Thailand’s government should scrap the labor minister’s proposed regulation to deport migrant workers who become pregnant, Human Rights Watch said today. The proposal discriminates against women workers and would not advance the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s stated aim of reducing human trafficking.
On June 26, 2012, Labor Minister Padermchai Sasomsap announced a plan to send home migrant workers who authorities learn are three to four months’ pregnant. He stated that this would curb the use of migrant child labor by reducing the number of migrant children in Thailand. He maintained this measure would help respond to the US State Department’s recent classification of Thailand in the “Tier 2 Watch List” as a country making consistently poor efforts to eliminate human trafficking.
“The labor minister’s plan has nothing to do with stopping human trafficking but will cause further discrimination against women migrant workers,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Prime Minister Yingluck should immediately direct the Labor Ministry to drop this unlawful and thoroughly bad idea.”
On June 19, the US State Department released its annual report on human trafficking, which criticized Thailand for its failure to prevent and respond to trafficking into forced prostitution, forced begging, and forced labor, especially in the fishing industry, domestic work, and factories. The report highlighted Thailand’s failure to identify and protect victims and concluded that “the country’s migrant labor policies continued to create vulnerabilities to trafficking and disincentives to victims to communicate with authorities.”
Human Rights Watch’s 2010 report “From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand” found that undocumented migrants are particularly vulnerable to trafficking due to unregistered, unscrupulous brokers, lack of valid travel documents, fear of authorities, and limited information about their rights and where to get help.
“Thailand has a long list of actions to take if it really wants to stop trafficking, such as ensuring that migrant children can go to school, cracking down on abusive government officials and labor recruiters, and providing better protection for trafficking victims,” Adams said. “Adopting such measures, rather than deporting pregnant migrant workers, would be the best way forward.”
While the labor minister’s proposal does not bar pregnant migrants from working, it penalizes them by forcing them to stop work for several months and return to their home countries to give birth. This deprives migrant women, often from poor backgrounds, of equal work opportunities and income. They may also face uncertainty regarding the ability to reclaim their job upon return and additional expenses related to travel and recruitment fees.