By Laura Cofsky


You move to a new country and seek out whatever work you can get. It will probably be some form of unskilled labor, such as farming. Increasing poverty and globalization have driven you away from your homeland. You are one of 175 million people worldwide, about half of which are women.[1]

You’re vulnerable and need the work.

Although the United Nations has protections in place for people like you, your employer and even your government are likely to ignore your rights. [2]

Female migrant workers in multiple countries are getting hit hard with what many would consider dehumanizing and sexist regulations.

In many countries, these women work as entertainers—a euphemism for sex workers. They are subjected to harsh working conditions, denied access to legal and social services, and paid very little. Some are forced into sexual slavery.[3]

Many countries have their own story of poor treatment of female migrant workers. In Thailand, the labor minister proposed a regulation that would require the deportation of pregnant migrant workers.

Why can’t these women just take a leave of absence—like a maternity leave—until they give birth? The simple answer is job security. These women, who often come from poor families, are not paid during pregnancy, and they are not guaranteed their old positions upon return. They also face travel and recruitment fees.

Labor Minister Padermchai Sasomsap believes that, by decreasing the number of migrant children, this plan will decrease child labor in Thailand.

According to some experts, this proposed regulation would cause a spike in illegal—read “unsafe”—abortions.

Except in cases of rape or the mother’s health, abortion is a criminal offense in Thailand. Women who seek it out risk incomplete, unsafe, and even fatal procedures. Incomplete abortions claim nearly 1,000 women’s lives each year.

This isn’t the first time Thailand has been charged for treating its workers poorly. A 2010 Human Rights Watch report found that female migrant workers in Thailand were especially vulnerable to human trafficking.[4]

Thailand isn’t the only country to come under fire for its poor treatment of female migrant workers. In Belgium, many abused migrant women will not come forward for fear of deportation.

Belgium offers legal protection for citizens suffering domestic abuse. However, these laws have significant gaps when it comes to addressing domestic abuse among migrant women.

The country has very strict immigration policies. Without the necessary paperwork, many of these women risk deportation if they choose to report their abusers. Only migrant women with children are protected under the laws.[5]

The fact that only women with children receive protection suggests that women are only valuable if they have reproduced. As individuals, they have no rights.

Even more, these laws pressure migrant women to have children, resulting in bringing many babies into potentially unsafe households.

These workers deserve rights. No one deserves to live in this kind of poverty or work at the risk of such violence.


Laura Cofsky is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, studying English literature.  Upon graduation, she hopes to become a journalist.

[2] “Committee on Migrant Workers.” Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 18 November 2012.

[4] “Thailand: Don’t Deport Pregnant Migrant Workers.” Human Rights Watch. 5 July 2012.

[5] “Belgium: Abuse Migrant Women Fear Deportation.” Human Rights Watch. 8 November 2012.

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