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Sri Lanka no more the Country of Nannies

A few weeks back the President ordered the Ministry of foreign employment to stop sending women for unskilled labour in foreign countries by the end of this year. This landmark decision is definitely welcomed by Sri Lankans who love the nation. This might become a controversial issue as there are certain groups and individuals who are supportive of selling the nation’s daughters due to reasons that they make sound quite logical. Any opposition that may arise from economic specialists, labour recruitment agencies and veterans of the profession itself should not let this step taken with great insight be retracted.

Sri Lanka was identified as the land of tea, gems and a rich cultural heritage. It was a land of serendipity in the foreigner's eye. It is questionable whether we have a similar image in the international arena today. Sri Lanka was Aravinda's country to an Australian patient getting treatment from a Sri Lankan doctor working in Australia. On the other side of the world in the American island of Guam, school children had happily displayed their high quality bags that came from a land called Sri Lanka to their teacher from the same destination. Finally to the middle eastern colleague of a Sri Lankan doctor working at a leading hospital in London, Sri Lanka was the land of nannies!

It is worth considering the contribution of foreign labour to our country's economy. Foreign labour became a main source of foreign exchange in the 1980s. From the beginning, the female labour force had outnumbered the male labour force with the exception of a couple of years. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Lebanon, Dubai and Jordan are countries to which a majority of the workers are recruited.

Migration of labour had reached a peak of 1.5 million this year. Its income comes second only to garment exports. According to the statistics of the Central Bank 2006, the foreign exchange drawn by foreign labour counted for 10% of the GDP (USD2069), being only 3% behind the leading garment industry.

As regards individual earnings, a female worker of the house maid category earns a minimum of USD 150. But a substantial number of workers are underpaid or not paid at all. All the same these apparently meagre earnings are said to be a sin qua non to drive the country's economy. But at what cost ?

Since the Foreign Employment Bureau was established, a month has not passed without reports of a poor suffering Sri woman in the middle. It's with great sympathy and embarrassment the natives of a country with a rich culture read of the manner in which their fellow human beings are treated in foreign lands. A few may be aware that there are web sites in which the younger generation of the employer countries too openly state that Sri Lanka should find other means of foreign income and stop sending women to suffer in their lands.

The plight of poor Rizana still haunts our memories. The complaints of thousands of inhumane acts faced by Sri Lankan housemaids and child minders has fallen on the deaf ears of international human rights organizations. We may collect millions of signatures to save the life of Rizana, but as long as the cause is not identified and remedied , many more Rizana's will be born to face similar suffering and show the world the true nature of our country.

Migrant women workers who undergo great hardships and even trauma away from home face double whammy as the conditions back at home are no better. Incest, child abuse, alcoholism and even murder in the families of the migrant workers are an ever increasing trend. If one were to investigate the family histories of the culprits as well as the victims of numerous crimes frequently reported in the country, a very common phenomena will be that they belong to a family, in which the mother has gone in search of greener pastures. The common scenario that welcomes these poor women home is an alcoholic husband, a raped daughter and abject poverty. In worse conditions she brings back -a fatherless child from an unknown land.

It is true that the migrant women workers shed their sweat and tears to improve the living conditions of their loved ones. Some have succeeded, in their innocent missions materially. Anyhow to calculate the net profit, the earned dollars should be balanced with the cost of the ruined and shattered families, raped daughters and abused young ones of the families.

We are very often made to believe by decision makers that the country's economy is dependent on foreign employment. But investors local and foreign state that there is a serious shortage of trained labour in the country. This ultimately leads them to invest elsewhere in-the region. If we are capable of providing the skilled labour, the income of the average worker will definitely exceed the minimum wage of US$150 of an unskilled worker in the middle east.

Encouraging the migration of skilled labour and even highly skilled professionals for short breaks is a prospect which has been promoted lately. Newly established faculties at universities such as the faculty of Allied health sciences will produce professionals who could seek respectable foreign employment. Thus universities, technical colleges and vocational training centres should accordingly design their courses to harness the full potential of the entrants in the long run, at home and abroad. Also we should not forget that Sri Lanka has untouched natural resources. Establishment of large farms and establishment of factories to manufacture products instead of exporting raw materials in remote areas will provide employment to many unemployed women.

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