Singapore, a country with population of 5.18millions, 1.27millions is foreigner workers mostly in construction, manufacturing and domestic services. The November strike by Chinese bus drivers last year generated both supportive and xenophobic remarks against migrant workers and highlighted the less than satisfactory working conditions. It was in 2012, that the compulsory day off for domestic workers was also announced. We spoke to Transient Workers Count too (TWC2), our member in Singapore that is advocating for fair treatment of migrant workers about the situation faced by migrant workers and TWC2’s activities in support for them.
Last June you had conducted a briefing to the media on ethics of reporting on trafficking. Have you seen changes in the media report following the workshop?
It is hard to pin down specific changes, though not long after the briefing, I noticed that reports on police raids in red light areas usually seemed to appear without the pictures of the women detained that they routinely used to feature before. This was one issue we had raised, though not the main one. I think that there's been a bit more awareness of the need for a victim-centred approach, though it is still not thoroughly understood. The big problem is still to get over the concentration on 'sex trafficking': to recognise labour trafficking and see trafficking into sexual exploitation as a part of that. The obstacle here is not so much journalists' own attitudes and understanding, but official problems in dealing with an issue that is seen to pose tremendous problems for Singapore's migrant labour model: there are so many abuses of migrant workers in the placement process (deception as to the nature of work, seizure of passports, attempts to control freedom of communication in the case of domestic workers…) that it is hard to draw a definite line between labour migration and labour trafficking. Our approach is to try to bring changes that open up more of a clear distinction between the two, and that is a longer term goal. We did not expect one briefing to resolve it.
What is the trafficking scenario in Singapore? What are the responses to all forms of trafficking including sex trafficking and labour trafficking?
Trafficking into sexual exploitation is fairly readily acknowledged. The public is against it, and so is the government. The pieces need putting into place to tackle it effectively, but I would say that this is gradually being done. There still needs to be a full commitment to a victim-centred approach, which is recognised verbally, but not fully embodied in practice as yet (More training for the police and a dedicated shelter for the women concerned are necessary, we think), but things are moving forward. Labour trafficking is more problematic: if government agencies had to deal with complaints from every migrant worker who had experienced one of the things described as trafficking indicators, nearly all the million migrant workers here could cite at least one of them. So labour trafficking is officially recognised, but it is hard to pin down what the government or its Trafficking in Persons Task Force regards as labour trafficking. There still needs to be a breakthrough on this, but it may come partly through establishing better labour standards, enforceable contracts, documentation trails for pay, opening channels for workers here to change jobs - these kind of measures that are not conceived of in the first place as part of an anti-trafficking programme, but that can establish a legal and social status for 'regular' labour migrants that makes it simpler to identify workers who do not share that status and for whom there may be a strong presumption of trafficking having occurred.
The Task Force's work is part of a National Plan of Action and is due to be completed by 2015. One issue under consideration is whether there should be a specific anti-trafficking law or whether it is enough to amend existing anti-trafficking provisions. We think the former is preferable- it will make it easier to refer to it and implement its measures. The Task Force was launched in 2012 and is steered by the Ministry of Manpower and the Ministry of Home Affairs. It includes people involved in dealing with migrant workers, social workers and the police. Besides considering the best legislative approach, it is looking at enforcement and raising public awareness. It has met concerned NGOs, though we think that the level of engagement should be raised.
Can you tell us briefly about your work with migrant workers, including migrant domestic workers? Based from your work, what are the common cases/problems of MWs in Singapore?
We work through advocacy, research and direct services.
Our longest running campaign was for all domestic workers to have a weekly day off, guaranteed by law. We have taken up many other issues, including safe and decent transport for male workers, safe and decent accommodation, documentation of pay so that it is easier to challenge non-payment of salaries, simplifying the transfer of workers in Singapore to other employer, respecting the private life of domestic workers (for example, they should not have their love lives regulated by their employers) and action to reduce placement costs. We have taken up these issues with the government, through the media and in public outreach.
We have produced a series of research reports, including a joint report with another NGO on access to justice, one on the problems Indonesian domestic workers encounter in coming to Singapore and returning home, a big one last year on the costs borne by Bangladeshi construction workers in the placement process and a series of proposals on legislative change that now cover all the key laws concerning migrant workers in Singapore.
Our direct services take up the largest share of our resources. The biggest individual programme is the Cuff Road Project, a food programme based in Little India that provides meals daily to destitute male workers who are waiting for cases or work injury compensation claims to be settled. Currently, we are seeing over 300 men a day there, and we find out what brought them to us and whether they need further assistance beyond food. Many do. We give advice to workers on how to raise complaints and have helped workers get medical treatment when their employers have sought to evade their legal responsibility to see that they get it - or if they're not eligible for support from their employer, we have helped arrange treatment for them.
With domestic workers, the numbers we see concerning complaints are much fewer. Of course, throughout the 'day off' campaign, we cooperated with domestic worker contacts in raising the issue. We work with two unofficial networks - one Indonesian, the other Filipina, which are an alternative source of advice for domestic workers (they refer some workers to us when the issues raised are difficult for them to handle). They provide a social gathering point and classes (computers are the favourite) as well as help and advice.
The major complaints of both male and female migrant workers concern pay. They will bear with a lot of hardships, work long hours and endure insensitive treatment provided they get paid their due salary on time. When an employer falls down on that, then they complain. We are often made aware of other issues by workers who come to us with pay complaints, and then it turns out that they are housed badly, subjected to verbal abuse, and other objectionable treatment. The level of physical abuse of domestic workers has fallen from its high in 1997, but we think there are around 60-70 cases reported and confirmed by the authorities each year (no statistics have come out in the past few years). In most ways, there has been an improvement in the position of migrant workers since TWC2 started work, and we believe that we had a role in that. The only respect in which we think that their position has deteriorated is in placement costs. In 2003, we found that domestic workers paid about six months' salary for their placement; now it is eight to nine months'. Men are paid more, but also burdened with higher placement costs. Our 2012 study found that Bangladeshi workers typically required seventeen and a half months to pay off their placement costs - though it is true that they had to spend part of their salary on their own living expenses over this time.
We talked about the debt that migrant workers carry resulting also from high recruitment fees. The purview of your work is only in Singapore. Is there a way to influence placement agencies that recruit migrant workers to address this issue of debt bondage and high recruitment fees?
We are not in a strong position to do that. We have spoken with the embassies of the countries of origin. We are in touch with organisations that stand up for migrant rights in countries of origin, and they campaign on these issues and try to inform potential migrants of some of the pitfalls they will encounter. We have argued for a cap on what Singapore agencies can charge. There was an official limit of one-tenth of one month's salary on domestic workers a few years ago, but this was completely disregarded in practice. A new cap of one month's deduction for one year's service up to a maximum of two years was then introduced, which would have been a big step forward if that had covered all of domestic worker's costs, but it doesn't: home country charges aren't covered, and it seems that costs claimed by agencies are not either, though this still needs to be clarified. From what new workers say, they are still paying around eight or nine months' salary for placement costs. Employers here refer to this as a cost they bear in hiring a worker, but the fact is that the great majority take it back from their workers by salary deductions.
Are there ways that you have been able to reach out to the employers of migrant workers? How do you see your work contributing to changing the public attitudes towards migrant workers?
When we have had events to which employers were invited, only those who already treated their workers well showed up. The ones who treat them badly tend to stay aloof or huddle with their co-thinkers, swapping tales of bad behaviour by migrants and how to control them more tightly. If direct outreach doesn't work, indirect outreach may. We have kept up good media contacts, and that's one way to reach our message out to hundreds of thousands of people who we wouldn't reach otherwise. We also provide talks for students and assist them with projects, and this both introduces more enlightened thinking into some households and encourages the emergence of a new generation of more considerate employers.
Do you see changes in situation of migrant workers over the years, including migrant domestic workers in terms of realizing their rights through your advocacy efforts?
Our advocacy activities include approaches to government bodies, on both general issues and on specific cases that raise broader issues. We have an active website that has new material added every week. News articles attract maybe 300 views within the first 48 hours after they go up, but some get many more. A small number have attracted viewers in the tens of thousands. We have regular contacts with the media, and provide information for articles or get letters in the press every week or two. We respond to information requests. We have held day schools to provide basic information on migrant workers and their rights to the newly interested. We have a monthly briefing for volunteers that draws from 15 to 25 people every time, and the volunteers then get integrated into programmes where they learn more about migrant workers and their situation.
All the changes over the years have been partial, never the full realisation of a goal. I'm attaching a copy of the TWC2 newsletter that contains a pretty thorough overview of the changes concerning domestic workers over the past ten years, which well illustrates this point. You can see that there is still quite a way to go.
For the greater impact of your work, what level of alliance support or interaction with members organisation would be helpful for TWC2?
I think that there's an important role for international cooperation between NGOs. For us right now, the placement issue is a very obvious case in point. It can't be resolved on either a country of origin or country of destination basis. Cooperation over documentation of promised pay and conditions is desirable and also providing information to empower potential migrants - what might they encounter, and how can they assert their rights? With trafficked people and some returning workers, assisting with reception on their return home to help them avoid further exploitation is a very practical need. Exchanging information on positive and negative experiences, or on good legislative and practical measures -there really is a lot that can be done.
One way in which GAATW-IS can be helpful is propagating 'best examples'. You could take, for example, police procedure when a migrant is detained: what consideration is given to the possibility that the person was trafficked, how are they treated, what are the conditions for housing trafficked people, and so on. I'm not sure how good organisations are at finding out things for themselves. There's the problem of a certain separation between academic research and NGOs in a lot of countries, which can mean these things aren't circulated well. Of course, the same can be done with positive examples from NGOs' own work, where it is possible to release the information in a form that respects the rights of trafficked individuals.
Due to its geographical position Turkey has long been a transit destination for migration and trafficking. It’s economic and political stability and the ongoing unstable situation in some of its bordering countries is increasingly making Turkey an attractive destination both for migration as well as trafficking. We spoke to our member Human Resource Development Foundation which was established in 1988 about the situation of trafficking and their anti-trafficking programme.
Can you tell us briefly about the HRDF’s anti-trafficking program? How do you conduct training program? What kind of responses do you get from the stakeholders?
Founded in 1988, the Human Resource Development Foundation (HRDF) is a non-profit, non-governmental and autonomous organization in
HRDF opened the first shelter in
The most comprehensive training of HRDF was organised in 2004 for police, judges and prosecutors with the purpose of informing public officials about human trafficking. In the following years we have continued to provide trafficking seminars and workshops to law enforcement officers who work in the foreigners’ issues. The aim of the trainings are to inform them about basic human rights, violence against women, trafficking, how to identify trafficking, impacts of trauma on (potential) victims, international standards on human trafficking. Also, seminars for migrant women at detention center are provided. During these years informative material have also been developed and distributed.
The Committee on Status of Women has recently concluded with what most activists are saying some “gain” on sexual and reproductive rights. How do you see this impacting your work?
It is difficult to talk about some “gain” on part of women in
One of your focus area has also been addressing migration.
Given the geographical position at the cross roads of Asia, Europe and Africa,
Since the early 1990s,
The number of persons of concern registered by UNHCR as of March 21, 2013 is 34,972 and the figures are expected to increase due to social and political developments in the region. Although
While their presence in
In parallel to this circular migration,
How do you ensure access to rights for migrant workers? What are your intervention programs to address issues affecting women migrant workers?
HRDF has extensive experience on human trafficking; asylum and refugees and irregular migration. Our human trafficking experience and the recent shifts in human trafficking problem has lead us to diverge in undocumented migration.
Other activities include awareness raising of migrant workers on the laws and practices as well as possible threats in Turkey; counselling/ psychosocial support of migrant women staying at police detention centre; legal aid to migrant workers and a final report to declare our survey results to relevant state representatives to raise the awareness of policy makers and government officers. The project will also aim at bringing together other NGOs who work with migrants and creating a handbook covering policy/legislation issues to guide NGOs efforts to enhance migrants’ rights. During and after the project, it is planned that HRDF office will be a centre where migrants whether documented or undocumented can visit and share their problems. For this reason our office information is also distributed by the outreach worker. The project gives a special emphasis on female migrant workers, and also targets male migrant workers.
How do you see the current debates/ dialogues on VAW impact on the situation of women migrants in Turkey?
Migrant rights are an overlooked issue in Turkey. There are two main groups of migrants in Turkey: (i)asylum seekers/refugees; and (ii) migrant workers who in time could easily become undocumented migrants. For asylum seekers/refugees there are limited rights given by law or bylaws. On the other hand a recently amended “asylum and foreigner’s law“ could bring about some change in this area; it needs to be observed, evaluated. As for undocumented migrant woman and man there are no defined rights and no mechanism in place to access justice.
How do you see the importance of networking in relation ot your work in providing support for trafficked persons and migrant workers?
Turkey is a destination country for women trafficked from mainly Central Asian countries. Migrant workers are travelling from the same region as well. Limited or even no communication between organizations of origin countries and HRDF is an important barrier for improved victim support according to our observations. It is difficult for us to find counterparts in those countries, assuming mainly because language barriers as we do not have a Russian speaking staff in our office and they generally do not speak English. Also we believe that the number of civil organizations who would like to keep in touch with destination countries is small in this region.
How do you visualize a strong anti-trafficking alliance?
We believe that GAATW has already established the required principles of a strong alliance like having a common goal and shared values. We think that joint activities are very much desirable but also we know that it depends on the sources (financial, human resource etc.) of the alliance and individual organizations. We think that sharing of materials/experiences/methodologies is an important function that an alliance could assume which is something that is done by GAATW.
It’s been ten years since the network of six organisations in the state of Odisha in north-East India came together to address movement of women out of state in various forms. Jajnaseni network was born in 2002 to address trafficking of women in other states of India and to promote safe migration. Bishakha Bhanja and Sneha Mishra shared with us the journey of Jajnaseni and the challenges and accomplishments.
How did Jajnaseni came into being? Can you please introduce us the network briefly?
Bishakha: I knew Centre for World Solidarity(CWS) an organization in Odisha that supports women’s movements. At that time CWS was supporting a women activists’ network ( Nari Shakti) where I am also a member. Through our work with women we found high rate of movement of women outside the state in the name of marriage. So with the support of CWS we studied the patterns of women’s movement from one place to another, outside the state of Odisha, in different forms, not necessarily just migration.
We found three different categories in movement of women. First, lots of girls from Odisha get married out of Odisha, particularly to the northern states of India where there is low sex ratio, for example states like Haryana and UP. We wondered why so many girls are marrying in UP where the language and culture are different. The consistent pattern we found is that families of the girls in Odisha are very poor. They do not have money for dowry to marry off their daughters. So whoever comes with proposal to marry without dowry they are more than happy to sent their daughters away. Some “grooms” even offer money and take care of the marriage expenses. Girls once they are married, and sometimes they are not even married, find themselves often in difficult situation when they arrive home, including forced labour and sexual exploitation.
The second pattern we found was the movement of particularly tribal girls as domestic helps in big cities of India like Mumbai and Delhi.
The third pattern was the self migration of women. Due to lack of work in Odisha, women were migrating to places where they can find work, mainly landing up in brick factories or construction works. At work, often women found themselves in trafficking like situation where they were not paid wages but just given a weekly “ration”. Even when they wanted to leave, they were not able to or allowed to leave.
Sneha: There were lots of horrible cases that we had found back in 2002. I had visited a place called Jambu Island in Kendrapada district where I met around 30 returnees who managed to escape from their married life, majority were married off to Uttar Pradesh, another provincial state in India. As Bishkha mentioned, the status of families of these women were very poor and with multiple daughters to marry. So, in these kind of intra state marriages, parents did not have to worry about expenses of wedding nor dowry (which is a practice although its illegal in India). The parents found it easy to get their daughters married off to people and places they were not aware of. Many of the girls did not even tell me the name of the places they were married to. I remember a father that cried a lot and requested me to rescue his daughter but he could not tell me the place where his daughter was married off to. The only address he could manage was that they had to get down at Mathura railway station and then two hours road journey from there.
I still remember a young girl of around 17/18 years narrating her plight. She was the eldest in the family with 4 girls. Her father was a fisherman and the grandparents lived with them. The father was not in a position to spend money for the marriages of the daughters and got her married to a person from Mathura helped by a middleman in the village. After the wedding she was put in a train and when she reached Balasore, she was told the person she was married to was not her husband but it was another older man. When she reached home, she found the mother-in-law as the only female member of the family with 8 male members. She had to work in the huge field during the day and in the evening provide sexual services to almost all male members of the family. When she pleaded with her mother-in-law, the mother-in-law said that she also did not know who fathered her own sons. It seemed to be the practice there. She stopped eating and asked them to send her back. One day while working in the field she managed to escape.
Another woman said her in-laws forced her to have sex with other men in the village and they tortured her, including her husband, until she agreed. There were also cases, mostly in Nayagarh and Balasore where women returned to their villages to lure other girls. So there were lots of such cases we found at that time.
Bishakha: In 2002, I met Bandana whom I have known for a long time. Bandana was already working on trafficking issues by then. We requested her if she could help in providing conceptual clarity on trafficking for organizations that were interested to work on this issue. A workshop on conceptual clarity on trafficking from human rights perspective and not solely as a crime control mechanism was organised. We were very clear on what we wanted to do. Personally, I was very convinced that trafficking was not only sexual exploitation of women as was commonly understood but there were other realities of trafficking for various purposes.
Funded by CWS, six organizations came together to work on various forms of migrations and trafficking situation and Jajnaseni network was born. CWS is still the only donor for Jajnaseni. From the beginning, we were clear that our work will be based on human rights perspective, and our focus will be women’s issues that would link to trafficking. For example trafficking as a form of violence against women, livelihood for women to prevent trafficking, development of women to prevent trafficking were some of our areas. Similarly, we promoted safe migration for women, safe working conditions rather than curbing women’s movement.
Who are the current members of the network and where do they work?
Bishkha: Current members of Janaseni are Aaina, Foundation of Rural Construction, PRAMILA, PRAGATI and Ganya Unnayan Committee. Mahila Bikash is not with our network anymore.
Sneha: Our NGO members work in five districts of Odisha. All these districts have typical features of trafficking. Two districts, Nayagarh & Kendrapada, have seen trafficking in the form of marriages mostly. Sundergarh district is the source for young girls migrating as domestic help and were often found in exploitative situation. The other two districts are known for migration of its population. Specifically the district where Aaina works, Ganjam, almost 40% people have migrated. Ganjam is the southernmost coastal district of Odisha with typical costal and tribal belt together. Coincidentally this district also has the highest HIV infected population and is the highest populated district.
What is the current scenario of human trafficking in Odisha? What changes do you see in the decade of Jajnaseni network?
Bishakha: The most important development is that the issue has been taken up a lot and is talked about a lot. The pattern of trafficking remains the same, but people are more aware – the government and the community are aware. Awareness on trafficking situation has increased. For example, all persons that go as domestic workers are not trafficked but they know they could find themselves in similar kind of situation.
There is still a lot that needs to be done in migration situation of women. When people migrate, it’s only the males of the household that are registered, not the accompanying females. So we do not know the exact data of migrating women or what happens to them.
There are a lot of discussions and interactions with government in cohesive manner. But the government strategy to address trafficking has however been to curb women’s movement. For example, they sometimes prevent people to leave the state by banning the sale of railway tickets. The government has shown much enthusiasm to “prevent” trafficking and you can see presence of police in railway stations “rescuing” women travelling alone and sending them to shelter homes even though the women are leaving voluntarily and have knowledge of where they are going and why.
The government has established Anti Human Trafficking Units in all six districts to prevent potential trafficking situation. This is an integrated mechanism with Women and Child Development, Home Development and Crime Control.
With multitude of infrastructure and institutions in place, reporting of trafficking has certainly been high but this does not mean that there has been increase or decrease in trafficking itself. Odisha is still a source state for inter-state trafficking. I have not seen any increase or decrease in trafficking but vigilance of the over enthusiastic government has certainly increased.
A good development over the years is inclusion of trafficking as a crime in criminal law. The definition of trafficking has broadened to include trafficking for forced labour and other forms of exploitation from the narrowly understood purpose for sex trafficking only. With this new amendment, we are hopeful that reporting on trafficking will improve.
What is the most important contribution of Jajnaseni network to anti-trafficking work at the state and national level?
Bishakha: Jajnaseni from its inception has been promoting for a human rights perspective in addressing trafficking as a human development issue and not a crime control mechanism. We advocated for registration of marriage to tackle trafficking in forms of marriage and lobbied for land for trafficking survivors. The government has agreed, in principle, on a land scheme for groups that are vulnerable to trafficking, as poverty is one of the causes.
Sneha: Jajnaseni’s advocacy with the administration and awareness raising activities has definitely brought some changes. But unless and until continuing situation of poverty is not dealt with, the problem will continue. Some of the women that returned were found to have opted for the same situation again as they were at least given food and cloth at end of the day. We have been advocating with the government to identify the vulnerable families and also to support the returnees with land which can be an asset to them.
To address trafficking in forms of marriages, we requested villagers to seek identity proof of prospective grooms. We supported Self Help Groups, provided them with registers and asked the leaders to register the marriage in the village at the time when Compulsory Marriage Registration Act was not enacted. Now there is a Compulsory Marriage Registration Act and definitely a lot of Jajnaseni advocacy has gone into this.
Getting the government to recognise the existence and prevalence of the phenomenon of trafficking in women in various forms was an achievement. Way back in nineties when we spoke out about trafficking of women we were ridiculed by the same government! Now we are lobbying to get the vulnerable groups, including returnee women to get access to land.
What is the current focus of Jajnaseni?
Bishakha: Safe migration – every woman has the right to migrate safely and have rights to safe working environment and entitlement as a worker. Our current focus is on safe migration and rights of migrant workers.
How do you promote safe migration in this diverse pattern of trafficking and movement of people and in the face of prohibitive policies of the government?
Sneha: As a network we have been active in creating awareness at the community level. We organise grass root level protection mechanisms by conducting meetings with PRI (Panchayati Raj Institution- the lowest administrative Institution in the community) members, women self help groups (SHG) members and other stakeholders like Village Development Committees, youth associations etc. We produce information communication materials such as posters, booklet, street play etc. SHGs take loan from government and get into small scale business. In Odisha, this is now promoted by the government. The government is also conducting a number of skill development training for women.
Whatever the form may be, there is a very thin line between migration and trafficking and thus when migration takes place we request people to be aware of certain things which will help make their migration safer. For example we urge them to register with the government before migrating to other places as labourers, to obtain at least minimum information about support agencies and help lines provided to them etc. In case of marriage, women are specifically requested to seek identity proof of the groom and his family.
We lobby for the government to extend the migration registration at the community level and to ensure protection of young girls migrating with their families. We also link up with organisations that advocate for the rights of children and their education at the migration destinations. The bottom line is, women have a right to migrate but their safety and security should be ensured by the government.
In what way would Jajnaseni like to collaborate with GAATW-IS? How can we strengthen Jajnaseni’s work?
Bishakha: With GAATW we look towards more conceptual clarity on changing dynamics of trafficking, the changing perspectives and contexts. We also look to GAATW for capacity building and sharing information on development at the international level on the issue. I look at the ebulletin ever month as a source of information. As members, we also have responsibility in sharing our work and good practices, but this has not been possible for us without a dedicated paid staff.
Interview with Mahendra Pandey, Founding Chairperson of Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC)
According to the data of Department of Foreign employment, half a million Nepali citizens migrated for work during January – December 2012, most of them heading towards Qatar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia. Female migrants, largely in the informal sector, formed a significant part of this labour force. Additionally, a significant number of undocumented migrants are leaving the country through unofficial channels, mostly through India. We spoke to Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) Nepal that has established itself as one of the organizations representing migrant workers, within and outside Nepal – assisting migrant workers, advocating for their rights and trying to ensure that policies reflect the voices of Nepali migrants.
During the Gulf War that extended to Kuwait, the Nepalese migrants in Kuwait organized themselves to form Pravashi Nepali Sewa Samiti to support each other. When the Nepalese Embassy was established in Saudi Arabia, PNSS was registered there becoming the first Nepali organization to be registered outside Nepal. The objective of PNSS was to respond to immediate needs of Nepalese migrants during their stay in Gulf countries, including legal assistance and voluntary repatriation. For this work, PNSS required a support body in Nepal and eventually in 2009, Pravashi Nepali Coordination Committee (PNCC) was born in Nepal to respond to this need. Soon after its establishment, it got affiliated with Association of Youth Organisation of Nepal (AYON), Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA) and Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women (GAATW).
The main focus areas of PNCC are:
Education and awareness among migrant workers, including establishing Migrant Resource Centers (MRC), capacity building of different stakeholders and mass awareness campaigns
Access to Justice to aspirant and returnee migrants and their families, assisting and facilitating legal services and through Rapid Response Mechanism
Policy Advocacy for effective justice mechanism and advocacy for human rights of migrant workers, including advocating for the ratification of international conventions on migrant workers
Rapid Response Mechanism through which PNCC provides immediate support to migrant workers in need thorugh its widespread networks of migrant communities, embassies, UN agencies and INGOs
Providing assistance for reintegration of migrants by advising on sustainable investment, including facilitating training on skill enhancements, capital generation and mentorship programs.
PNCC tries to provide access to justice for migrant workers and their families in situations like death of migrant workers in destination countries, non-payment or under payment of salary, and fraudulent cases in the migration process. We help the migrants make claims for compensation and fight against unfair penalties regardless of their documentation status. In addition, PNCC has also been utilizing its physical and virtual (internet) networks to track and trace Nepalese migrant workers in destination countries. We come to know about the cases through our MRCs and try our best to process them.
PNCC responds to migrant communities through its central office and Migrant Resource Centers spread across seven districts in Nepal - Jhapa, Mahottari, Chitwan, Makwanpur, Rukum, Palpa and Kanchanpur. These migrant centers are provided with a counselor and necessary information, education and communication materials. Furthermore, these centers have been established next to the District Administration Office which is a hub for migrant workers for required legal documents. These establishments being next to DAO receive frequent visits from community members. Also, PNCC has been supporting/backstopping two Migration Information Centers in Sarlahi and Khotang, established by Safer Migration (SaMi) Project. PNCC central office has an experienced pool of staff members and we are able to provide the migrating people with adequate information. The MRC not only serves as an information center, but also works as a bridge to support communities for required legal support and access. Through the centers, cases of migrant workers are received at the central office and processed free of charge.
In destination countries PNCC, through its network and outreach center in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, provides immediate support to migrant workers who are in distress or stranded. The outreach center works closely with Nepalese embassy and central office at Kathmandu to provide immediate response to stranded migrant workers. Since its establishment in Doha in September 2012, more than 30 Nepalese migrant workers have safely returned home and more than 200 Nepalese migrant workers have received services through these centers. Along with this, with mobilization of existing networks in destination countries, PNCC has dealt with more than 1200 cases to date. Also a full time employee of PNCC works at the Department of Foreign Employment (DoFE) to help facilitate governmental procedures for migrant workers, thereby helping to cut the risk of being misguided by fraudulent recruiting agents.
The year - 2012, has transformed PNCC in many ways. We started our Access to Justice programme and started assisting migrant workers in Qatar. We set up five more Migrant Resource Centers (MRCs) in different districts in Nepal. We assisted more than 1000 cases of migrant workers and their families, who came mainly from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Kuwait and Lebanon among others. We also received cases from countries like Syria, Kenya, Haiti, Japan, Canada, Australia and India.
Here are a few cases we have handled:
Krishna Tamang was deceived by her own Uncle who promised her a good job in Qatar that will pay a lot enabling her to have a good life. When she reached there, she realised that she had been duped into being a domestic worker. The salary was not as she had been told and her life as a domestic worker was very hard. So she ran away and took refuge at the Embassy in Qatar which then contacted us. We coordinated with Qatar Human Rights Committee and finally managed to pay for her air-ticket to come back to Nepal in November 2012.
Ramesh Mandal, a Nepalese migrant worker got himself jailed in Malaysia after getting involved in a fight among Nepalese migrants. His family contacted us and we with the help of ICRC and ILO managed to repatriate him back to Nepal.
Another case we recently handled was of a woman whose family had no news of her for many years. But after investigation we found out that she is fine and has not had any problems with her employer. She had made a choice to not keep in touch with her family following her mother’s death as she was tired of the family’s continuing demand for money.
In Nepal, PNCC now focuses on three major aspects: implementation of existing policy and laws and ratification of international standards in favor of migrant community and formulation of migrant friendly legal and administrative system. In the Foreign Employment Act we have provision for 'Establishment of a 'Foreign Employment Workers Fund' and its mobilization for social security and welfare of Nepalese migrant workers which shall include repatriating workers to Nepal, by the Government of Nepal or its agency. Many times a situation may occur when Nepalese workers have to be immediately brought back to Nepal due to a war, epidemic, natural calamity in the country where such workers are engaged in employment.' PNCC’s Rapid Response Mechanism deals with such situations.
We want the government to have a sustainable system that can respond immediately to the need of migrant workers round the clock.
Although it violates women’s 'right to mobility', I support the ban. My views are based on my firsthand observation of the situation of Nepali women workers in the Gulf countries, especially in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Lebanon among others. Nepalese women, working as domestic workers in most of the cases, are always at risk of being exploited physically, mentally, socially, economically and sometimes even sexually. I don’t think we can stop these abuses in the Gulf region or in Lebanon. Domestic workers make up more than 90% of total Nepalese women migrant workers. I have lived and worked as a migrant worker in some of these countries and seen the destitution and helplessness faced by our fellow migrant workers. I have spoken to returnee female migrant workers about their experience and their opinion and they have all strongly recommended that no female to go to these countries unless the Nepal Government takes steps to provide safety to its citizens in these countries.
My vision is not to limit or stop the mobility of women migrant workers. We should take all steps to ensure safe migration for female migrants who have the need and the right to go abroad for employment opportunities. Since there is not much that Nepal government is being able to do in the Middle East, the focus should be in finding alternative destination such as Singapore, Israel and Hong Kong where our migrant workers have relatively safe environment to work. Efforts should be made to promote safe destinations and discourage illegal migration to these dangerous destinations. Until the time that the government has infrastructure and mechanism in place to address the issue of safety and rights of the migrant workers, I believe no women should go there.
Nepalese women migrants, as I have already mentioned, are at risk of all forms of exploitation, especially in Arab countries. Furthermore, their migration creates other negative impacts in lives of family members who are left behind. Many Nepalese WMWs have returned home with pain of being sexually tortured or raped. In this regard, I strongly condemn government policy of making money out of its female citizens in the name of foreign employment. Nepal government should work on creating opportunities in home country or search better and safer destinations for female migrants.
Lebanon has been overlooked by the government of Nepal. Nepalese women migrant workers in Lebanon face many challenges. During our visit, most of the people we spoke to urged us not to send any Nepali women to Lebanon. The situation they have been facing in terms of work and individual life is a misery. Some of the women reported their colleagues not allowed to come out of their employers' house. They are not paid as per the standard, working hours are unlimited, weekly day offs are fantasies. Many women in Nepal have been trafficked or brought to Lebanon using irregular channels. Trafficking among Nepalese women migrant workers is high. The situation is similar in other Gulf or Arab states as well.
The biggest challenge for PNCC at the moment is the sheer volume of cases that are referred to us. In 2011 we handled 1000 cases, in 2012 it was 1500 and in 2013, we are just in April and there are already more than 1500 cases. So we are overloaded and over stretched. On top of that, we face threats from recruiting agencies. Recruitment agencies that operate illegal activities have political affiliation and with that backing they threat us with violence. These threats are another challenge that we face in our everyday work. Our work requires coordination with Ministry of Affairs Consular Section and Foreign Employment Department – sometimes these coordinations can be challenging too.
With GAATW’s affiliation we would like to look for ways in which the cases we work on can be discussed at international levels to influence effective policy changes, internationally and domestically.
Our work with migrant workers has shown us that there are overlaps with trafficking. We would also like to look into the nexus between frameworks of trafficking and migration and explore inter-linkages that can make our work much more effective in providing effective and timely assistance to migrant workers. We would like GAATW’s assistance in providing conceptual clarity on various frameworks and explore possibilities.
More information about PNCC at www.pncc.org.np
Interview with Valentina (Rotua Valentina Sagala), Founder of Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute)
Background: Institut Perempuan (IP) or Women’s Institute is a feminist NGO in Indonesia focused on women’s rights advocacy and women’s economic empowerment. IP has participated in the International Members Congress in 2007 and 2010, the Asia Regional Members Consultation in 2009 and along with all other members of Indonesia they were also part of a Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) workshop organized by GAATW-IS in May, 2011.
In Indonesia, violence against women, discrimination against women and impoverishment of women is still a crucial problem. In 2012 the National Commission on Violence against Women recorded 216,156 cases on violence against women. In 2011 there were 119,107 cases. In 2010 there were 105,103 cases in the sphere of domestic, public, and state. Not to mention the cases of women’s rights violations such violations to minority women (Ahmadiyah, lesbian, etc), rape tragedy in May 1998 and the massacre of 1965. An estimated 69 percent of all overseas Indonesian workers are women. The Government of Indonesia (GoI) estimates that two percent of Indonesian workers abroad who are “properly” documented become victims of trafficking. GoI and NGOs’ sources reported an increasing number of undocumented workers travelling abroad. As the GoI expands its use of biometric travel documents false documents are becoming more difficult and expensive to obtain. As a result, more undocumented workers are travelling by sea putting them at a significantly higher risk of becoming trafficking victims than documented workers.
In other aspects of women’s lives economic pressures have resulted in the increasing rate of poverty, which affects the high rate of malnutrition among children and women, the high number of victims of women and child trafficking, as well as the emergence of new cases of suicide committed by women and children because of stress and depression. At the same time, only because of the State’s orientation to increase State revenues, the GoI increased the number of migrant workers, especially women, and clearly made the Indonesian migrant workers abroad as a target, especially in sectors where women are even less exposed. Hundreds of thousands of women migrant workers experienced a variety of rights violations and have died without a clear understanding of the cause of death in another country without significant protection from the GoI. Not to mention, social welfare is still a serious problem. The State does not have a strategy to ensure the welfare of the people as a fundamental requirement of human rights. The State also has not consistently integrated the principles of CEDAW into the whole life of society and the State. Poverty reduction has not been fully implemented on an ongoing basis, especially for women. The privatization has decreased the GoI’s accountability to guarantee access, including sexual and reproductive health for all women without discrimination. The rate of child mortality and maternal mortality has increased, following the declining status of women and children.
Until now, the GoI has not recognize domestic workers as workers so that these workers have not received their basic rights, such as their rights to decent work facilities and health social securities like other workers. After being included in National Legislation Program (Prolegnas) for four years, parliament and GoI have not finished the deliberation of the Domestic Workers Protection Bill. Law Number 39/2004 on Protection and Placement of Indonesian Migrant Workers Overseas manages more Indonesian migrant workers’ placement but does not seem concerned with their protection. Migrant Workers and their families’ rights are often violted as women migrant workers are then suceptible to exploitation, trafficking, violence and discrimination, marginalization and stereotyping from their villages in the training center as problems in transit countries as well as in destination country. It causes the fulfillment of women migrant workers rights to be far from secure meaning there is a violation of the right to decent wages, over time allowances, worship, freedom from uniting, expression, communication and the rights to hold their own passport.
Since 1999, Indonesia has implemented decentralization. Rather than increasing public services delivery to society, it is being used to discriminate women through discriminatory law/policies. Komnas Perempuan reported that there are 282 discriminatory policies up to 2010. West Java is one of the top six provinces with the highest number of discriminatory laws and regulations being issued.
Feminist advocacy works that run by Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) are conducted as systematic attempts to understand the national and local (province, residence, district, sub-district, and village) issues concerning women and children. This effort is conducted by initiating and actively participating in some networks. At the international level, we are member of GAATW (Global Alliance Against Traffic in Women). At the national level, we actively participate in National Advocacy Network on Pro Women Legislation, National Advocacy on the Protection of Domestic Workers, National Advocacy Networks on the Elimination on Violence against Women, National Advocacy on Victims and Witness Protection, and National Advocacy Coalition on Bill of Criminal Act, CEDAW Working Group Indonesia, etc. At the local level, we actively participate in West Java Advocacy Network on Action Plan on the Worst Forms of Child Labor, Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children and Women and Child Trafficking, and also in West Java Network on the Elimination on Women and Child Trafficking.
At Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) feminist critical education is done to build consciousness about oppression and injustices towards women. One of the activities is SEKOLAH FEMINIS – Feminist School. It’s a model of feminist critical education for pro public activist (for example activists working on the issues of anti-corruption, agrarian reform, developmentalism, indigenous people, child’s rights, LGBTI etc). This school aims to focus on the necessity of feminist pro public activism to build new social movements where pro public activist have awareness, consciousness and skills gained through using feminist ideology. The uniqueness of this school is that it is committed to the ideology and perspective of feminism. IP also published the first feminist, critic, progressive journal in Indonesia, named “HerStory - Cerita Perempuan”.
In preparing training material for trainings, workshop, etc, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) always establish module material based on a feminist perspective. As we know, feminism is an ideology and a means of understanding issues from women’s perspectives and experiences. In this way, trainees can be aware of the patriarchal and capitalist structures that cause oppression of women. Thus, the participants understand the issues in a broader framework. In addition to work related specifically to women’s issues, we also often work closely with other institution to conducting training on issues such as corruption, development, law, etc. In these trainings we do the same things and through this way we also introduce feminism to broader participants and networks. At the same time, we are using feminist legal theory and practices in doing our advocacy efforts.
Through education on women’s rights by exploring feminism, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) contributes to women’s movement and other social movements because women’s issues and others issues in social movements are related. According to feminism “the personal is political”, and as such we understand that none of the issues concerning women can be sorted out without exploring broader issues. The issue of maternal mortality rate, for example, cannot be separated from the country's economic policies and other policies that made the country on the basis of patriarchal values. So, it is important to understand all issues in social movements as related with women’s experiences (voices, perspective) and therefore, has to be analyze using feminism. Through education on feminism, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) contribute on establishing the stronger alliance between women’s movement and social movement, and making feminism every human’s rights defenders’ business. There are no human rights without women’s rights and without feminism.
In doing advocacy work, we use feminist legal theory and practices. By this we believe that the law is not neutral, and yet must be critized by the question: where are women’s experiences in the law (legal system?) We understand the law as a system consists of substance, structure, and culture. Our objectives are to ensure that the law is developed with women’s meaningful participation, where women are free to express their opinions, feelings and so the law reflects their needs. At the same time law enforcement is another area of our work to ensure that women are truly being protected by the law and treated respectfully and fairly as human beings.
The ideology of oppression can be dressed in anything by throwing on different jargon. Patriarchy can be called imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, fascism, and now: the globalization of neoliberalism. This is the global hegemony that suppresses women. Globalization builds a new international division of labor, strengthening aspects of the oppression of women. Sexual division of labor has alienated women and their definitions of life. This pattern drowned women in the feminization of poverty, as the poorest groups in society, as domestic workers in industrialized countries, within the politics of "surrogate mother", in the massification of sex industry in women’s experiences of trafficking.
In the context of Indonesian membership in WTO, WTO free trade scheme has created vast market openings which does not contribute to economic welfare of Indonesian women. This has also made the State lose its sovereignty to control of financial and basic services such as health care, education and water and contributed to the eliminating of women's rights, namely the supply of safe and healthy food, decent living and access to basic services all by transferring the control over these basic rights to transnational corporations. Agreement on Agriculture (AoA) of the WTO has pushed agriculture into market commodity rather than for daily consumption. A shift towards export-oriented agricultural products resulted in the loss of agricultural land for large scale farming business, the loss of livelihoods, and increase landless farmers. Even worse, it creates disappearance of women peasants and women’s knowledge of environment wisdom. The floods of imported products due to the AoA implementation also kill home industry and traditional products, the majority of which is manageed by women especially in rural areas. In addition, WTO trade services agreements led to the marginalization and discrimination of migrant domestic workers whom the majority of are women.
Therefore, awareness of the feminist anti-neoliberal struggle must be organized in the framework of ideology and mass. Organizing collectively for change must be done to build a new order: an independent society (of both men and women) based on fairness and prosperity. It is a new society, without oppression, without hegemony, without domination, without violence, and without neoliberalism. Therefore, the fight against the hegemony system was also carried out in the form of building a more fair economic framework. Herein lies the economic opportunities for women.
One of Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute)’s programs is in women’s economic empowerment. The program is conducted as an effort to build and develop women’s economy within the framework of the fight against global economic hegemony that oppresses women. At the community level this program is done within a women’s empowerment frame to prevent the exploitative conditions that threaten women and children, such as trafficking. In order to initiate autonomous and independent women’s movements we develop alternative fund rising, such as producing and selling merchandises.
International Women’s Day (IWD) is the day that we celebrate women’s long history of activism all over the world. For me, the purpose for women’s being together on IWD is to feel strings of injustice, and then to unite this togetherness: fighting for women’s independence and equality. Along with thousands of women in Indonesia, Institut Perempuan (Women’s Institute) joined with Action Committee for Women's Day and involved in Women Carnival, on March 8, 2013, in the capital city. In this Carnival, thousands of women participated in the long march from Hotel Indonesia round towards the Merdeka Presidential Palace. The theme of the Women’s Carnival is "A Promise is a Promise: Demanding State’s Promise to Fulfill Women’s Rights and Eliminating Violence, Discrimination, and Impoverishment to Women". In this women’s carnival women demanded this from State Institutions, from the GoI (Ministry of Women Empowerment and Child Protection, the Coordinating Ministry for People's Welfare, the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Communication and Information, Ministry of Religioun Affairs, and Ministry of Internal Affairs), Election Supervisory Board (Bawaslu), the Constitutional Court, to the President of Indonesia.
In IWD this year, we highlighted laws that discriminate against women and create and perpetuate violence against women, particularly the Law No. 1 Year 1974 on Marriage, which discriminates women due to the standardization of the unequal role of husband and wife, discrimination in minimum age of marriage, and limited polygamy; Law No. 44 Year 2008 on Pornography which violates women's human rights by criminalizing women; and regional/local laws and regulations that discriminate against women in the forms of; restrictions on the right to freedom and expression; reduction of the right to protection and legal certainty due to the regional policy; elimination of the right to protection and legal certainty through regional policy about prohibition of khalwat; neglection of protection through regional policy on migrant domestic workers.
I am aware that UN has published the IWD 2013 theme as “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. But I believe that understanding violence against women, including women’s experiences of trafficking with feminism means looking at and analyzing the problem comprehensively instead of being limited to do what funding agencies encourage NGOs (and governments) to do or doing the same things all the time (without critiquing economic, political and cultural aspects from women’s perspectives and experiences). That is why in Indonesia, we highlights women demanding State’s promises for fulfillment in eliminating violence, discrimination, and impoverishment against women.
I do think that women’s movement and women’s issues can be seen as fragmented. Issues of violence against women, human rights, reproductive health, law, globalisation and others are related. If women are committed to promote the concept of the “personal is political”, then none of the issues concerning women can be divided. Women's movement should be in front of other social movements. In this way, women’s movement has to contribute to various issues such as neoliberalism and free tade, corruption, law enforcement, environment, LGBTI, etc. Women’s movement has to plays an important role on demanding and creating a justice, equality, and humanity civil society.
First, currently the GoI and parliament are discussing the Gender Equality Bill which is planned to be finalized by the end of this year. The Bill is still far from the hope of feminist organizations, as it only regulates more technical “gender mainstreaming” in government institutions, rather than a comprehensive law that guarantees women’s rights, equality and justice for women. The Bill on Gender Equality should become an “umbrella” law which comprehensively guarantees women’s rights and equality, developed with feminist perspective. I endorse the GoI and parliament to draft and to enact the Bill as Law on Equality and Justice for Women, as a reference regulation on eliminating discrimination and violence against women, and be able to guarantee the protection of women's rights. And at the same time to evaluate all regulations, strategies, programs, policy, and practices in the name of “gender mainstreaming” and “poverty reduction with a gender perspective” to truly ensure women’s experiences are reflected and that women could really enjoy the benefit of this development.
Second, as migrant workers and domestic workers are vulnerable to be violated, including being trafficked, I think it is important to demand the GoI to recognize and protect domestic workers and migrant workers through enacting Law on Protection of Migrant Workers and its Families, and also the Law on Protection of Domestic Workers, which in accordance with the principles and provisions of CEDAW, Convention on Protection of All Rights of Migrant Workers and Its Families (1990) and ILO Convention 189 on Decent Work for Domestic Workers, and progresively with the input from feminist activists/organizations.
Third, the rise of fundamentalism, neoliberalism, especially in the context of decentralizations, and the lack of “intermediate” regulations has caused violation on women’s rights at the grass-roots level. I do think that this should be urgently being realized by feminist activists/organizations so they can work more inclusively and develop a more strategic alliance at the national level and international level.
As a feminists I do think that we are now in the time where we have to start thinking outside of the box, raise our creativity, using our skills as tools to embrace more and more women and other strategic partners (organizations who works for anti-trafficking issues, anti-neoliberalists etc). Collaboration and knowledge exchange can be enhanced within GAATW through conducting online trainings, mailing list, journal, social media, etc. Members should update information on activities, policy document, and publication research so it can be shared. We could also use our network for joint-advocacy and joint-programming. And I do think as a feminist it is also important for us to not “formally” collaborate and exchange knowledge. It is always lovely (and strong) to share our own experiences with each other. Our theoretical works and publications are important, our thoughts are important, but I believe that our heart is also important...our sense of love. Just like our thoughts, our feelings are not worthless and must be discussed and shared. I think that is why program like Dance Movement Therapy (DMT) Workshop is as important as our advocacy workshop/training. Because as a feminist, I believe that I am human.
More information about IP at www.institutperempuan.or.id