Once again, Sri Lanka’s female housemaids domiciled in the Middle-East have become the focus of public attention due to the horrific news of another woman facing death sentence in Saudi Arabia. The crime in this instance is adultery, allegedly committed by a 45-year-old mother of two with another Sri Lankan man. Since the news broke out, a number of legislators in Parliament and a section of the public have renewed calls for a ban on housemaids travelling to that country.

While we all can agree that this outcry is completely justified, a key question that doesn’t receive a unanimous answer, just as yet though, is – Could Sri Lanka afford to lose the amount of remittances received by housemaids in Saudi Arabia? In pursuit of an answer, Nation this week tried to dig in a few publicly available data relating to workers remittances so that it could help us estimate the opportunity cost of banning housemaids particularly to Saudi Arabia. However, our attempt to get an accurate measure was unsuccessful due to the lack of sufficient official data. However, we found a few interesting facts detailed below;

1. Worker remittances are Sri Lanka’s number one foreign exchange earner and it grew by 9.5% to US$7.02 billion in 2014 from US$ 6.4 billion in 2013. Middle East contributed around 55% of total remittances (US$ 3.85bn) although its proportional share has been on a declining trend from about a high of 60% in 2010.

2. It is estimated that we have 1.7 million Sri Lankans working abroad while there are currently over a million migrant workers from Sri Lanka in the Persian Gulf and other Middle Eastern countries.

3. Out of the total migrants in 2014, more than 80% of workers were skilled labourers, unskilled labourers and housemaids, the Central Bank said.

4. Saudi Arabia is Sri Lanka’s second most sought-after destination for foreign employment after Qatar according to 2014 statistics. Qatar was only marginally ahead of Saudi Arabia with a difference of 4,032 persons.
5. In 2014, out of the 300,413 persons who departed for foreign employment, 80,539 persons travelled to Saudi Arabia accounting for around 27% of total departures.

6. Out of the total departures in 2014, females represented a 37% share (110,489 persons).

7. The number of persons who departed for employment in 2014 as housemaids amounted to 88,661 accounting for around 30% of total departures. (The proportion of housemaids has however reduced in recent years from a high of 42% in 2012.)

8. In the year 2013, the highest number of women who sought domestic work (Housemaid/Domestic Housekeeping Assistant) of 12,433 migrated from the Kurunegala District, closely followed by the Kandy district with 10,754. This is according to data from the SLBFE.

From what has been presented above, it is clear that determining the amount of money remitted by housemaids in Saudi Arabia per se. is a strenuos task.
In conclusion, the questions posed below by the CEO of MTI Consulting, Hilmy Cader recently reminds us of a stark reality.
“Why are we in this state today? What have we done since independence? Who really is responsible for this? Does our ‘revolutionary’ budget address this? Do our chambers and elite professional associations even think about this?”