Aarti Dhar

NEW DELHI: Women constitute almost half of all global migrants worldwide 95 million or 49.6 per cent yet, it is only recently that the international community has begun to recognise their contribution to the economy and social well-being of populations living in both the origin and receiving countries and the challenges women confront in the new land.

Flow of people

The 191 million migrants enumerated outside the country of their birth in 2005, constitute nearly 3 per cent of the world's population. While the United States received the highest number of migrants, India stood eighth in rank, according to the State of World Population 2006 report `A Passage to Hope: Women and International Migration,' released by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) on Wednesday.

Global communications and transportation have made it possible for individuals to enjoy more freedom of movement than before, but people should not be compelled to migrate because of inequality, insecurity, exclusion and limited opportunities in their home countries, the report points out. "Stepped up efforts to reduce poverty, bring about gender equality and enhance development will go a long way towards achieving a more orderly migration system. These are necessary to reduce gaps between rich and poor and to expand opportunities for all," it says.

Many hazards

From the modern-day enslavement of trafficking victims to the exploitation of domestic workers, millions of female migrants face hazards that testify to the lack of adequate rights protection and opportunities to migrate safely and legally.

Trafficked women are usually forced into sex work, domestic or sweatshop labour and human trafficking now constitutes the third most lucrative illicit trade after drugs and arms smuggling and nets an estimated $ 7 billion to $ 12 billion. An estimated 600,000 to 800,000 people are trafficked across international borders each year. Of these, 80 per cent are women and girls, according to the report.

Domestic work is one of the largest labour sectors driving international female migration.

The massive outflow of nurses, midwives and doctors, from poorer to wealthier countries, is one of the most difficult challenges posed by international migration, the report says. Even as skilled women and men are increasingly turning to migration to improve their lives, their countries are facing an unprecedented healthcare crisis.

In 2005, remittances funds sent by migrants to their country of origin stood at an estimated $ 232 billion. These are considerably higher than the $167 billion going to developing countries as official development assistance.

Experts consider the actual amount to be much higher since these estimates do not take into account funds transferred through informal channels.