Celebrating International Migrants Day, 18 December 2017

Cabinet decision to Ban on Mothers having children below 5 years of age leaving the country for foreign employment

We vehemently oppose to the Cabinet decision to ‘ban’ mothers of children under the age of five from migrating abroad for work. This ban was imposed taking into account the social and psychological costs such as abuse and neglect on children due to mothers’ migration. Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLFBE) circular dated June 6, 2013 requires domestic sector female workers to obtain a family certificate outlining the state of affairs at homes before her application is cleared. In this respect, a female migrant worker has to get husband’s consent and should prove that their children will be safe during her absence to get the clearance. This constitutes discriminatory treatment between a married man and a married woman. In case of a married woman’s migration, the husband’s consent has to be submitted while married men who migrate abroad are not required to obtain the consent of their spouses.

This practice is a clear discrimination based on sex and the marital status, and violates the right of a woman to choose an employment freely, to engage in meaningful employment and of the right to work as stipulated in the article 14 (g) of the Constitution; which is the freedom to engage by herself or in association with others in any lawful occupation, profession, trade, business or enterprise.
In addition, this policy outlined in the circular is contrary with CEDAW Convention articles 5(a), (5 (b) and 16 (c). It re-enforces patriarchal norms, values, stereotypes that lay the sole responsibility for the welfare of the family on women, and fails to recognize men’s responsibilities and accountability for the family. Article 5 (a) states that States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women; and Article (5) (b) highlights the importance of proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children. The CEDAW article 16 (d) states that both men and women have same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children.

We wish to point out that there are many instances that male parent has played an important role in upbringing and taking care of his small children while their mother is employed abroad. It is regretted that there has not been a dialogue in the society on such positive approaches adopted by families without any social welfare support services from the government. Moreover, practically, the responsibility of taking care of children does not end after 5 years. Responsibility and child care arrangements should be vested upon all migrant workers, not only on women. We demand that government should establish a visiting and monitoring unit for migrant families to assess the status rather than enforcing restrictions on women.

Also we wish to point out that there are thousands of mothers working in remote places from their own home locality leaving their children behind with their husbands or close relatives. Those mothers particularly of the state sector are finding it very difficult to have their duty station changed to a place close to their own home that would help them to live with their families. It is therefore very difficult for us to comprehend the logic behind the decision of the government to ban on mothers from migrating for employment.
We emphasize again that the ban on mothers having children below 5 years of age leaving the country is a clear discrimination based on sex and the marital status, and violates the right of a woman to choose an employment freely, to engage in meaningful employment and of the right to work.

Therefore we demand that the government withdraw and abolish the Circular dated 6 June 2013 issued by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLFBE) creating gender-discriminatory different standards for men and women and Implement CEDAW equality standards, set forth in articles 5 (a), 5(b) and 16 (d) of the CEDAW convention and in article 12(2) of the constitution of Sri Lanka. The conflict between children’s rights and women’s rights should be addressed in coherent manner and in the best interest of children as well as of their mothers.

We request therefore urgent attention of Preseident Mr. Maithreepala Sirisena, former President Mrs. Chandrka Kumaranatunga, Minister of Justice and Foreign Employment Mrs. Tahatha Athukorala, Minister of Weoman’s Welfare Mrs. Chandrani Bandara and the Minister of Labour W.D.J. Seneviratne to the policy of the government that is discriminatory of women.

Violet Perera
Action Network For Migrant Workers (ACTFORM)