written statement: 46th commission on population and development (CPD)

April 1, 2013 logo

The Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW) is a non-profit women’s NGO based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that has been working since 1993 to advance women’s health, affirmative sexuality and rights, and empower women through information and knowledge, monitoring of international commitments, engagement, advocacy and mobilisation. We work with national partners across the Asia-Pacific region and with regional partners from the Global South as well as allies from the Global North.


We welcome the focus on the theme “New Trends in Migration: Demographic Aspects” in the 46th session of the Commission on Development and Population.


Migration is a key aspect of population dynamics, and has become one of the key facets of this globalised world, spurred on by transport and communications technology and increased interdependence on goods and labour. According to the UN Population Division, in 2010, Asia and the Pacific accounted for 32% of the world’s migrant stock; of these about half are women. Migration in the Asia-Pacific region has primarily been for employment, although migration due to other factors, such as for education, marriage, conflict, natural or climate change-induced disasters, famine or development projects.


Migration can be a positive force. Migrant remittances can improve the lives of migrant workers’ families and communities, and are a major source of income for many sending countries. Destination countries also benefit economically and socially from migrant labour, as migrant workers provide skills critical for their societies and economies to run. Destination countries also collect a considerable income from levies on and higher taxes paid by migrant workers.


However, migration raises challenges related to human rights, particularly to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Migrant workers, particularly those who are undocumented, or working mainly in sectors that are lower skilled, unregulated and in the private domain (majority of whom are women), are among the most vulnerable social groups that are missed out by policies and interventions.


Sexual and reproductive health concerns and violations of sexual and reproductive rights include the following:


Migration and labour policies in both origin and destination countries prevent migrant

workers from enjoying and realising their full sexual and reproductive rights.


Policies often prevent less-skilled workers to come without their spouses and children, and prohibit them from having relationships, getting married to citizens, keeping the pregnancy or delivering a child. Professionals and higher-skilled migrant workers are often exempted from these policies.


Even where sexual and reproductive health and rights are not an issue for heterosexual individuals and couples, in majority of destination countries, the rights of gays, lesbians, transgender and other people of sexual diversity remain unrecognised. Bringing of their families are not allowed, same-sex or transgender behaviour may be prohibited or be a cause for termination.


Female migrant workers undergo mandatory pregnancy testing throughout the migration process. Pregnancy is an exclusionary condition in many destination countries, including in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia. Pregnant women are found unfit for work and are either rejected from the beginning, or face automatic termination of employment and deportation. Because pregnancy is a condition for rejection and deportation, many female migrant workers are forced to seek abortion, often times in unsafe conditions. Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal deaths and disabilities. The lack of rights of women prevents them from accessing maternal health services, and also leads to “stateless children” of women migrant workers.


International conventions and guidelines, policies against mandatory testing, and ethical standards of practice are disregarded in migration situations. CARAM Asia research in 16 Asian countries reveal that HIV mandatory testing practices for migrants at all stages of the migration cycle are discriminatory, dehumanising and results in the violation of basic rights.


HIV positive migrant workers are subject to rejection or deportation. This raises issues of HIV and STI transmission risk to partners and others. Migrants are also often not provided with counselling, access to referral and treatment in either the host country or the country of origin.


Higher user fees for non-citizens or permanent residents make access to health care even more difficult for less-skilled migrants, and virtually impossible for undocumented migrants for fear of deportation. For domestic workers, accessing health care depends solely on employers, not only because of prohibitive costs, but because migrant women’s mobility are limited.


Few countries offer health insurance for migrant workers. When available, it is often minimal—inadequate to address serious illness or injury and excludes contraception, pregnancy-related services, screening for cancer such pap smear, treatment of STIs, or other sexual and reproductive health concerns.


Women migrant workers are not allowed menstruation leave, even in countries that offer them.


Most migrant women have little or no access to sexual and reproductive health information, and to sexuality education. Very few of the pre-departure orientations address human rights, SRHR or sexuality issues. This lack of access combine with and interact with social factors, such as peer group influence, and structural factors, such as lack of protective policies and lack of access to services, to make migrant women vulnerable to sexual and reproductive health problems.


Access to contraception is an issue, increasing vulnerability to unwanted pregnancies,

as well as STIs and HIV infections.


Lack of access to services notwithstanding, migrant workers experience a variety of

sexual and reproductive health concerns. For example, a 2002 survey by ACHIEVE of domestic workers in Hong Kong reported various sexual and reproductive health concerns, including genito-urinary infections (44%), pelvic inflammation disorder (17%), unintended pregnancy (13%) and abortion (10%). These revealed limited access to health information and services, as well as stigma attached to seeking them.


Migrant women, especially those in domestic work or sex work which are often excluded in national labour legislations, commonly experience gender-based or sexual violence at the hands of authorities, agents and employers, at all stages of the migration cycle. The Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, in its General Comment No. 1 on Migrant Domestic Workers, noted that women and girls are particularly at risk of being subjected to physical and sexual abuse by agents and intermediaries. They also experience psychological, physical and sexual abuse and harassment from their employers, as well as from recruitments or intermediaries. Many migrant workers also become victims of sexual trafficking.


In view of the above challenges, we call on governments and the international community to fully ensure that migrants, particularly women migrants and undocumented migrants, can freely exercise their human rights, including their sexual and reproductive health and rights. All these should be in line with existing international commitments and conventions, such as the ICPD Programme of Action, MDGs, CEDAW, CRC, ILO Conventions, as well as human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


More specifically, we call on governments and the international community to:


  • Ratify and fully enforce the International Convention the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.
  • Recognise the gender inequalities faced by migrant women workers and take action to ensure that international, regional and national policies and programmes are gender- sensitive. Policies and programmes to prevent, mitigate and eliminate gender-based and sexual violence should be in place.
  • Ensure that all migrants, including women migrants, have universal access to comprehensive, quality and migrant-friendly sexual and reproductive health services, in both origin and destination countries. Such services should include the full range of contraceptive services, including emergency contraception; safe abortion services; maternal health services, including antenatal care, safe delivery (emergency obstetric care), and postnatal care; prevention, treatment and management of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and reproductive tract morbidities, including reproductive cancers; prevention and treatment of infertility; services related to addressing sexual and gender-based violence; adolescent sexual and reproductive health services, amongst others. All of these shall include prevention, information, counselling, treatment, and be done within functional and integrated health systems.
  • Ensure programmes that empower migrants to make choices and decisions that affirm their human rights, including for bodily integrity and sexual and reproductive rights. Such programmes include the provision of comprehensive, rights-based information and education related to human rights of migrants, sexuality and SRHR, in schools and at all states of the migration cycle. Pre- and post-departure trainings should include components related to SRHR and to human rights of migrants.
  • Take action to remove all barriers to achieving migrants’ rights, including their full SRHR, particularly for undocumented migrants and women migrants. Migrants’ contributions, including that of low-skilled and undocumented migrants, should be recognised, and privileges and rights should be based on residency, not citizenship status. Discriminatory and punitive policies should be reviewed and repealed, including mandatory HIV and pregnancy testing; HIV and pregnancy work and travel restrictions, including deportation due to pregnancy or HIV status; criminalisation of HIV status, abortion and sex work; and restrictions related to marriage and family life, without discrimination to type of work or sexual orientation, amongst others. Relevant government ministries, including immigration, police, legal, labour and health, should undergo sensitisation programmes on migrants’ human rights, including SRHR.
  • Make available and accessible migrant-friendly legal recourse to migrant workers, at national and international levels.
  • Invest in universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights, including for migrant workers. Research on the interlinkages of migration, gender and SRHR, as well as systems to monitor implementation of commitments, should also be supported.
  • Enable meaningful participation and leadership of civil society and migrant workers’ association working on and representing migrants’ rights and SRHR issues, including that of women migrants, in global, regional and national development processes.


  • Ando, M.M. (unpublished). Migration, Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights: Promoting Discussion and Research in Southeast and East Asia for Improved Policies and Programmes. ARROW.
  • ARROW. (2013). Labour Migration, Gender and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights. ARROWs for Change bulletin, Vol. 19 No. 1.Kuala Lumpur: ARROW. www.arrow.org.my/uploads/20121218025358_v19n1.pdf
  • CARAM Asia. (2010). Report: Summary of Findings of Remittances: Impact on Migrant Workers’ Quality of Life. CARAM Asia.
  • CARAM Asia. (2007). State of Health of Migrants 2007: Mandatory Testing. Kuala Lumpur: CARAM Asia.
  • CARAM Asia & APWLD. (unpublished) Regional ASEAN Paper on Engendering the ASEAN Framework Instrument on Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers.
  • Marin, M. (2012). International Labour Migration, Gender, and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Southeast and East Asia and the Pacific. ARROW Working Papers. Kuala Lumpur: ARROW. www.arrow.org.my/uploads/Migration_WorkingPaper.pdf
  • Marin, M. (2012). “Navigating Borders, Negotiating Bodies: Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights of Women and Young People in the Asia-Pacific Region: Affirming Rights, Refuting Dubious Linkages.” In Thematic Papers Presented at Beyond ICPD and the MDGs: NGOs Strategising for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in Asia-Pacific Region and Opportunities for NGOs at National, Regional and International Levels in the Lead-Up to 2014: NGO-UNFPA Dialogue for Strategic Engagement. Kuala Lumpur: ARROW. www.arrow.org.my/uploads/Thematic_Papers_Beyond_ICPD_&_the_MDGs.pdf
  • Marin, M.L. (2003.) Sexual Scripts and Shifting Spaces: Women Migrants and HIV/AIDS. IN A Cultural Approach to HIV/AIDS Prevention and Care: UNESCO/UNAIDS Project: Women Migrants and HIV/AIDS: An Anthropological Approach: Proceedings of the Round Table Held on 20 November 2004 at UNESCO: Paris. Paris: UNESCO. UNFPA. Cited in UNFPA. (2006). State of the World Population Report 2006: A Passage to Hope, Women and International Migration.
  • United Nations Population Division, Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2011.).The Age and Sex of Migrants 2011. www.un.org/esa/population/publications/2011Migration_Chart/2011IttMig_chart.htm
  • Verghis, S. (2010). MDG 5: Missing out on migrant workers. (M. M. Ando, Ed.) ARROWs for Change, Vol. 16, Nos. 1 & 2, pp. 6-7. http://arrow.org.my/publications/AFC/v16n1&2.pdf


For more information, please email:

Maria Melinda Ando

Programme Manager for Information and Communications Asian-Pacific Resource and Research Centre for Women (ARROW)

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia Email: [email protected] Website: www.arrow.org.my










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