MANAMA, Bahrain — Although it may seem odd to Western fans of Mary Poppins, Persian Gulf social experts want governments to curb the number of foreign nannies because they are seen as a dangerous influence on the young.
They say employment of non-Arabs to raise children is one reason behind a "cultural invasion and gradual erosion of Islamic values."
Unofficial estimates say there are about 1.5 million foreign maids and nannies in the Persian Gulf region--one to every 10 people. Most of them come from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and the Philippines.
At a recent seminar in Bahrain on the issue of foreign nannies, experts from the social and labor ministries of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) stressed the need to find ways to restrict the number of foreign nannies and preserve Islamic values.
New Laws Needed
The GCC groups Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
"New laws have to be issued to regulate the employment of foreign nannies and maids . . . Those who wish to come to the Gulf should be made acquainted with our traditions and language," the experts said at the end of a four-day meeting.
They proposed social programs for Gulf families aimed at helping "avoid the dangerous and negative influence of foreign nannies" as well as coordination among GCC official bodies to "counter the negative effects of the phenomenon."
The experts called for public and private sector financing of day-care schools and kindergartens for children of working parents. They also urged strict medical checks on foreign workers, blamed by health officials for bringing diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and typhoid to the region.
At the root of the experts' concern is rapid social change and an increase in child delinquency and crime that accompanied unexpected wealth brought by the 1970s oil boom.
The "foreign nanny" phenomenon has long been debated in the local press, where employment agencies regularly advertise the ease and low cost of recruiting foreign manpower, especially from Asia. An Asian maid or nanny receives a monthly salary of about $150-$180.
In a recent letter to Bahrain's daily newspaper Akhbar al-Khaleej, a reader said the blame lies with social and labor ministries "which opened their doors wide for foreign manpower from every nationality."