of her treatment and it appears to be getting worse.
“She’s been like this since she came back. When we got her at the airport, we noticed black marks on her wrists; she was probably tied up. There were also needle marks,” he said. his brother said, looking upset.
Through no fault of their own, these women continue to experience extreme agony. In cases where family members – husband, father or brother – abandon them, they have no choice but to live alone.
Salma works in a garment factory near Dhaka. She lives alone. As much as she loves freedom, she is marked by what happened to her while she was abroad.
“If I ever find him (his attacker), I will beat him until he forgets his name. What I faced, I wish no one in the world had to face it. I have a lot. repressed anger, “she told this correspondent. .
Rima, another migrant worker who has been abused, has two young sons. After returning to Bangladesh, her husband left her.
“My sons ask me for money to pay for the fees or buy food. I can’t give them anything,” she said, collapsing in tears.
“On top of that, I still remember those days when I was hungry and beaten; the madam would beat me up for stupid matters. I couldn’t understand their language, I couldn’t eat their food. Although I didn’t did nothing wrong, I was severely punished. ”
“I’m miserable all the time, there is nothing I can do, there is nothing,” she said sorry.
Shariful Islam Hasan, head of Brac’s migration program, believes that the responsibility of the state should not stop at sending only women workers to different countries. Ensuring their pre-departure training, age assessment and safety are a must.
“When our women workers go abroad, they are exploited and raped. This should not happen at all,” he said. “These children and their mothers are not just numbers. We just cannot call them the migrant workers who have returned.”
“We have tried to help, but others must also come forward. Destination countries must take responsibility; there should be testimonies in embassies and cases must be investigated,” he said. he added.
Without a family
At different times, the Brac migration program supported 12 cases where women returned pregnant or had children abroad. One of the children, Jahanara, is currently at the Tejgaon Victim Support Center for a custody battle.
This year, after her mother died from Covid-19 in Lebanon, Jahanara was sent to Bangladesh. The identity of his father remains unknown. Her two maternal aunts are fighting to become her guardians, Jahanara’s cousin told this newspaper.
But doubts arose that the aunts were fighting for custody just to get their hands on the 3,000,000 Tk to which the child is entitled as state compensation for the death of his mother due to of Covid-19. The police therefore took Jahanara to the center of Tejgaon for his own safety.
“Jahanara told me she didn’t want to stay there,” her cousin said. “What happened should have stayed with our family. But now the child is in pain.”
An NGO specializing in migration shared with us the case of a young girl who was taken to Dubai to work in a “spa”. She was forced into prostitution and sold to five different brokers during her stay.
She fell in love with one of the brokers – who was also her pimp – and got pregnant. She tried to have an abortion but couldn’t. She gave birth to the child but felt that it was not part of her body or her life and decided to have nothing to do with it. The baby was sent to Choto Moni Nibash and later adopted by a couple.
“When these children of migrant workers are given up for adoption, they come into loving and caring families,” said Jublee Ranu, deputy superintendent of Choto Moni Nibash.
The orphanage authorities ensure that the adoptive parents have a strong background and are financially stable. They also have regular follow-ups to make sure the children are well taken care of.
Support Mechanism and State Accountability
“It is written in our laws that we must protect our women workers, but unfortunately this is not done,” said Shakirul Islam, president of OKUP. “We need a rights-based approach and our union wings must also play a bigger role,” he added.
“While NGOs help those who return, the government must also help them as women and children are deprived of comprehensive support,” he said.
He recommended that One-Stop Crisis Centers (OCCs) include migrant workers. OCCs established in university medical hospitals across the country provide emergency health care, police assistance, DNA testing, legal assistance, psychological counseling and shelter services to women victims of violence.
Md Shahidul Alam, Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment and Director General of BMET, said the government remains concerned about migrant women and is making strong efforts for their reintegration.
“When one of our mothers, daughters or sisters is abused in another country, we naturally worry and try to do whatever we can to help them,” he said.
“It was only recently that the government launched a Tk 427 crore project to support migrant women. As part of the project, we would provide them with loans, counseling and much more,” he said. added.
“Whatever happens to our workers, it is violence at work. Destination countries must be held accountable, ”said Sumaiya Islam, Executive Director of Bangladesh Nari Sramik Kendra, an NGO that works to protect the rights of Bangladeshi migrant workers.
“Unless we develop zero tolerance, these things will continue to happen,” she said, adding “in the name of work what is happening is the sex trade and slavery; these are flagrant human rights violations ”.
(The real names of the victims have been changed to protect their identities)
This story was written and produced as part of a media skills development program offered by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.