Imagine a child is getting bullied at school. To stop the bullying, you impose sanctions that either the child must only attend school if they are physically/mentally fit to defend themselves or their right to education is revoked and they are not allowed to attend school.
Sounds like a ridiculous dystopian setting, right? Well, it isn’t an improbable scenario if the government keeps up with its “authoritarian/stringent guardian” administration modus operandi.
Time and again, with the facade of government paternalism, the government has tried to impose rules that restrict people from exercising their freedom of movement, whether it be on the basis of gender or income. Ministry of Home Affairs has already barred citizens from going to Malaysia and Gulf countries on visit visas with the fear that fellow Nepali citizens will fall victim to human trafficking. Now, the Ministry of Home Affairs has formed a task force to make recommendations regarding restrictions on visit visas, the problems that arise due to visit visas, and its possible solutions. The task force proposed a provision that entails that a person who plans to travel abroad on a visit visa needs to earn at least one million rupees per year in taxable income, have half a million rupees parked in their bank account, and have paid taxes accordingly. This will deprive any Nepali who doesn’t earn NRs 80,000 per month of international travel.
An average Nepali earns $1,155.1 per year, which roughly translates to NRs 141,000. This is nowhere near the said NRs 1,000,000 requirement. Even high-ranking public officials don’t earn NRs 80,000 per month. Our deputy prime minister earns NRs 77,640, a minister NRs 72,730, a state minister NRs 69,030, and a member of the Parliament NRs 66,240.
It is ludicrous even to think of suggesting that women who make decisions vital enough to govern the country cannot make sound decisions on expressing their individualism and exercising their freedom.
Setting up restrictions on travel visas will only push the citizens to opt for other illegal and dangerous ways to go to their destination countries which might be for traveling purposes or employment purposes. For example, we see that Nepalis have already resorted to going to Malaysia and other Gulf countries through India. This makes it harder for the government of Nepal to keep track of its citizens and help them when they need assistance from abroad and, in turn, increases the risks of getting trafficked abroad.
This rule also gravely affects the right to seek asylum. Nepali asylum seekers are forced to evacuate the country and many have done so using visit visas to reach their asylum destinations and then apply to seek asylum.
In addition to this, in a no-shocking turn of events, the proposed ‘visit visa procedures/guidelines’ suggests that current provisions on visit visas for women should be tightened and that additional conditions for women’s eligibility to travel abroad should be introduced. “But why?” you ask. It is to protect Nepali women from getting trafficked, exploited and abused abroad, they will say.
The task force has included four separate points under the heading ‘Additional Conditions for Women to apply for Visit Visas’ in which the task force has suggested that women, who intend to travel abroad, must have relatives and acquaintances living abroad, who must have at least two years of proof of residency abroad, educational certificate of at least 10+2 or so passed from a recognized educational institution, proficiency in English language or the language of the destination country.
Not to anyone’s surprise, this has been a repetitive pattern of imposing restrictive policies on women by the government. Back in 1985, women were required to obtain the consent of a ‘guardian’ (parent/ husband/ relatives) to go for foreign employment. On March 5, 1998, women were banned from international labor migration and on May 8, 2003, women were required to obtain approval from the local governments and family members to go for foreign employment. These are only some of the regressive and restrictive policies the government has set (and lifted with certain conditions still enforced) over the years that treat women as second-class citizens and deem them incapable to make a decision on their own.
This latest recommendation of the task force—to have additional conditions for women to obtain visit visas—has been proposed by none other than high caste, public-post-holding, economically sound men. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the principal author of Declaration of Sentiments Elizabeth Cady Stanton had written back in 1848: “He has compelled her to submit to laws, in the formation of which she had no voice.” It still holds true.
How can the administration justify suggesting such injudicious rules to sound women who are mature enough to vote or mature enough to run the country? It is a ludicrous idea to even think of suggesting women who make decisions vital enough to govern the country cannot make sound decisions on expressing their individualism and exercising their freedom. It is a crystal clear representation of the deeply rooted patriarchy and misogyny masked in the form of imprudent rules and legislation.
In both cases, the government’s inability to strictly monitor has made it resort to proposals of absurd sanctions like restricting women and low to medium-earning citizens to visit other countries. This is of course a clear violation of Article 13 B of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which entails the freedom to leave the country and re-enter the country but also contradicts the constitutional right to equality guaranteed by Article 18 of the Constitution of Nepal. Article 18 (1) guarantees equality for all citizens, Article 18 (2) forbids discrimination on the grounds of origin, religion, caste, creed, sex, physical condition, disability, health status, marital status, pregnancy, economic status, language or region or ideological belief or any other such basis. Administrative law can never and should never overstep its boundaries and go against the constitution. This set of rules must be deemed unconstitutional.
Instead of implementing primitive and imprudent laws masked in the facade of having the best interest of the citizens, the government can solidify the accessibility and efficiency of services like the National Human Trafficking Hotline, tech-savvy apps with the sole objective of helping the Nepali people abroad and make embassies more reachable.
The government can either create better working conditions and opportunities in Nepal or safeguard their citizens abroad when they go in pursuit of better opportunities. It cannot restrict people’s freedom of movement.
All in all, for all citizens, whether they are women, Dalits, low or middle income earning citizens, or any Nepali, there need to be better education and awareness programs for the citizens, especially for the most vulnerable groups. The people who are trafficked are usually trafficked by either the people they trust or fraudulent agencies which give them a false sense of security of a job and an extravagant lifestyle abroad. If the people can be educated on the reality, the risks involved, and help them seek employment through legal means, maybe human trafficking can be reduced. Alongside this, there needs to be stricter punishment to fraudulent recruitment agencies as well. So the government can either create better working conditions and opportunities in Nepal or safeguard their citizens abroad when they go in pursuit of better opportunities. The government cannot restrict the traveling of all people in their feeble attempts to control human trafficking or fear of extortion.
Anjila Shrestha is a researcher at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. Views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. [email protected]