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Wednesday, July 22, 1998 Published at 13:57 GMT 14:57 UK

World: South Asia

Bangladesh bans women from working abroad

Economic desperation drives many Bangladeshi women abroad

The authorities in Bangladesh have imposed an immediate ban on women seeking employment overseas as nurses and housemaids to protect them from abusive employers.

Officials say the move follows several cases of Bangladeshi women abroad being subjected to sexual and other forms of abuse.

There was a recent case of a Bangladeshi maid servant being accused of attempted murder in Dubai after her employer allegedly tried to rape her.

The ban, however, will not affect the 12,000 women currently working abroad.

Human rights organisations in Bangladesh have criticised the decision, saying it is a violation of the womens' right to freedom of movement as guaranteed in the constitution.

They say it is not fair to remove this opportunity from women without offering them some alternative.

They argue that women should be allowed to make their own decision and that the Bangladeshi government should instead concentrate its efforts on drawing up agreements with the host countries to protect female workers.

There is also concern that banning women from going abroad legally will only encourage illegal traffic.

Our correspondent in Dhaka says no-one knows for certain how many Bangladeshi women are sold into prostitution or slavery abroad after being smuggled out of the country, but it is thought to run into thousands each year.

The export of labour is a major source of revenue for Bangladesh, bringing in about $1.5bn into the country every year.

The vast majority of its two million workers abroad are men.

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