Anyone passing by Keshar Mahal may have noticed the long queue in front of the passport department. Commuters on the roads nearby will tell you the lines are stretching longer by the day. The serpentine lines are a testimony to what many Nepalese are so desperately looking for - going abroad.
With the local economy in tatters, the number of people going abroad for job opportunities is on the rise. The Department of Foreign Employment, Nepal recorded an average departure rate of more than 1,700 people last year. According to the Nepal Rashtra Bank, Nepal received remittance worth Rs 434 billion in the fiscal year 2013/2014. A Report published by World Bank last year showed that remittance accounted for 25 percent of Nepal’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which is the highest among South Asian countries.
Although the workers promise to send their hard-earned money back home in remittances, thereby, helping the country see its economy grow, there are obvious downsides to the remittance story.
Several studies have thrown light on the social problems generated as the number of Nepali migrant workers soars, outweighing the economic prospects these people may have enhanced. Firstly, traditional family values have seen a steady decline. Secondly, owing to the materialistic needs of the modern life, a significant portion of the remittance has been used in daily consumption rather than capital formation. Furthermore, the dependency on the remitted amount has increased among the wives of migrant workers as a result of which they are not engaged in any productive activity.
Meet Sanu Gurung. Her husband has been working in Saudi Arabia. ‘My husband has been sending us enough money for a living. I wanted to give the best of everything to my children, and came to Baglung in that pursuit’ says Sanu. Although their economic conditions have stabilized, their bonding has gone haywire, she says.
‘My husband and I talk rarely about anything except money. The moment I ask him about his relocation plan to Nepal, he changes the topic. I am told by others that he has re-married there’.
Like Sanu, many wives of migrant workers have lost their emotional and social health in the quest for material happiness. With the changing times, some of them are stressing the need for companionship. The result is more extra marital affairs, family breakdown, divorce and property conflict. Property or divorce cases, for which migration is one reason to blame for, occupy over 80% of the non-criminal cases.
Anamika Kafle (name changed), in her early 20s, got married a couple of years back. Her husband assured her they would leave for Australia soon after their marriage.
‘I did not want to get married. It was my husband who said it would delay our visa procedures. We got married in haste and, now, my husband is gone’, Anamika says. ‘I came to know only late that he had acquired his working visa for Qatar, and, therefore, married me so I would take care of his parents’.
Another impact of foreign employment is seen in the declining engagement in traditional occupations such as agriculture. Until the rise in migration, agriculture was the major economy driver. Now with the families of migrant workers receiving remittance, they do are not engaged in the occupation anymore. What’s more worrying is that the remitted amount is being used for daily consumption rather savings, that too in unproductive sectors. A perfect example is the spending of remitted amount in plotting arable land, which would otherwise have been used for agriculture. The barren plots are now aplenty.
Although the short term effects of making money abroad might be good, but the long term implications amount to a huge social cost. If the citizens are equipped with enough resources and opportunities here itself, then the trend of people going for jobs abroad would diminish over time. Skills based training, job creation in rural parts and incentives for business initiatives are now more urgent than ever. The eventual goal for a nation like Nepal will be to guarantee both long-run economic and social prosperity for the people.