News

    Bhutanese Youth Face Rising Unemployment as Migrant Workforce Grows

    The tiny, isolated Himalayan nation of Bhutan is experiencing record economic growth. But some experts are concerned about rising rates of unemployment among the country's youth as a growing migrant workforce takes many of the new jobs. Raymond Thibodeaux reports for VOA from Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.

    Anyone traveling the hundred miles of road leading from the southern Bhutanese border town of Phuentsholing to the capital, Thimphu, can see the people who are building the infrastructure of this tiny Himalayan nation, almost from scratch.

    For the most part, they are not Bhutanese. They are mainly young men and women from Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. And they have come to Bhutan for the jobs that the vast majority of Bhutanese laborers either cannot - or will not - do.

    Safigul Islam, a 23-year-old from West Bengal, is one of them.

    "He says he's not feeling quite good due to the job here," says a translator. "Money problems - that is why he comes here, far away from family. After six months, he will go back again with the payment and make all the family happy."

    A semi-skilled construction worker, Safigul makes about 200 rupees a day, the equivalent of about five U.S. dollars. He is paid better than most of the estimated 50,000 migrant workers who, escaping poverty back home, snap up jobs in Bhutan's booming construction industry, building roads, hydropower plants, and tourist hotels.

    For Bhutan, the rising number of migrant laborers has both positive and negative sides. The cheap labor is fueling Bhutan's rapid modernization. But the influx of foreign workers, mixed with rising unemployment among Bhutan's youth, is blamed for increasing petty crime and drug and alcohol abuse.

    But some analysts say the migrant laborers are almost a necessity for Bhutan's growth.

    Recent government statistics show that unemployment in Bhutan has tripled in the past three years, rising to nearly four percent, with unemployment rates much higher for ages 15 to 24.

    Still, on average, the Bhutanese are better off than most in surrounding countries. Yearly per capita income in Bhutan is about $1,400 (US), roughly twice that of neighboring India.

    "Because of education, I guess aspirations have changed," said Sonam Tshering, Bhutan's minister of economic affairs. "We do have an unemployment problem. We have a lot of educated youth coming out on the job market annually. Now they all have much higher expectation. They are no longer interested in blue-collar jobs. Everybody wants to have an office. They want to sit on a chair. They do not want to apply themselves physically. So, the problem that we are facing at the moment in Bhutan is the mismatch between supply and demand."

    The demand in Bhutan's fastest-growing job market - construction - is for low- and semi-skilled laborers who can work long hours for low wages, and are willing to live in the hundreds of squalid laborer camps cropping up in urban areas. The camps are clusters of corrugated tin and tarpaulin lean-tos, few with access to running water.

    Health experts in Bhutan say the large numbers of poor, foreign workers living in the crowded camps could pose an increased risk of spread of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, diseases more common in the countries that surround Bhutan.

    Sonam Chuki, a political science lecturer at the Royal Institute of Management in Thimphu, says the government needs to address the problem of youth unemployment.

    "If the government does not address it now, and it continues for years to come, then it will be a big concern. When youth are unemployed there is the problem of their getting into drugs, small thefts, burglaries, alcohol and also getting into street fights. The social ills are there," Chuki said. "We are also talking about the rise of street prostitutes. You see, it is a really sad thing for Bhutan."

    Tshering says the government is setting up programs to teach young people in Bhutan skills such as carpentry, plumbing, and electrical engineering - all of which are vital to the construction industry.

    Fear of a large and growing force of foreign laborers is particularly acute in Bhutan, a tiny country of only about 630,000 people sandwiched between two giants, India and China.

    This is not the first time that huge numbers of foreign laborers have raised concern in Bhutan. Bhutanese authorities cracked down on thousands of migrant workers in the late 1980s, many of them illegal immigrants from Nepal.

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortagei
    X
    February 12, 2016 7:31 PM
    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Two-thirds of World Faces Water Shortage

    Four billion people — or two out of every three on the planet — do not have enough water to meet their basic needs. That is far greater than previously thought, according to a new study that presents a more accurate picture of the problem. As VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports, the findings will help policymakers and the public craft solutions to address the threat.
    Video

    Video Gateway to Mecca: Historical Old Jeddah

    Local leader Sami Nawar's family has been in the Old City of Jeddah for hundreds of years and takes us on a tour of this ancient route to Mecca, also believed to be the final resting place of Adam's wife, Eve.
    Video

    Video New Technology Aims to Bring Election Transparency to Uganda

    A team of recent graduates from Uganda’s Makerere University has created a mobile application designed to help monitor elections and expose possible rigging. The developers say the app, called E-Poll, will make Uganda's democratic process fairer. From Kampala, VOA's Serginho Roosblad reports.
    Video

    Video As Refugees Perish, Greek Graveyards Fill

    Aid workers on the Greek island of Lesbos say they are struggling to bury the increasing number of bodies of refugees that have been recovered or washed up ashore in recent months.  The graveyards are all full, they say, yet as tens of thousands of people clamor to get out of Syria, it is clear refugees will still be coming in record numbers. For VOA, Hamada Elrasam reports from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video Russia Bristles at NATO Expansion in E. Europe

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov is meeting Friday with the head of NATO after the Western military alliance and the United States announced plans for the biggest military build-up in Europe since the Cold War. Russia has called NATO's moves a threat to stability in Europe. But NATO says the troop rotations and equipment are aimed at reassuring allies concerned about Russia as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video To Fight Zika, Scientists Target Mosquitoes

    Mosquitoes strike again. The Zika virus outbreak is just the latest headline-grabbing epidemic carried by these biting pests, but researchers are fighting back with new ways to control them. VOA's Steve Baragona takes a look.
    Video

    Video Mosul Refugees Talk About Life Under IS

    A top U.S. intelligence official told Congress this week that a planned Iraqi-led operation to re-take the city of Mosul from Islamic State militants is unlikely to take place this year. IS took over the city in June 2014, and for the past year and a half, Mosul residents have been held captive under its rule. VOA's Zana Omar talked to some families who managed to escape. Bronwyn Benito narrates his report.
    Video

    Video Scientists Make Progress Toward Better Diabetes Treatment, Cure

    Scientists at two of the top U.S. universities say they have made significant advances in their quest to find a more efficient treatment for diabetes and eventually a cure. According to the International Diabetes Federation, the disease affects more than 370 million people worldwide. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video NATO to Target Migrant Smugglers

    NATO has announced plans to send warships to the Aegean Sea to target migrant smugglers in the alliance's most direct intervention so far since a wave of people began trying to reach European shores.
    Video

    Video Russia's Catholics, Orthodox Hopeful on Historic Pope-Patriarch Meeting

    Russia's Catholic minority has welcomed an historic first meeting Friday in Cuba between the Pope and the Patriarch of Russia's dominant Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church split with Rome in 1054 and analysts say politics, both church and state, have been driving the relationship in the centuries since. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Used Books Get a New Life on the Streets of Lagos

    Used booksellers are importing books from abroad and selling them on the streets of Africa's largest city. What‘s popular with readers may surprise you. Chris Stein reports from Lagos.
    Video

    Video After NH Primaries All Eyes on South Carolina

    After Tuesday's primary in New Hampshire, US presidential candidates swiftly turned to the next election coming up in South Carolina. The so-called “first-in-the-South” poll may help further narrow down the field of candidates. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video Smartphone Helps Grow Vegetables

    One day, you may be using your smartphone to grow your vegetables. A Taipei-based company has developed a farm cube — a small, enclosed ecosystem designed to grow plants indoors. The environment inside is automatically adjusted by the cube, but it can also be controlled through an app. VOA's Deborah Block has more on the gardening system.
    Video

    Video Exhibit Turns da Vinci’s Drawings Into Real Objects

    In addition to being a successful artist, Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci designed many practical machines, some of which are still in use today, although in different forms. But a number of his projects were never realized — until today. VOA’s George Putic reports.