The Government Complex, Building B
120 Moo 3, Chaengwattana Road
Re: Labor Minister’s Plan to Deport Pregnant Migrant Workers
We are writing to urge the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand to urgently review the Labor Minister’s recently announced plan to deport pregnant migrant workers, make public its findings on how this proposal may violate human rights, and provide recommendations to the government. We believe that the proposal discriminates against women workers and would not advance the Thai government’s stated goal 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 in media interviews that this policy 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 Ministry of Labor established a working group under its Department of Labor Protection and Welfare and gave it two months to draft regulations for the implementation of this proposal.
The Labor Minister’s proposal would penalize pregnant migrants 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 have to pay additional fees and expenses related to travel and recruitment.
Thai human rights groups also told Human Rights Watch they are concerned that some migrant women may risk unsafe abortions as their only option to stay employed in Thailand. Women migrant workers in Thailand often lack access to adequate reproductive health services, including contraception.
Governments are obligated under international human rights law to ensure that women have the same employment opportunities as men and cannot be dismissed from jobs because of pregnancy. These standards are established by the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), ratified by Thailand in 1985, and core labor standards of the International Labor Organization (ILO). The committee of independent experts overseeing CEDAW stated in its General Recommendation No. 26 that governments should ensure that women migrant workers have the same rights and protections extended to all workers in the country and should lift bans prohibiting migrant workers from getting pregnant.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Thailand ratified in 1996, provides that citizens and non-citizens both benefit from the general requirement of non-discrimination. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that monitors compliance with the Covenant, stated in its General Comment No. 15 that while states are entitled to admit or deny entry of persons, “in certain circumstances an alien may enjoy the protection of the Covenant even in relation to entry or residence…when considerations of non-discrimination, prohibition of inhuman treatment and respect for family life arise.” Depriving pregnant migrant women of their employment and separating them from their families by deporting them, meets that threshold.
In its 2010 report “From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand,” Human Rights Watch recommended to the Thai government a list of actions to take 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. But deporting pregnant migrant workers would not address the problem and would violate Thailand’s international legal obligations.
Thank you for your consideration of this important issue. We look forward to your taking action to review this policy’s human rights implications. We would be happy to meet with you or your staff to discuss this request in more detail.