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Bankrupt Sri Lanka allows younger women to work abroad

COLOMBO — Crisis-hit Sri Lanka on Tuesday (June 21) reduced to 21 the minimum age at which women can go abroad for work and earn much-needed dollars for the bankrupt economy.
Autorickshaws are parked in a queue along a street to tank up petrol from a Ceylon petroleum corporation fuel station in Colombo on June 20, 2022.
Autorickshaws are parked in a queue along a street to tank up petrol from a Ceylon petroleum corporation fuel station in Colombo on June 20, 2022.

COLOMBO — Crisis-hit Sri Lanka on Tuesday (June 21) reduced to 21 the minimum age at which women can go abroad for work and earn much-needed dollars for the bankrupt economy.

Colombo imposed age restrictions on women working overseas in 2013 after a 17-year-old Sri Lankan nanny was beheaded in Saudi Arabia over the death of a child in her care.

Following outrage over the execution, only women older than 23 were allowed to go abroad, while for Saudi Arabia the minimum age was set at 25.

But with Sri Lanka in its worst economic crisis since independence, the government on Tuesday eased the rules, including for Saudi Arabia.

"The cabinet of ministers approved the decision to lower the minimum age to 21 years for all countries given the need to increase foreign employment opportunities," spokesman Bandula Gunawardana told reporters.

Remittances from Sri Lankans working abroad have long been a key source of foreign exchange for the country, bringing in around US$7 billion (S$9.60 billion) per year.

This number dived during the coronavirus pandemic to $5.4 billion in 2021 and was forecast to drop under $3.5 billion this year because of the economic crisis.

More than 1.6 million people from the nation of 22 million work abroad, mainly in the Middle East.

The South Asian country's foreign currency reserves are so low that the government has restricted imports even of essentials including food, fuel and medicine. AFP

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