Nepal women banned from Middle East over exploitation

File photo (2011) of protest against alleged abuse of housemaids working in Middle East by Muslims in Sri Lanka
Image caption There are numerous reports of abuse of South Asian housemaids in the Middle East

Nepal has banned women under the age of 30 from going to work in Middle Eastern countries amid growing concerns that they are being exploited.

Common complaints include physical and sexual abuse, poor conditions and non-payment of salaries.

The move comes 18 months after the government ended a 12-year ban on women working in Gulf countries.

It was imposed after a young woman, who had been abused in Kuwait, committed suicide, sparking outrage in Nepal.

Every day, an estimated 1,000 people leave Nepal for the Middle East for jobs as housemaids. It is estimated that there are as many as 200,000 Nepalese women working there unofficially.

But they can be vulnerable and Nepal's embassies in the region say they deal with numerous cases of women seeking shelter after alleged physical and sexual abuse.

"Young female workers are reported to have been sexually and psychologically exploited in Gulf countries," Information Minister Raj Kishor Yadav was quoted as saying in the Himalayan Times English-language daily newspaper.

"So the cabinet decided to set the age bar for women migrant workers in the Gulf. Women above 30 years of age are at low risk of such exploitation."

Women from Nepal have been allowed to go to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar since 2010, when the ban imposed after the suicide of the Nepalese domestic worker was lifted.

Correspondents say that while most Nepalese migrant workers are based in India, the government and local charities estimate that between 20,000 and 70,000 are registered as working wealthy Gulf countries, lured by the prospect of better wages which are sent to their families back home.

Nepal's move follows a ban imposed last year by Indonesia on women working in domestic service in the Middle East.

In June Kenya also announced a ban on men and women working in domestic service in Middle Eastern countries.

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