The Plight of Nepalese Families Separated by Labor Migration
For many families in Nepal, labor migration is a way of life. In towns and villages like Rangila Chowk in the Jhapa district, it is the chief industry. According to data from 2015, over 18,000 people in Jhapa received a labor permit that year, nearly double the figure from 2009. As a result, many communities are left with a disproportionate number of women, children, and elderly people, as men leave in search of better job opportunities in Gulf states or other countries.
Ashok Thatal is one of those men. He has spent most of his adult life working menial jobs in Gulf states thousands of miles away from his home in Eastern Nepal. For his wife, Shova, and 7-year-old daughter, his absence is a way of life. But for his 2-and-a-half-year-old son, Ansuman, it’s a different story. When Ashok is away, Ansuman cries for his “baba,” or daddy, and even video chats with his father don’t soothe him.
Shova, like many others in her community, has accepted this reality as the only way to provide a better future for her children. She wants them to go to private school, and labor migration is the only way to achieve that goal. Her brothers and several of her in-laws also work abroad, and among her neighbors, the men were either abroad, recently returned from abroad, or applying to leave.
However, this separation takes a toll on families. The emotional toll on children like Ansuman, who do not fully understand why their fathers are gone for long periods of time, is immeasurable. And the burden on the women left behind is immense, as they must shoulder the responsibilities of caring for their families alone. The financial burden is also significant, as many men return home with little to show for their efforts or worse, are unable to return at all.
As labor migration continues to be a necessity for many Nepalese families, it is important to recognize and address the challenges and hardships that come with it. The government and private organizations should provide more support for families separated by labor migration, including emotional counseling and financial assistance. In addition, creating more job opportunities in Nepal could help reduce the need for labor migration and keep families together.
As Nepal continues to experience a rising number of men leaving to work abroad, women are taking on more responsibilities, leading to societal upheavals in some areas. Around 2 million Nepalese people work abroad, making up 32 percent of the country’s GDP. This trend has caused significant changes in traditional gender roles, with women being forced to take on new tasks that were previously the sole responsibility of men.
Shova, a mother in one of the remote mountain villages, is one of the many women who have had to adapt to this new reality. During pauses, she encourages her 7-year-old daughter Ashrika to showcase what she has learned in school. Ashrika writes the names of all her family members in English, demonstrating the value of education in a changing world. When asked if she has spoken with her father since he left for work, she proudly shares that he recently called to encourage her to study hard and promised to buy her a bicycle and laptop if she excels in school.
In some areas, such as the small Maithil villages in the neighboring Dhanusha district, these changes have led to significant societal upheavals. Women are now taking on more responsibilities, and many have to move outside their traditional roles. Babita Kumari Yadav, for example, is one of the few women in Potohr village who moves about freely. In this area, women have traditionally stayed in or around the household compound while their husbands and in-laws handle day-to-day interactions. However, with her husband in Qatar for nearly a decade, Babita has had to become self-reliant and take on new responsibilities.
Babita, a woman living in a village in Nepal, is facing a new reality. As her husband migrated for work, she became responsible for all the household and farm work. This newfound independence, however, has come at a cost. In her village, being a single woman and living alone has made her a pariah. She is shunned by the community and receives no help during arguments or conflicts.
Babita’s story is becoming increasingly common in Nepal as more men migrate for work abroad. The rise in migration has had a significant impact on the country, with nearly every household having at least one family member working abroad. The impact on women has been particularly notable. Many are now taking on traditional male roles, like farming and other physical labor, which they previously would not have been expected to do.
This shift has not gone unnoticed in the community. According to Santos Mahato, a teacher in Potohr, women, especially the uneducated ones, used to be afraid to speak to strangers or even other villagers. However, this is changing. Women are becoming more open, even those with husbands present in the village.
The rise in migration has not been without its costs. Reports of labor brokers taking money for work permits and visas then vanishing are common, as are tales of bosses absconding with salaries. Local newspapers report daily on migrant workers who are abused on the job, blocked from returning home, arrested, and even killed. Despite the risks, for young men in places like Rangila Chowk and Potohr, there is simply no other option.
The impact of migration is far-reaching, affecting not only the individual families involved but also the communities they leave behind. In Nepal, the changing roles of women and the risks faced by migrant workers are just some of the many issues that need to be addressed to ensure a better future for all. However, with the global community beginning to recognize the need to tackle modern slavery and forced labor, there is hope for change. Recently, major companies like Walmart and Adidas pledged to help end modern slavery, indicating a growing awareness of the problem and a commitment to finding a solution.