Overseas employment has been making headlines for quite some time now. It will continue to do so until the present and the future governments are able to figure out how best to and create jobs in the country. Unemployment, in particular youth unemployment, has been growing over the years while we have been fiddling with some short-term and unsustainable ideas to address the problem. As we speak, the nation’s youth unemployment figure stands at 13.2 percent. Going by some estimates, some 19,000 jobseekers are expected to enter the labour market annually. It is a formidable challenge. Addressing unemployment situation that the nation is facing today will require vision and courage. It will test the confidence of the government and our policymakers.

Even as the government has been touting its overseas employment programme as a success, the programme has put Bhutanese jobseekers and their families in difficult situation. Overseas employment programme helped employ close to 4,000 Bhutanese in businesses outside Bhutan. But, all’s not been a happy story.  Many who went abroad to work have returned because there weren’t jobs waiting for them; those who got employed found working conditions stressful and difficult. Some were ill treated by their employers. They found that their agents had cheated them.

Recently, five Bhutanese women had to be brought back to the country after they suffered harrowing conditions in Kurdistan, Iraq. Shortly after landing in Iraq, their travel documents, cell phones, cash and ornaments were seized, and they were put in a small room without ventilation. They had gone to Iraq to work as domestic workers but ended up getting locked up like animals. We are yet to learn what difficult experience they had to live in a foreign country.

We are told that the case is being investigated. It is a small comfort. Employment agents must be brought to the law so that such things do not happen again.

Young Bhutanese are leaving abroad because there are no employment opportunities in the country. Bhutan’s working age population is increasing just as the public sector’s absorption capacity is diminishing. It is a desperate situation at home that compels jobseekers to risk everything to find a job. Saying we have enough jobs but no takers is no good answer. For sustainable job creation, we need look no farther than our own backyards. Although private sector growth is recognised as critically important to create employment opportunities in the country, Bhutan has not been able to make it happen in a significant way.

Private sector growth must be encouraged because it is the main driver of economy. Problems like youth unemployment, which is growing alarmingly, could cripple all our efforts to make space for jobseekers or else.