Sri Lanka on Wednesday raised the minimum age for women seeking employment abroad from 18 to 21, aiming at curbing the exploitation of young female migrant workers.
Although the order was imposed across the board, a government statement made it clear that the main focus was the large number of young Sri Lankan women who find work as maids -- mostly in the Gulf states.
"A tendency for abuse and vulnerability to different forms of exploitation appears to be commonly associated with young female domestic workers abroad," the statement said.
Foreign remittances are a key source of foreign exchange for Sri Lanka with its expatriate work force sending home a record 4.1 billion dollars in 2010, up from 3.3 billion dollars in 2009.
Sri Lankans are among millions of South Asian migrant workers who seek work in the Gulf each year, many of them paying huge advances to sometimes unscrupulous middlemen which they then have to repay.
The Gulf states frequently come under fire from human rights watchdogs for their failure to do more to improve the working and living conditions of migrant workers.
Around 550,000 Sri Lankans live and work in oil-rich Saudi Arabia, many of them as domestic helpers or drivers.
Relations between the two countries have been uneasy following a claim in August by a Sri Lankan maid that her Saudi employer drove 24 nails into her body as punishment.
Saudi government and private sector officials have questioned her account.