THIMPHU (KUENSEL/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – From the very beginning people took the former government’s overseas employment programme with a pinch of salt.
There were doubts and debates but young job seekers were eventually told that working conditions in countries they were going to be placed in would be safe and earning opportunities there would be high.
And so, desperate youth fell helplessly into the trap that the government’s ill-thought-out and wrongheaded arrangements helped create.
Then came reports of problems facing Bhutanese who went abroad for employment, alongside a myriad of controversies.
Even the labour minister and a senior government official were later found to have engaged in a dodgy programme with individuals, some of whom succeeded in hoodwinking job seekers as government-approved employment agents.
What is now evident is that Bhutanese youth who went to certain countries with the promise of good income opportunities are not only suffering long hours of work but are also tortured and abused every day.
Some, according to reports, go without food for days and women are being apparently being used as sex slaves.
Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that three Bhutanese women had recently arrived in New Delhi from Iraq. One was sick and two were pregnant.
A woman in Iraq Kuensel managed to get in touch with said that her employer demanded sexual favours from her and made her massage him and that her only option, if she was not able to return home soon, would be to take her own life.
Their passports have been confiscated and contact outside their workplaces restricted. Some are being beaten up regularly.
What agents did in the name of providing employment to young Bhutanese job seekers looks more like a trafficking racket and the government must do everything in its capacity to bring them home.
The government now has a standard operating procedure (SOP) that is expected to make working on cases involving employment agents and job seekers easy.
The real problem was the lack of a monitoring mechanism and initiatives from the labour ministry which could not figure out or inform job seekers about the possibilities of individuals posing as employment agents.
That opened doors for the crooks to deceive young job seekers.
Parents and job seekers themselves also need to take the blame for rushing headlong into jobs.
The good news is that the government is in touch with employers and agent in both Iraq and Bhutan.
The foreign ministry has also written to the Iraqi government not to allow Bhutanese girls to work as maids. But we must do more.
That a majority of Bhutanese who are working in Iraq want to stay back cannot and should not be believed.
Agents and everyone involved in sending these youth to Iraq must be brought to the book and ensure that such things do not happen again.
That must begin with bringing them home.
Kuensel is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 24 news media entities.
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