Foreign employment in Nepal: Prosperity at the cost of family relations and social values

The Narayan Chok village in Kanepokhari rural municipality has around 22 houses. Almost every house from the village has a family member in either the Gulf countries or Malaysia. There are a few who have come back, but most of them are working abroad, which has changed the face of the village.

The roofs of the houses have changed as families have become financially better as have their ways of life. But, another thing has plagued this small village as five out the 22 houses have had to deal with the negative impact of foreign employment.

Five years ago, Roshan Rai (name changed) got married and left for foreign employment. He was abroad for over two and a half years and was waiting to come back when his wife eloped with someone else leaving behind their young child.

In another house close to Rai’s, there are similar incidents. Ram Bahadur Rai (name changed)’s wife, like Roshan’s, disappeared when Ram Bahadur decided to return home. Ramesh Khadka (name changed)’s wife left him and remarried, leaving behind two kids who are being looked after by Khadka’s parents.

There are plenty of examples like these where women have left their husbands who have gone abroad to work. Some divorce them legally while some elope with others without informing anyone. This has left families devastated and broken.

Relationships and complexities

On July 12, a newborn girl was found dead in Rangeli municipality in Morang. After the child’s death, the family buried her in a hush-hush manner. After finding out, the police took the family under control. Upon preliminary investigation, police learnt that the reason the child was killed was foreign employment.

Province 1

Investigations revealed a lady got pregnant when her husband was away in Malaysia to work. When her husband found out his wife had given birth to a baby that was not his, he had a fight with his wife who then killed her baby by suffocating her with a blanket. This case is currently being heard at the Morang District Court.

Senior advocate Meera Dhungana says with a case like this, it is important for both the man and the woman to take equal responsibility as the women alone could not be blamed. That is what the Supreme Court has done recently as it has decided to book both the father and the mother of a child who has been killed after birth.

A different incident was seen in 2017 that puzzled investigators. A man filed a case against his brother on charges that his brother harassed his wife. Investigators say that as the man went to a foreign land on a regular basis, his wife and his brother started to develop feelings for each other. They had sex multiple times. But, as the man returned home, his wife started to get away from her brother-in-law.

As that happened, the brother-in-law started to blackmail the woman telling her that he will show their pictures. He was joking, but one day, that joke turned sour as he mistakenly sent it to his brother. A family drama ensued which reached the police. The elder brother filed a rape case against his brother. When quizzed, both agreed they had consensual sex and things got out of hand after the return of the woman’s husband.

Province 1 has many incidents like these. It is not just marriage-related issues; many crimes in recent times have been associated with foreign employment. If you visit any district police offices, courts or any of the local units, you will get to hear many examples.

Multiplying problems

Advocate Binod Kumar Timsina says problems triggered by foreign employment have become a major challenge in today’s society. He says this is too complex as a lot of incidents in recent times has, in one way or another, been tied to foreign employment.

Whereas foreign employment has financially helped families, children have been the most affected by it as those born through extramarital affairs are not accepted by anyone. These kids are either thrown out of the house or in some cases even killed.

Morang District Court staffer Tikendra Rana says most cases they see are mostly divorce cases. The court mostly tries reconciliation. But, those the cannot be reconciled are fought in court. “There are some divorce cases that are to do with child marriage. The rest, however, are to do with foreign employment.”

The Supreme Court’s report also supports this claim. Divorce cases in the past few years have been on the rise. In the fiscal year 2017/18, there were 93 divorce cases registered at the Biratnagar High Court. That number rose to 142 in the fiscal year 2018/19 and 184 in 2019/20.

According to DIG Arun Kumar BC of Province 1 Police Office, foreign employment has caused a lot of fights within families. This he says will only get worse in the future as these have been related to criminal offences. There have been awareness campaigns to educate the people, but due to Covid-19, that stopped. This ultimately has raised the number of cases related to family fights.

“We’ll start the campaign again because we need to make people aware of this issue,” says BC.

Nepal Police spokesperson Basanta Bahadur Kunwar says apart from cases like fraud, rape and domestic violence, foreign employment has also become the root cause of murder in the province. In Province 1 alone, 36 husbands killed their wives while two wives killed their husbands in the last fiscal year.

Broken families

According to the Department of Foreign Employment, around 500,000 Nepalis leave for foreign employment every year. After the Covid-19 pandemic, the number has dropped down to 150,000.

“Out of them, around 15 per cent of houses have been affected by it,” says former DIG Uttam Karki.

He says while foreign employment has uplifted families financially, it has also broken families apart.

“Joint families in villages have become an anomaly. After the guy leaves for foreign employment, their wives take their kids and go live in cities,” says Karki.

He says women in cities then get into the wrong circle, after which they end up doing something they do not want to do.

“When their kids are small, they keep the moms occupied. But, when they grow up and start going to school, the moms have nothing to do. Most watch TV and stop going to villages to help at home. Foreign employment has been both a boon and curse for many Nepal families,” says Karki.

Foreign employment and gender

Thousands of people leave Nepal to work abroad every day.

Karki says a lot of women whose husbands are away come to them with complaints related to cybercrime. There have also been cases where both the man and the woman have relationships with other people.

The District Police Office chief Sanu Ram Bhattarai says cases related to suicide have also been tied to foreign employment. 

“Once, a man went to work abroad. He sent money to his wife to pay loans, but the wife didn’t pay the loans and used it for her own. The boy came back to find out she had an affair with someone else. That broke him and he hung himself to a tree,” says Bhattarai.

But, SSP Durga Singh says that women are not the only people to blame for this.

“We’ve seen cases where men have affairs with other women when their wives go work abroad,” says Singh, adding children suffer the most when things like these happen.  “Their psychology is affected a lot due to issues like these.”

The Province 1 Ministry of Social Development secretary Kamal Prasad Bhattarai says foreign employment has done a lot of good amidst some bad.

“Yes, we’ve had problems due to it, but look how the lives of people have changed all across the country,” says Bhattarai. “That said, we are working towards raising awareness and making sure things like these don’t happen in the future.”

But, advocate Meera Dhungana says there are various reasons why women leave. Once she gets married, she has to go live with her husbands’ parents. Once the husband is away, she has to go through a lot there. Some are beaten up, abused and tortured.

“When she goes and talks to someone about it, she’s called all sort of stuff. That is when she thinks enough is enough and leaves because leaving is better than staying in a toxic environment,” says Dhungana.

She says even in cases of pregnancy that happens due to an extramarital affair, they have to bear all the brunt as they cannot openly come out and say if the baby happened due to consensual sex or not. That makes it hard for them to stay in a place where they are no longer treated well and decide to leave.

Some women end up killing the child that has been born because in many cases they know that the child will never be accepted in society as people will call names. Even in cases where the man is at fault, it is the woman who has to face society’s wrath, she argues.

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Adhikari is an Onlinekhabar correspondent based in Biratnagar.

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