Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Domestic migrant workers still vulnerable: HRW

Mizzima News
25 November 2008

In marking today's 8th anniversary of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, a leading rights organization has cautioned that tens of thousands of migrant, domestic workers remain susceptible to multiple forms of abuse.

Human Rights Watch, in comments released yesterday, said the problem of abuse of domestic labor is predominantly directed at female employees of individual households and especially problematic in Middle Eastern and Asian countries.

"Governments need to punish abusive employers through the justice system, and prevent violence by reforming labor and immigration policies that leave these workers at their employers' mercy," said Nisha Varia, deputy director of the women's rights division at Human Rights Watch.

With Burma's domestic economy in tatters, thousands of Burmese women have found their way abroad as domestic help, the most prolific destination being neighboring Thailand.

Of the estimated one million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, some 485,925 are registered as domestic labor as of mid-2007. However, even as Thai authorities pursue a program to register as many migrant workers in the country as possible, only half the Burmese migrant population is presently recorded – meaning the true number of Burmese domestic labour in Thailand could be significantly higher.

As of 2004, according to the World Health Organisation, Thailand's Chiang Mai Province alone was home to as many as 100,000 migrant workers from Burma. Meanwhile, every day, dozens of Burmese citizens are believed to be smuggled from locations on the border to Bangkok in search of work.

The domestic labor population is especially hard to document, as they are commonly more difficult to reach than migrant populations working in factories and other recognized, commercial business entities.

Domestic help in Thailand, as it is for the migrant population at large, is not covered by healthcare, and receives no guarantee of a minimum wage.

Despite the often overly demanding working conditions, the International Labor Organisation says that opportunities for domestic help are vital to women from poor countries seeking work and lacking educational qualifications. The average length of study for girls in Burma is eight years of schooling.

In order to better protect the rights and well-being of domestic, migrant workforces, Human Rights Watch calls on enhanced referral and support systems, more education for the women concerned as to what their rights are, and improved access to the judicial system when allegations of abuse are brought forward.

"Providing comprehensive support services to victims of violence, prosecuting abusers, and providing civil remedies are reforms that just can't wait," asserted Varia.

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