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The Human Rights of Migrant Asian Caregivers

The Human Rights of Migrant Asian Caregivers

Ms. Sondos Alqattan was a a social media influencer known for her makeup Instagram, which had up to 2.3 million followers. However, makeup companies have been pulling their support for Alqattan after she released a video of herself complaining about her Filipino domestic worker, and the day off every week that Filipino domestic workers are entitled to: "How can you have a servant at home who keeps their own passport with them? And what's worse is they have one day off every week. I don't want a Filipina maid anymore." Since the release and delete of this video, many responses from Twitter have included a #StopSlavery hashtag, the plight of domestic workers equated to a modern form of slavery. This circumstance of domestic caregivers from foreign countries is not isolated to Kuwait alone. Asia’s history of abuse towards foreign care workers is an antiquated and largely unaddressed violation of human rights, which in some cases results in the ultimate price. While systems may differ across countries, abuse is a consistent factor for the caregiver populations in many of the countries where migrants work.

Migrant domestic care workers, who are citizens of different countries traveling to another to provide labor, are essential components of the healthcare in Asian countries who suffer from population ageing and lack sustainable numbers in the caregiving industry. Some governments, such as those of Japan and Taiwan, implement programs that facilitate the migration of these care workers and provide a special status without giving citizenship. These foreign care workers hold professions such as nurses at hospitals or nursing homes, or work “under the table” as nannies and house cleaners. The situation for some of these workers, however, reveals the ethical dilemma of each host country independently establishing an appropriate process either through government regulation or private enterprise that ensures the preservation of caregivers’ and receivers’ rights, both of which are owed to them as citizens of a global community and protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Proper healthcare is a human right, as it encourages a life in which one is free to live as one pleases. Taking steps to nurture a healthy and prosperous population requires a tentative balance between government intervention and individual attention from caregivers’ employers and patients alike.

The abuse of those within the healthcare system significantly impedes a solution intended to relieve the relatives of the elderly, especially in countries with declining populations. Governments pass policy to mitigate this difficulty, but the regulation of migrant workers puts them in a vulnerable legal position, without the rights of citizenship to protect them. The rights of migrant workers are not just important, but imperative to the health care systems of countries who depend on them.

The systems and policies in place for foreign caregivers differ across countries. For example, Taiwan has the foreign live-in caregiver programme. This program restricts populations with temporary permits, and caregivers cannot bring their family members with them to Taiwan. Meanwhile, Japan restricts populations by only allowing in highly skilled workers, under several conditions, such as requiring a degree from a 4-year university for nursing. These regulations prevent problems with migrant populations, and provide an organized and regulated system which brings migrants a means of income for themselves and their families back home.

Graphic from the  PEW Research Center .

Graphic from the PEW Research Center.

In some countries, remittances account for a large section of a country’s GDP and experts believe that receiving income from family members working in other countries mitigates the effects of severe poverty. For some households, the work of a foreign caregiver is life or death. And yet, the regulation of live-in caregivers is poorly monitored, resulting in  government regulation that is not effective outside of the migration process. This leaves live-in caregivers in a precarious position when facing abuse by their employers, especially when caregivers live in the homes they work in. In fact, exploitation of care workers is more likely in a domestic setting than in a non-domestic setting.

The impacts of the difficult nature of regulating domestic care worker conditions are notably demonstrated in the difficulties of Singapore. Singapore does not strongly enforce any policies about the condition of domestic caregivers, due to difficulties imposing such policies and Singaporean fears of overdependence on these migrant workers. Some in Singapore fear that a focus on rectifying inefficiencies such as migrant caregiver abused could bolster that overdependence.

As a result, the extent of abuse and maltreatment of caregivers and receivers is unknown in Singapore. The degree to which a government enforces its policies and caters them to the needs of migrant workers, both through institutions and through household employment, is more important than whether those policies are established in the first place. Policies can be effective in theory and be poor in implementation. In the case of migrant workers in Asian countries, the policies regarding their residence in their country of work are more strictly enforced in comparison to policies regarding their rights. A means of remedying this ethical dilemma lies within proper documentation and deeper statistical analysis of domestic caregiver abuses. While this requires participation and diligence from both analysts and victims of abuse alike, a lack of data yields no progress. Therefore, NGOs should work in tandem with governments to share data and encourage domestic caregivers to share their experiences, so that both parties understand the depth and requirements of both the caregivers and the entities they work for.

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