BHAKTAPUR, NEPAL — Gautam is 31 years old and has to take several pills a day to prevent swelling in his hands and legs. The narrow bed in his one-room house in this district is covered in silver strips of medicine. Despite her pain, the single mother has had to run through city government offices for months trying to get a birth certificate for her 3-year-old daughter. State agencies keep turning her away, she says, each time instructing her to come back with proof that the child is legally hers.
Gautam, who like other sources in this story is not being fully identified to protect her identity, had her daughter with a man she met in Kuwait, where she had gone to work as a maid in 2019. In 2020, as the pandemic of coronavirus swept across the world, Gautam and his partner were suddenly out of work. When the Nepalese embassy in Kuwait offered to bring the country’s citizens home, Gautam jumped at the opportunity, thinking she would be in a better place to care for her daughter at her home. However, while she was flying back, the embassy documents issued to her did not specify her relationship to the baby traveling with her. Months later and thousands of miles away, at the government offices in Bhaktapur, Gautam’s daughter, now a toddler going to school, could not be issued a birth certificate because her mother had no way of proving that she was born. her son was really hers.
Gautama’s case is not isolated. Every year many women migrate from Nepal to the Gulf as domestic workers. Since 1998, when the ban on women migrating to the Gulf for these jobs was first instituted, the Nepalese government has lifted and reinstated the ban several times. It was strengthened in 2017, but poverty pushes Nepali women to the Middle East to find work. In several cases, the women are shipped via other South Asian countries and end up in the Gulf on tourist visas, making them “illegal” workers in the countries, says Dandu Raj Ghimire, spokesman for the Ministry of Labor. , Employment and Social Security of Nepal. As a result, they do not obtain birth documents for children born there due to the limited rights they have. And when they return to Nepal, women without a male partner fight to get the birth registered due to the lack of valid documentation establishing their relationship to the children. Without a birth certificate, children are denied citizenship rights, prevented from entering public schools, unable to eventually open bank accounts in their names, and unable to benefit from a host of government welfare programs for children. economically disadvantaged.
Megh Raj Shankar, an officer with Nepal’s Department of National Identification and Vital Registration, explains that while the country has made provisions for single mothers like Gautam to register the birth of their foreign-born babies, if the women cannot prove their relationship with the child, the state has to provide additional support.
However, Global Press Journal found that single mothers from economically marginalized communities in Nepal find it nearly impossible to navigate the state’s processes to legally register the births of their foreign-born children.
“What proof do I have that she is my daughter?”
As a worker without a valid work visa, Gautam was unable to go to a hospital for her delivery: her daughter was born at home in Kuwait, without any legal documents in her name. When she landed in Nepal in 2020, Gautam lost her phone at the airport, and with it, her partner’s number. She had no other means of contacting him directly.
“I searched a lot for the man on social media, but couldn’t find him,” says Gautam. He sent his brother to Kuwait to look for him several months later, but the man at the address could no longer be found. While the disappearance of her partner worried her, it also meant that she couldn’t use her identity documents to register the birth of her daughter. “Bhaktapur municipality says what proof do I have that she is my daughter and she refuses to give her birth certificate,” says Gautam. Gautam’s daughter has been admitted to a public school on the condition that she present a birth certificate soon. Without the document, Gautam’s daughter will eventually face the threat that she will not be allowed to take a secondary exam in Nepal and she may never have access to higher education.
A report released by the Nepal National Human Rights Commission reveals that at least 3% of women who travel to the Gulf for work become pregnant and give birth there. Absent fathers complicating the birth registration process for children in Nepal is a long-standing problem. In the past, the identity of the father was required to register a child’s birth and also grant citizenship. Since then, the country’s laws have been changed to ensure that a child’s birth certificate can also be issued in the mother’s name, under certain circumstances.
However, Navaraj Jaisi, director of the registration wing of Nepal’s Department of National Identification and Vital Registration, says unmarried women must prove their relationship to their child and file a police report stating that the child’s father is “missing”. Only then can the birth of a child be registered.
For single mothers, acquiring even this documentation has been challenging, often due to the circumstances in which they have had to leave a foreign country.
Oli left for Oman in hopes of a better life in 2016. He worked in the home of a woman who also rented him a room in an apartment complex she owned. The landlady’s brother often visited the house where Oli worked and sexually assaulted her. “He threatened me: ‘If you tell my family, I’ll kill you.’ That’s why I never told anyone. She came every three months and forced me. She did not live in the house. I didn’t speak out of fear,” says Oli. Oli hid her pregnancy from her employer for as long as she could, but in the seventh month of her pregnancy, she started bleeding as a result of the assault and had to visit a hospital. Realizing that Oli was pregnant, her employer decided to suspend her employment and send her back to Nepal. But she did not stop there: since Oli had a contract that forced her to work for the Omani employer for two years, the woman had Oli go to jail for breach of contract. Oli’s pregnancy was disclosed to the employer with four months remaining on her contract.
After giving birth in a hospital, Oli spent four months in prison. In 2018, when she returned to Nepal with her infant son, her husband and Oli’s in-laws refused to accept the baby and began abusing her. And since Oli was not issued any valid birth documents either, it fell to her husband to extend her identity to the child, and he refused. Her son is now 5 years old and her birth has not yet been registered. The child has been unable to receive free government-provided vaccinations and other medical benefits covered by the country’s social security allowance.
“Without a birth certificate, one is not admitted to a school or gets insurance, as well as being excluded from a number of other public services,” says Jaisi, the government official.
Yam Kumari Kandel, GPJ Nepal
“What can we do for the illegals?”
Rai, 33, returned from Kuwait in 2020 with a son from a relationship there. The baby, like Gautam’s, was born at home and Rai has no documents linking her child to her. The girl’s travel documents were also made in the name of her husband in Nepal, who was not interested in extending her identity to her son, so the 5-year-old still does not have a certificate of birth. “I feel guilty. It was useless to go,” says Rai.
Oli says that she is fed up with her life. “Sometimes there is no money for food, sometimes there is no money to buy clothes. My son doesn’t get the things he wants,” she says. Since her return to Nepal, Oli has been trying to get by doing odd jobs. With no hope of getting help from state agencies, Oli now plans to go to Malaysia to work as a maid, leaving her son in a government-run child care center.
Ganesh Gurung, a migration and labor expert from Nepal, says women who return to Nepal with a child born abroad battle extreme mental anguish. Shunned by society and family, and unable to obtain the necessary legal assistance and state benefits for their foreign-born children, many women turn to prostitution, he says.
In 2004, Gurung, another woman who went to work in Kuwait as a domestic worker and is not fully identified, hoped that the income from her work would help educate her daughters at home. But she was in for a nightmare, she says. “We could only eat after the bosses ate. We have no rest. We were not even allowed to sit down,” says Gurung. Tired of the torture, Gurung fled from her employer’s house. Her passport, however, was with her employer and there was no way she could go back for it.
Gurung later had a child with an Indian man she met after running away from her workplace. Although his son was born in a hospital, no document was issued for him. “As an illegal (worker) and without a passport, it was not possible to obtain a birth certificate,” says Gurung. The boy’s father died due to heart complications and Gurung herself was imprisoned for a few months due to her employer’s complaint. “In Kuwait, if they don’t like their maid, they file a police report to have the maids arrested,” she says.
Her son had no proof of birth or citizenship rights until she married a man four years after returning to Nepal in 2009. Her new husband provided his own proof of identity to record their son’s birth certificate, which he now has 16 years.
Lily Thapa, a member of the National Human Rights Commission, says that to address the oppression women face during employment abroad, the commission has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Malaysian human rights commission. Thapa says there are plans to sign a similar agreement with Qatar soon to help protect the rights of migrant workers.
However, Ghimire, the spokeswoman for the Ministry of Labor, says women who go to work in the Middle East on tourist visas are often not eligible for the compensatory services the government has for women facing oppression. Employers in the Gulf are often aware of this and take advantage of the situation. “What can we do for the illegals? It’s hard,” she says.