Dead fetus in the bathroom, and other horror stories from migrant workers

By Nicai de Guzman, @NicaiDeGuzman

“Find a dead fetus in a public restroom in Hong Kong? It was probably aborted by a Filipina domestic helper.”

This statement may sound racist or disturbing, but it is in fact quite common among Hong Kong nationals, according to Filipino migrant rights worker Teresita Elegado.


Elegado, together with Shankarappa Talawar from India and Rattanaporn Poungpattana from the Raks Thai Foundation (Twitter: @raksthai), each retold “horror stories” by migrant workers from their home country during the 7th Asia Pacific Conference on Reproductive and Sexual Health and Rights.

These stories had much to do with the workers’ lack of access to reproductive health services, and abuse experienced from their partners, employers, and the government.


Elegado said that Hong Kong nationals think Filipinas are responsible for dead foetuses because these migrant workers have been known engage in extra-marital affairs, or worse, been sexually abused, which results in unplanned pregnancies.

“When our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) leave, they don’t know about sexual health and reproductive rights (SRHR),” Elegado stressed.


This ignorance about SRHR also applies to the families left behind by the OFWs. Spouses have been known to have extra-marital affairs, and their children would similarly engage in risky behaviors.

In India, where an estimated 0.7 to 1.7 million Nepali migrants are staying, lack of access to information and services is also a major concern. This estimate does not even count the undocumented migrants who are most affected by this problem, Talawar said.

“Most of the migrants don’t have their identity proofs. They don’t bring their own identity cards with them. There’s also a reason why they don’t keep their IDs. Often, police snatch their IDs,” Talawar said.

Unfortunately, identity proofs are required in health facilities, especially those run by the government.

Aside from this problem, Nepali migrants also experience socio-cultural and language barriers, which further distance them from the help they need. The case is similar for migrants in the Mekong region, according a study by the Raks Thai Foundation.

“[When it comes to] Thai language skills, 96% [of migrants] have no or little skills,” she said.

There is a scarcity of translators in Thailand, and this proves fatal for victims of violence. Because of this language barrier, protection mechanisms for victims of violence are not enforced, Poungpattana said.

Regarding SRHR services, Poungpattana noted in their research that migrants have poor knowledge of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV-AIDS. In fact, less than 50% reported to have always used a condom, which may account for over eight times the prevalence of STIs among Thais.

Poungpattana also shared a 2012 survey, in which 100% of migrant adolescents are not aware of contraceptive or family planning methods. A field visit by the foundation to three migrant communities also showed that “a high proportion” of women had gotten unsafe abortions by using abortion pills.

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Finding, getting through, empowering

The Action Research Centre in Mumbai, India, through the Emphasis project of CARE-India (Twitter: @CAREIndia), has been addressing their problems by first finding these migrant workers in need of help.

Since there are widely spread clusters of migrant populations, they have deployed a series of interventions at every stage of migration–source, transit and destination.

A large network that includes non-government organizations, civic society organizations, the public health sector, community leaders, and representatives from the migrant population themselves, took part in the interventions. Just some of these interventions include capacity-building workshops and counselling, livelihood training, meetings with the employer and the police, peer training, stage plays, and having both a static health center and a mobile health center.

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In Thailand, the government stepped in to mandate a “Compulsory Migrant Health Insurance,” but Poungpattana said the coverage is not equal to the universal health insurance that Thai nationals use.

To compensate for this, the Raks Thai Foundation also conducted workshops in the workplace and communities of the migrant workers. They also made sure to “sensitize” government officials and service providers.

“Field visits generally brought sympathy among the authorities, who then reportedly have greater willingness to provide better services for migrant patients,” Poungpattana said.

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In the Philippines, Reproductive Health and Human Rights Advocacy Protection and Services for Overseas Domestic Workers (RHAPSODY) used a two-country approach to address their issues.

Together with the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, RHAPSODY served OFWs and their left-behind families in three Philippine provinces by conducting the Pre-Departure Orientation Seminar, into which they incorporated SRHR.

In Hong Kong, RHAPSODY partnered with the Family Planning Association of Hong Kong to provide mobile clinics. The clinics are usually open on Sundays, when the domestic workers have their day off, Elegado explained.

With all these initiatives, session facilitator Caridad Tharan, of the College of Migration in Miriam College, emphasized the need for further research, partnerships, and the empowerment of the migrant population themselves.

“What else needs to be done? What are the specific needs? They vary from country to country,” she said.

Tharan reiterated the importance of access of undocumented workers to SRHR. “Ten to fifteen years ago, [if you’re an illegal worker] you’re an untouchable,” she said. She praised the work the groups are doing to bring SRHR services to this vulnerable sector.

“This is just a recognition of [their] basic rights,” Tharan said. #


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