Monday, 9 March 2015

The Protection of Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the Middle East and Asia Pacific

By: Endang Sugiyarto

Millions of labour migrants from developing countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka try to escape poverty and a lack of job opportunities at home by working abroad. Many end up in Middle Eastern destinations such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. Others go to Asia Pacific countries including Malaysia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Brunei Darussalam and Japan. In addition to getting jobs for themselves, they send money home to help their families survive day-to-day life, to finance education and healthcare and to invest in a variety of ways. Thus they contribute to the economies of both the destination countries and their countries of origin which benefit from regular inflows of remittances. As a result, migration has become increasingly important to migrants and their families and to sending and host countries.

Many of the migrants work as domestic workers, a sector that is dominated by women due to the nature of the work and by the demands of the receiving countries. Many of them have low educational levels and insufficient skills to carry out the work expected by the employers. The lack of appropriate good quality training makes the matter worse. On top of these they face additional challenges such as different languages, cultures, laws, common practice, and other day-to-day aspects of life in the home of their employers.

The potential pitfalls of such working arrangements are obvious. It is common for a domestic worker to accidently destroy clothes while doing laundry and/or ironing due to a lack of training. The costs associated with such accidents can be high. If the atmosphere in the house is calm the consequences of mishaps can be minimal. But in a home that is hectic and full of tensions a small accident can easily flare up into an incident of abusive domestic violence. And if such incidents are repeated the situation can turn into one of habitual domestic abuse that is worsened by its location inside the home where there can be no third party and/or community scrutiny.

Moreover, the nature of the work that must be done in the employer’s property and the fact that the domestic worker has to live there too, leads to extended working hours and puts the worker in a very vulnerable situation. It is even worse when incidents happen in large secured houses or private apartments which offer no opportunities for the workers to interact with others. Reports of domestic workers being treated like slaves and suffering physical and sexual abuse sometimes conclude with them suffering permanent injuries, depression and even death.

Newspaper reports of a series of incidents involving Indonesian migrant domestic workers in the Middle East and Asia Pacific give a shocking insight into the severity of some of the abuse:

·         In 2004, Nirmala Bonat, working in Malaysia, suffered burns to her chest and back from a hot iron and was scalded after boiling water was poured over her body;

·         In 2005, Nur Miyati, working in Saudi Arabia, had to undergo the amputation of a body part due to infection caused by physical abuse;

·         In 2007, Ceryati, working in Malaysia, was forced to escape through a window of the 15th floor apartment of her employer because she could no longer tolerate the daily physical abuse she was subjected to. Almost her whole body was injured, in particular her forehead was swollen, and her neck and hands badly injured;

·         In 2009, Siti Hajar, working in Malaysia, endured abuse  in the form of beatings and by having boiling water poured on her. She had been with her employer for 34 months but was unable to seek help from others until her escape from the house;

·         Wasiah binti Toha worked in Abu Dhabi in 2009 but received no salary for 8 months. She decided to return home with neither money nor help from the recruiting agency due to the beatings she had endured from the beginning of her employment;

·         Sumiati had to be hospitalised in Saudi Arabia in November 2010 after her employer cut her top lip because she complained about her workload;

·         Erwiana worked in Hong Kong for 8 months in 2013. She had been made to work for 21 hours per day, was kept hungry, and got beaten with a wooden hanger or anything else within the reach of her employer, who eventually fired her and forced her to return home with injuries to her face, hands and legs.
The above list only highlights those cases exposed by the national and international press. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Many more incidences go hidden or unrecorded.
Many domestic workers suffer verbal and physical abuse combined with poor working conditions. More needs to be done to protect them. Many labour exporting countries have signed agreements with receiving countries to guarantee respect for the rights of the migrant workers, but the implementation details must be worked out.
Domestic workers from Indonesia seem to be particularly vulnerable. The high incidence of abuse has led the Indonesian government to declare a moratorium and there is a plan to stop sending domestic workers by 2017. As part of this plan, the government is going create more job opportunities and to educate and train migrant workers to meet the skills requirements of the jobs, as well as to give them knowledge of law and human rights.
Will this be enough? The answer is of course not. First, there should be a bilateral agreement between the sending and receiving countries to guarantee the rights and protection of migrant workers. Second, there should be a practical framework that adopts a rights-based approach to labour migration, emphasising non-discrimination, gender equality, and equality of opportunity for migrant workers, regardless of their immigration status. Third, not only should the workers receive training to help them adapt to the employer’s culture but the employers also need a basic understanding of the culture of their workers to be able to create a common understanding.
Protection of migrant workers must be comprehensive, beginning in their home country prior to departure, continuing throughout the duration of their work in the destination country, and covering them until they return home. Governments of sending countries need to be pro-active, making regular inspections of workplaces and working conditions to ensure the welfare of their migrant workers. All migrants should be given access to their countries representatives, in particular the labour attaches. The discussion above, however, does not take into account migrants in irregular situations, of whom there is a significant number and on whom the adverse impact is even more severe. For them, a more holistic approach is needed, covering the whole migration system, push and pull factors, and the immigration system. Protection of all migrants must be ensured through formal, transparent, and managed migration.

Endang Sugiyarto is a doctoral candidate in Migration Studies at the University of Sussex, funded by the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

The impact of migrating for domestic work: The experience of Hawa and Adiata

By Collins Yeboah
In the migration literature, greater attention is paid to migrant workers than to the households they leave behind. I have come to the realisation, however, that to fully comprehend the impact of migrant domestic workers, in addition to understanding the problems associated with their work, it is essential to examine the changes they bring about for their households of origin.
I recently conducted field work for the 'Livelihood Strategies and Wellbeing of Migrants in Low-Paid and Insecure Occupations in Urban Ghana' project, part of the Migrating out of Poverty programme in West Africa. The research team tracked the origin households of migrants engaged in domestic and construction work in Accra via an earlier quantitative survey carried out in Tamale in Ghana's Northern Region. A selection was identified for the in-depth follow up discussions of the qualitative research.
We carried out the fieldwork during the scorching sun, dry winds, low humidity and dust of the harmattan season, arriving later than promised one night at the home of Hawa (46) in Walewale, a small town on the road between Bolgatanga and Tamale in Ghana’s Northern Region. Hawa sat behind her sewing machine with pieces of cloth she had cut earlier. She had already finished the two school uniforms brought by her customers that morning and looked tired after the day’s work.
Hawa used to be opposed to female migration because of its association with a high level of unwanted pregnancies. But her husband’s death left her alone with six children, in a region with few employment opportunities, so she had to allow her primary school educated daughter Adiata (24) to go to Accra to look for work. The decision to migrate was taken by both Hawa and her daughter. As Hawa noted: We all decided one evening that she should go to Accra and look for job so she can support the rest of us here.”
Studies indicate that women migrant workers often remit a greater proportion of their earnings than low skilled men migrant workers and are often more stable and consistent remitters. Since leaving Walewale Adiata has remitted at least GHc 120 ($34.85) a month to her mother. Hawa said that her daughter sometimes also sends the family clothes and foodstuffs via friends travelling to Walewale. Hawa appears to be doing better than her neighbours. She and her children live in her late husband’s house. Its three rooms are roofed with zinc while the other homes in the neighbourhood are thatched. 
Look at my roof… Hawa said, proudly pointing to her house...she continued “It was thatched previously before by husband died. The little money I receive from Adiata, my daughter in Accra was used to roof it. She has helped a lot. I want to build one house over there from the money she sends before she returns” (Hawa, Walewale).
Adiata is one of the many domestic workers in Ghana. Estimates from Ghana’s 2010 Population and Census data indicate that about 66,570 Ghanaians between the ages of 15-64 years are employed in this sector. They work in private homes outside their places of habitual residence. Often referred to as modern day slavery, their duties include cleaning, cooking, looking after children, trimming lawns, and driving cars. They usually lack familiar or community support mechanisms and are often exposed to poor wages, delayed or non-payment of wages, very long hours of work, and no break periods or rest days.
However, Adiata is one of the few domestic workers employed under better conditions. When she first arrived in Accra she had a difficult time and slept in a slum shack in Agbogloshi shared with four other female migrants. She became a Kayeyei - a form of manual employment carried out almost exclusively by females in Ghana involving the transportation of goods on their heads to and from markets - in Agbogloshie market. While in this role she met a woman who first became one of her regular customers, buying food stuffs from Adiata in the market. She later employed Adiata in her home as a domestic worker and Adiata now lives in her home. For Adiata, employment as a domestic worker is far better than the situation she found herself in when she first arrived in Accra.
Many studies portray the kind of work done by domestic workers as demeaning, dirty and exploitative. Yet as I listened to Hawa and other mothers like her, I realised that the story of Adiata, the domestic worker, provides a powerful illustration of migration as a means of moving out of poverty. Adiata has contributed to the upgrading of her family’s home and money she sends every month is used by her mother to cater for the needs of her other children. It is evident that migration has been pivotal in shaping the family’s lives. Like Adiata, most of the domestic workers from this region have become the breadwinners of their families left behind.
Collins Yeboah is Communications Officer at the Centre for Migration Studies at the University of Ghana

Indonesian migrant women: Present 'here' and 'there' via ICTs

By Lucia Zerna

Photograph reproduced by kind permission of Xyza Cruz Bacani 
In the image above, the boy on the right has his faced pressed against the glass. While we see his face clearly, the face of the photographer is hidden by the camera. Who is she?
Xyza Cruz Bacani is a Filipina domestic worker in Hong Kong whose passion for photography inspired her to buy a digital single reflex (DSLR) camera and photograph everyday life in the city. Since posting her black and white images online on Facebook, Bacani has gained international recognition. She currently has more than 7,000 likes on her page. Furthermore, she has recently secured a 2015 fellowship on the Magnum Foundation’s prestigious Human Rights programme, under which she will receive a scholarship that will strengthen her skills in visually documenting human rights. Bacani’s success exemplifies the ways in which migrant domestic workers utilize technology in order to pursue aspirations and connect with the outside world. While the majority of foreign domestic workers (FDWs) in Southeast Asia do not achieve such visibility, many are just as active in using various types of Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs), such as cellphones.
From the results of the recently completed Migrating out of Poverty study on the ICT use of domestic workers in Singapore, it is apparent that use of such technologies form an integral aspect of the workers’ everyday lives. Handheld computing devices, particularly smartphones, are used by FDWs to establish a presence of both ‘here’ and ‘there’ through phone calls and short message services (SMS) to family members back home. The research found that eighty per cent of respondents in the study relied on SMS and regular phone calls to make contact with their family and friends in Indonesia.
Despite having to care for another woman’s children, FDWs also act as transnational mothers, keeping up with their own children’s wellbeing and education via ICTs. Furthermore, having a sustained line of communication is vital for preserving their mental health in environments that can be exploitive and isolating. As Rosita notes, “if I miss them I can SMS [or] Facebook. I feel happy and in high spirits.”
Additionally, the study shows that through ICTs Indonesian migrant women are able to access information on the global web. For example, Hera, a domestic worker living in Singapore, says: “[I] know more about life here… [About] Indonesian maids or the problems they have. They always upload stuff on Facebook.”
The use of ICTs is one lens through which we can see how power relations are shaped and renegotiated between the employer and domestic worker. As the study found, while ICTs help facilitate vital modes of communication for domestic workers, such devices are not readily accessible to all. Directly related to access are issues of trust, usage restrictions, and surveillance. Many domestic workers only receive a handheld device from their employer after a few years of service. Even then, FDWs are very aware of when and where they use their phones.
Yani, a 42 year-old divorcee, explains: “I know the limitation[s], I know when is the working hours and when is the time to rest. When I am eating or resting, I will call.”
Employers also monitor and curtail FDWs’ access to communication devices. Within the household they hold the password to the Wi-Fi network and may not share it with their FDW. Additionally, FDWs who do not have a phone are dependent on their employer’s devices to contact family back home. In such instances the FDW might limit herself to calling family on specific days and talking for a certain length of time.
It is clear from the research that access to and use of ICTs influence the daily routines of FDWs in Singapore in multifaceted ways. ICTs facilitate new transnational spaces where FDWs can maintain relationships with family back home. Smartphones and similar devices have become vital resources that sustain personal relationships and, in the case of Xyza Cruz Bacani, have been used as platforms for creativity and public recognition. ICTs have provided a site for her and other domestic workers to shape new trajectories and go beyond a singularizing identity of FDW. 
Lucia Zerner is currently an undergraduate spending her spring semester studying abroad in Singapore. She is particularly interested in topics related to labour migration and has most recently conducted an independent study on returned Tamil migrant workers to Madurai, India. 

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Why framing the discourse on human trafficking is important - some thoughts

By Igor Bosc
When media and experts talk about human trafficking, attention immediately zooms in on what happens to people when and after they leave their homes. You have heard variations of the stories in the media: it’s usually about women or children and occasionally men in sweat shops. They are tricked and trapped, sent abroad, sexually exploited or sold into slavery. These are tragic stories. But have you ever heard about the stories of those very men, women and children before they left their homes? What happened to them? Why were they willing to leave their homes often knowing about the perils ahead? That’s something we don’t hear about but does need equal attention. Here’s why:
  1. A narrow focus on human trafficking can mislead policy makers and activists into believing that tackling human traffickers and protecting migrants will root out the problem. The crude reality is that as long as wages are higher in some places and lower in areas afflicted by poverty, conflict or disasters, people will migrate. The more wages differ between source and destination areas, the more migration will occur and increase incidences of human trafficking. In other words, to understand human trafficking one has to look into labour market dynamics and the social, economic and gender factors that are prompting people to go on the move.
  3. Another reason why a holistic understanding of human trafficking is necessary is that media portrayals are almost never based on factually verifiable trends. They tend to be based on specific events. The media has its own incentives to broadcast information that grabs attention. Law enforcement have their own incentives to report the latest police raids or border patrols. And aid agencies have their accountability incentives to report on the work they do to tackle human trafficking. Unbalanced media information on human trafficking can easily mislead audiences into perceptions of the problem that are inaccurate.
  5. The third reason why a holistic understanding of human trafficking is necessary, is that a narrow understanding of human trafficking can legitimise policies and practices that actually harm migrants. Social and gender stereotypes employed by individuals and institutions that work to combat trafficking can lead to the isolation of women and children in shelters and the abuse of migrants particularly from the poorest sections of society, including those who are women, children and discriminated minorities. 
So the next time you hear about a human trafficking story, ask yourself the questions that are usually not asked about the people in those stories. What about making ends meet when others in the family can’t? What about the miserably low income opportunities in rural areas as compared to the promise of cities? What about the patriarchal behaviour and domestic violence that pushes women out of their homes?
Answering those questions, in addition to the ones usually raised, is important. It will help identifying more effective ways of preventing human trafficking. I hope that these questions will help to stimulate further thoughts and discussions. 
Igor Bosc is Chief Technical Adviser at the International Labour Organization (ILO) working on the Work in Freedom Programme - a UK Aid funded partnership initiative to find effective ways of preventing trafficking of women in South Asia and the Middle East. His questions and thoughts on the framing of the human trafficking discourse are outlined here as a contribution to the  Migrating out of Poverty International Women's Day panel debate Labour trafficking? Understanding the use of brokers in women's and girls' labour migration in the global South on 6 March 2015. 

'Labour trafficking' – What's behind the term?

By Dorte Thorsen
A new term - labour trafficking – has crept into the vocabulary surrounding migration facilitated by agents and other intermediaries. It is a timely attempt to shift attention onto the nexus between trafficking and labour migration and to move away from a narrow focus on migrant sex workers as the victims of trafficking. But is labour trafficking a good term? And does it have the same connotations for female and male migrants, and for younger and older migrants?
The definition of trafficking set out in the Palermo Protocol  makes it clear that for migration to be legally defined as trafficking, the migrant must have been recruited, transported or accommodated by another person. This person must have used force, violence, deceit, abuse of power or of the migrant’s vulnerable position and he/she must have been intend to exploit the migrant upon arrival to his or her own ends. As the Protocol is an instrument used by states to combat organised crime, state measures to combat trafficking focus primarily on preventing the movement of persons perceived to be at risk of being exploited and abused for the benefit of the trafficker and on prosecuting people perceived to broker the movement of others to their own financial benefit.This focus tends to blur the distinction between trafficking and smuggling – the illegal transportation of goods or people - especially at a time when global mobility regimes have made it more difficult for many people in the global South to migrate legally.
The tightening of border control, not just in the global North but across the world, has opened a space for migration brokers, who set up business to help potential migrants to go abroad. Brokers come in many shades and do not necessarily operate in a way that is illegal. Some provide guidance on form filling, the safest way to travel, and how to find work at the destination; others travel with the migrant workers they have recruited and facilitate employment for these workers at the destination; others again help procure fraudulent papers and air tickets to expedite the visa application process. Some enrich themselves on the back of migrants, sometimes being unscrupulous about the risks they impose on them; others become brokers just to scrape by or to consolidate their social status. The processes of facilitating migration, smuggling and trafficking people thus overlap in the early stages of migration.
While brokering businesses have proliferated alongside tighter border control, the use of intermediaries is not a new phenomenon, nor is it tied to international migration. It is the commodification that is new, for in many places it is considered strange and, indeed, risky to travel alone, especially for women and girls. Apart from the very real risk of sexual abuse, their respectability may be undermined by suspicion and scurrilous rumours about intimate relationships if travelling by themselves.
On this point local ideas of appropriate behaviour for women of different ages converge with one of the main concerns that has shaped the anti-trafficking discourse, especially in the beginning: the persistent myth that the destination of trafficking is sex work, and that sex workers are women and that these women are trafficked. The overlap is not about appropriate behaviour but about women’s perceived inability to fend for themselves and make good – read sensible and well-considered – migration decisions. Over time, trafficking has come to include a much broader range of concerns - including child labour, domestic servitude, forced labour, forced marriage and child soldiering - and it has become as much of an issue for internal migration as for international migration.
This brings us to the question of how to distinguish between trafficking, smuggling and the facilitation of migration and migrants’ insertion into the labour market at the destination. In principle, the relationship between the migrant and the smuggler ends once the migrant arrives at the destination, while the relationship with the trafficker continues. Reality is, of course, much more complex for the migrants and for authorities dealing with them. The distinction is shaped by moral, economic and political concerns.
When the focus is on migration management – whether international or internal – the division of migrants into ‘innocent, possibly passive, victims of trafficking’ and ‘irregular or unruly, street-living migrants’ is also a distinction between those, who deserve help because they are perceived as victims, and those who don’t, because they have gotten themselves into trouble through risky behaviour. From this perspective, migrants are seen either as having no choice or as having had near-to-full information about all risks involved in migration and to have ignored them. Only, women and children are rarely seen to have such a high level of information.
As a matter of fact, very little empirical evidence exists on the recruitment processes and the continuation of relationships between brokers and migrants at the destination. While some women are forced into sex work, others choose this occupation because they can earn more and can control when to work and when to rest. If they are all treated as victims of trafficking, important questions about unequal labour markets and gender inequity are overlooked.
Similarly, when the focus is on child migrants moral concerns about the right kind of childhood is at its heart of the discussion. Images of lost childhood, unhappy children, very heavy work and, in case of adolescent girls, sexual abuse, are invoked in the name of trafficking and the worst forms of child labour. The youngest children are foregrounded despite the fact that the majority of children migrating in their own right are teenagers over the minimum age for taking employment. For them, migration is a rational strategy to earn money and acquire skills. That they are frequently exploited and deceived by employers is not evidence of trafficking but rather of generic problems in the labour market.
Currently there is a push to work on regularising certain migrant workers and the labour market for migrants to minimise exploitation and unfree conditions. Our panel debate Labour Trafficking? Understanding the use of brokers in women’s and girls’ labour migration in the global South on Friday 6 March in Jubilee 144 at the University of Sussex contributes to the discussion. We outline the realities for women and girls of using brokers and intermediaries in their migration; examine how anti-trafficking interventions have affected female migrants; and explain why these interventions have changed over time. See for full details.
Dr Dorte Thorsen is the Gender Theme Leader for the Migrating out of Poverty Research Programme Consortium. She also teaches Anthropology at the University of Sussex.
This blog was originally published as 'Labour Trafficking' - What is behind the term? at