From the very beginning people took the former government’s overseas employment programme with a pinch of salt. There were doubts and debates but young job seekers were told that working conditions in the countries they were going to be placed would be safe and earning opportunities there high. And so the desperate youth helplessly fell into the trap that the government’s ill-thought-out and wrongheaded arrangements helped create. Then came reports of problems facing Bhutanese who went abroad for employment and controversies myriad. Even labour minister and a senior government official were later found to have engaged in dodgy programme in collusion with individuals some of whom succeeded in hoodwinking jobseekers as government-approved employment agents.

What is now evident is that Bhutanese youth who went to some countries with promise of good income opportunities are not only suffering long hours of work but are also tortured and abused every day. Some, according to reports, go without food for days and women are being apparently used as sex slaves. Foreign Minister Dr Tandi Dorji said that three Bhutanese women had recently arrived in New Delhi from Iraq. One was sick and two pregnant. A woman in Iraq Kuensel could get in touch with said that her employer demanded sexual favours from her and made her massage him and that her only option, if she was not able to return home soon, would be to take her own life. Their passports have been confiscated and contact outside their workplaces restricted. Some are being beaten up regularly. What the agents did in the name of providing employment to young Bhutanese jobseekers looks more like a trafficking racket and the government must do everything in its capacity to bring them home.

The government now has something called the standard operating procedure (SOP) that is expected to make working on cases involving employment agents and jobseekers easy. The real problem was with lack of monitoring mechanism and initiatives from the labour ministry which could not figure out or inform job seekers about the possibilities of individuals posing as employment agents. That opened doors for the crooks to deceive young jobseekers. Parents and jobseekers themselves also need to take the blame for rushing headlong. Good news is that the government is in touch with employers and agent in both Iraq and Bhutan. Foreign ministry has also written to the Iraqi government not to allow Bhutanese girls to work as maids. But we must do more. That a majority of Bhutanese who are working in Iraq wants to stay back cannot and should not be believed. Agents and everyone involved in sending these youth to Iraq must be brought to the book and ensure that such things do not happen again. That must begin with bringing them home.