Thursday, 17 February 2011

Second-Class Citizens?

By Irwin Loy

Faced with a shortage of domestic help, Malaysia has been turning to Cambodia to find workers. Many, though, aren’t receiving what’s promised.

The wound over Lay Limheang’s left ear has healed into a coarse, bulbous lump. But she says it’s the scars you can’t see that trouble her most now.

There have never been many options for women like her in this small village in central Cambodia: make your living in the fields, or head to town and get a job at the factory.

Limheang chose the latter. But she found she could barely make ends meet working for $80 a month, so in 2009, she quit her job and moved to Phnom Penh to train as a live-in housemaid.

By that September, she was starting a new life in Kuala Lumpur. She had spent months learning how to cook and clean. But within weeks, battered, penniless and holding no passport, she says she was praying for an escape.

Malaysia is facing what’s been described as a crisis over its foreign domestic workers: there just aren’t enough of them. Now, Malaysia has turned to countries like Cambodia to fill in the gap. And with its burgeoning population—disproportionately young, unskilled and underemployed—it seems like a natural fit.

Almost overnight, the number of women leaving Cambodia to work in Malaysia has skyrocketed, but the crucial regulations and oversight meant to keep the women safe haven’t kept pace. At best, the industry’s harshest critics say, foreign maids in Malaysia are treated like second-class citizens and denied minimum labour rights afforded to other workers. At its worst, the job can become a form of modern-day debt bondage.

For Lay Limheang, the problems started within weeks of arriving in Malaysia. The agency that trained her had provided her courses in basic English—she learned the words for different kinds of food and household objects, as well as some simple commands. But the couple she was placed with didn’t speak English.

‘My boss asked me to bring her some vegetables, but I couldn’t understand what they said. They were speaking Chinese,’ she says. ‘So they slapped me.’

She claims the abuse became progressively more frequent—and more violent.

‘I was so scared whenever my boss came home. I just expected that I would be hurt again,’ Limheang says.

She’s far from alone in making such claims. In 2009, Indonesia—the main supplier of Malaysia’s estimated 300,000 foreign domestic workers—imposed a moratorium barring new maids from heading to Malaysia, following a string of high-profile abuse cases. The two sides have yet to reach a new agreement despite continued negotiations on wages, mandatory days off and other benefits. Many of Malaysia’s basic rules under its Employment Act that cover rest days, work hours, termination, holidays and maternity leave explicitly don’t apply to foreign maids, known as ‘domestic servants’ under the law.

Meanwhile, the number of Cambodian women working in Malaysia has jumped dramatically. Last year, Malaysia issued 28,561 work visas to Cambodians, according to statistics provided by the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh. More than 24,700 of those were given to domestic workers. That figure is almost five times the total number of visas issued just two years earlier.

At the same time, the number of recruitment agencies operating in Cambodia has taken a corresponding leap. These have established loose networks of agents paid to recruit potential employees from villages throughout the country.

Yu Khorn is one of them. Shirtless and sweating in the afternoon heat, he parks his motorbike beside the family’s cows.

He says he was paid $90 a month to recruit women from the surrounding villages. ‘I learned how to convince people. How to speak to people,’ Khorn says. ‘You tell the women, “You don’t have to worry about supporting your families. The company will take care of it.”’

He pulls out a pamphlet that he says he gives to prospective recruits. Young women are pictured grasping fistfuls of US dollars. ‘Two years = $3,500,’ the pamphlet declares. Work 3 years and earn $5,600. Four years gets you $7,800. The minimum wage at the closest factory here is $61 a month.

‘I have a chance to help people in my community,’ Khorn says, pointing toward a large wooden house down the path. It towers over most others in this village. The woman that owns it, he explains, worked in Malaysia for two years. When she returned, she was rich enough to build it.

But authorities in the surrounding commune say they are alarmed by the number of middlemen who have started operating in the area in the last 18 months. Some of the more destitute villages have proven to be fertile grounds for recruitment. In one village alone, 30 women have signed on to what local police chief Hun Miera believes is an uncertain future.

‘These people don’t have legal protection when they leave. Anything could happen to them,’ he says.

But more and more women have still been willing to take the risk.

‘The people are very poor. They only have one way to make income: by farming,’ he says. ‘The crops weren’t good this year, so they’ve become poorer. So they look to Malaysia.’

A few kilometres away, the flattened dirt road gives way to a muddy, uneven path. The houses here are noticeably more basic than in neighbouring villages—thatched leaves for walls, or uneven wooden planks badly in need of replacement.

This, local officials say, is one of the poorest villages in the commune.

Ein Chhunly sits on a slatted bamboo bed perched over the mud, explaining why most of the women in the village have asked her about sending their daughters off to Malaysia.

‘There isn’t much, here,’ she says with a shrug. ‘There’s not a lot of work.’

Chhunly says an agency pays her to recruit local women. On behalf of the company, she promises the parents 50 kg of rice and the equivalent of $125 in cash up front—a gift, she says. If the women make it to Malaysia, they can earn up to $285 each month.

To many of the parents here, the offer is difficult to turn down. Chhunly says she has referred at least 20 young women herself. Even her two daughters, who struggled to save any money while working at the factory, left last year.

She expects many more will follow in their footsteps—if they return with good news.

‘A lot of people are interested in going,’ she says. ‘But they’re waiting for my daughters first.’

And that’s what worries critics of the industry. Labour rights groups say they’re observing a new trend: women have started complaining of ill treatment, either in Malaysia, or during the training process at home.

Adhoc, a local human rights group, is handling more than 50 new cases from workers who have returned from Malaysia, says Lim Mony, the head of its women’s programme. Some have claimed they were raped while on the job.

Another non-governmental organization, the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC) saw its first domestic worker client last year. Now the group is advising more than 20 women who have claimed various forms of abuse or mistreatment.

‘We think it’s a serious problem,’ says Moeun Tola, who heads CLEC’s labour programme. He says many women don’t understand that the money their families initially receive for signing up—what they see as gifts—must actually be worked off. So do the costs of medical tests, visa applications and other expenses. In the end, many of his clients say they go months on end without seeing a single dollar.

Once there, workers have complained that they have few options if they are abused. They say company representatives rarely, if ever, visit the employers’ homes.

‘There’s no protection,’ he says. ‘It’s not just about giving people jobs. There should be someone that inspects the homes regularly to make sure the workers are alright.’

The rapid growth in demand for domestic workers has also left authorities in Cambodia—and the industry itself—struggling to keep up.

Last July, authorities in Phnom Penh raided a recruitment firm, where they found more than 200 people, including underage girls, crammed into rooms in the training complex. Within a week, another agency made local headlines after a woman leapt over the walls to escape, claiming she had been held against her will because she couldn’t pay off her debt.

An Bunhak, director of the Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies, says the existing Cambodian law governing the industry, which is more than 15 years-old, has grown inadequate for the current situation. The government is expected to pass stricter regulations this year, including minimum standards at the facilities and restrictions on loans.

But while he acknowledges there have been some bad actors in the industry, he says he believes they are still a minority.

‘Not all the companies act like this,’ he says. ‘We have a code of conduct for our members.’

And in a country where an estimated 250,000 young people are expected to enter the workforce every year, Cambodia must consider domestic work as a valuable option for many of its citizens, he adds. ‘We want to strengthen the industry to protect our migrant workers.’

Malaysian officials, meanwhile, dispute these negative characterizations of the industry. Raja Saifful, the deputy chief of mission for the Embassy of Malaysia in Phnom Penh, acknowledges there may be isolated cases where maids have been abused. But those examples shouldn’t taint the industry as a whole. Malaysia remains a safe place for the majority of foreign domestic workers, he says.

‘I can say the government of Malaysia is very serious in handling the situation. All those people responsible for abuse have been prosecuted and convicted based on existing laws,’ he says. ‘If there are real cases of abuse, the authorities in Malaysia would really look into the matter and would handle it very seriously.’

But for Limheang, things were to get worse before they improved. She says the beatings grew more violent as the weeks wore on. At one point, she claims, she was hospitalized after an attack. Then, with no explanation, her employers drove her to the airport, handed back her passport and gave her a plane ticket home.

It had been eight months, and she didn’t receive a dollar for her work. But the devout Buddhist says she still gave thanks. As far as she is concerned, her prayers were answered.

Today, Limheang is back at her old garment factory, where she works as a cleaner for less money then she earned before she left. But she’s still upbeat.

‘I feel like I’ve been born again,’ she says. ‘I don’t want to go back.’

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Da Torpedo wins appeal

Political activisit Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, alias Da Torpedo

The Appeals Court on Wednesday voided the jail sentence handed down by the Criminal Court on Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul, alias Da Torpedo, for lese majeste on the grounds her petition for a Constitution Court ruling on legal procedures had not been forwarded to the court for consideration.

Daranee was accused of lese majeste in connection with her speeches made at red-shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) rallies at Sanam Luang on Jan 18, June 7 and June 13, 2008.

The prosecutors, citing Section 177 of the Criminal Procedures Code, asked the Criminal Court to hold the trial in camera and not to allow the people to attend court hearings, reasoning that the case involved the high institution and might affect national security.

Daranee submitted a petition to the court, saying that the prosecutors' request contravened Sections 29 and 40 of the constitution, which provide for an open trial. She asked the Criminal Court to forward her petition to the Constitution Court to rule whether the prosecutors' request was constitutional.

The Criminal Court did not forward her petition to the Constitution Court, but went ahead with the trial and convicted and sentenced Daranee to 18 years in prison on Aug 28, 2009.

Daranee took the case to the Appeal Court.

The Appeals Court announced today it had ruled in her favour and annulled the jail sentence.

The Criminal Court will forward her original petition to the Constitution Court for a ruling whether the prosecutors' request for the trial to be held in camera under Section 177 of the Criminal Procedures Code contravenes Sections 29 and 40 of the constitution.

If the Constitution Court rules in favour of Daranee, the prosecution can request a fresh trial. The charge was not dismissed.

Pending the Constitution Court's ruling, Daranee can request release on bail. The decision rests with the Criminal Court.

UDD chair Thida Thavornseth today filed a fresh request with the Criminal Court for the release on bail of seven red-shirt co-leaders being detained on terrorism charges in Bangkok Remand Prison. Mrs Thida, accompanied by lawyer Narinpong Jinapak, president of the Lawyers Association, offered 600,000 baht as surety for each of the seven suspects: Natthawut Saikua, Weng Tojirakarn, Korkaew Pikulthong, Nisit Sinthuprai, Kwanchai Sarakham, Wiphuthalaeng Pattanaphumthai and Yoswaris Chuklom or Jeng Dokchik. The UDD chair, who is the wife of Dr Weng, said she lowered the surety from three million baht to 600,000 baht because Chaiwat Sinsuwong, a suspect on terrorism charges in connection with the People's Alliance for Democracy's blockade of Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang airports in late 2008, was granted bail with 600,000 baht surety. The court was considering the request.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Abortion reform is up against Buddhism in Thailand

The discovery of more than 2,000 foetuses stored at a Bangkok temple has made front-page news across Thailand. As most abortion is illegal in Thailand, the case has shone a spotlight on a massive backstreet industry and sparked national debate about the country's current abortion laws, which date from the 1950s. With abortion routinely recognised as a "sin" in Theravada Buddhism, religion has played a significant social and political role in this debate.

Chamlong: Santi Asoke
The undertaker at Wat Phai Ngern is accused of accepting regular deliveries of foetuses in plastic bags from an intermediary, who was paid by clinics to dispose of them discreetly. Buddhist temples are often used to store bodies prior to cremation but, with the local crematorium out of order, complaints about the smell led to the discovery of the operation. The bags are thought to have come from up to 20 different locations, sparking a crackdown on 3,900 suspected illegal clinics nationwide.

In 1993 the Thai health ministry estimated there were 80,000 illegal abortions a year. An earlier study suggested the total was closer to 300,000. In urban areas doctors are responsible for many of the illegal abortions by providing them for congenital disorders and HIV infections.

This is despite the fact the law only permits abortions in cases of rape or physical risk to the woman's health. Illegality means that medical standards remain low – a study in 1993 found that over 1% of women attending regional hospital for illegal abortions subsequently died due to complications.

Theravada Buddhism in Thailand is a socially conservative force. About 95% of the population are Buddhist and Buddhism remains closely tied to the state.

Sociologist James Hughes explains that most eastern Buddhist commentators, through an acceptance of karmic rebirth, believe consciousness begins at conception. Therefore, "all abortion incurs the karmic burden of killing". While some monks such as Phra Thepwethi believe in a "middle way" (which regards abortion as a sin, but sometimes as the best option) the framing of abortion in terms of sin still has a significant cultural influence.

A survey of women who had had abortions found that more than half were fearful of community exposure and a third worried that they would suffer bad karma. Andrea Whittaker, in her book, Abortion, Sin and the State in Thailand also explains that "fear of bap (sin) is the most common reason given by women with unplanned pregnancies for why they didn't abort".

Thai Buddhism has also had a key political role in maintaining current abortion laws, which have remained unchanged since 1956. Public discussions on reform began in the 1970s and culminated in 1981 by passing of amendment in the House of Representatives. This proposed widening the legality of abortion to include considerations of mental wellbeing, congenital abnormalities and some cases of contraceptive failure. However, Major General Chamlong Srimuang mobilised a powerful religious coalition to successfully lobby against the amendment.

Chamlong's intervention marked a more overt role for Buddhism in politics. He is a member of the Buddhist movement Santi Asoke, whose founder, Phra Phothirak, challenged the idea that Thai monks should not comment on contemporary social issues. Phothirak believed that monks had a duty to speak out to oppose abortion as the killing of human life, arguing that "those who say they are religious but who don't say anything don't know about religion or morality".

The Santi Asoke sect, which broke away from the Buddhist sangha in 1989, has been described as "radical Buddhism" for its anti-modernist conservatism and strict monastic codes. Chamlong, now a leading political figure, is responsible for the political wing of the Santi Asoke movement. For these followers, abortion is linked to the influence of western promiscuity and is "un-Buddhist, anti-religious and therefore un-Thai".

Members from the mainstream Buddhist sanga also continue to oppose the liberalisation of abortion laws. After a conference in 2006 where NGOs called for the wider legalisation of abortion, a monk named Phra Mahamanoj responded: "We Buddhists … firmly disagree with legal abortion and the destruction of life. If you don't want something to happen, don't do it."

Following the recent temple discovery, leading monks have again been speaking out. Phramaha Vudhijaya Vajiramedhi was unequivocal: "In [the] Buddhist view, both having an abortion and performing an abortion amount to murder. Those involved in abortions will face distress in both this life and the next because their sins will follow them."

The scandal has given momentum to calls for political reform. A Democrat MP has proposed a bill on "consensual and necessary abortions", which would liberalise current laws. This has been supported by Maytinee Bhongsvej, of the Association for the Promotion of the Status of Women (APSW), but she believes that change will be difficult to implement. "People's attitudes are the major obstacle. For Thai society, abortion is a sin," she says.

The prime minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva, has ruled out any legal changes, saying that the current laws are "good enough". Thai advocacy groups like Women's Health Advocacy Foundation point out that liberalising abortion laws would be in line with public opinion, would align the law more closely with the realities of current abortion provision and would also significantly reduce preventable medical complications. However, any reform must contend with Theravada Buddhism – which, with its integral part in political and social structures, retains a significant influence over the debate on abortion in Thailand.

[RAP: RAP wonders how Thailand endures the high-pitched, droning figures like Chamlong with their self-appointed position as arbiters of what is and isn't Thai.

These women who are courageous enough to search out, pay for and go through with these operations knowing the senseless condemnation that will come if they are discovered need to be supported by any Thai who is concerned for human rights, women's rights or children's rights.

It is time for the sangha in Thailand to turn its inquiring light inwards. When these men in robes make precepts and keep them, then they can comment on the morality of people outside the walls of the wat, but it is difficult to take seriously the words of these men, who will never be pregnant (but if the gossip pages are to be believed are helping women to become pregnant), so far behind the times, contemptuous of women and hypocritical.

When the sangha shows wisdom, insight and engages in a moment of self-criticism maybe reasonable people might listen to their opinions. 

Time to educate children in school to make informed choices, talk to children in the home and defend them, provide health services without discrimination to women and men and legalize abortion. ]

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Our labour minister's cruel policy

If Labour Minister Chalermchai Sri-on has his way, all pregnant migrant workers will be deported to their home countries.

What would you do if you were one of these migrant women?

Imagine, when you have little bargaining power to ensure protected sex with your partner. Imagine, when life is dominated by oppression and fear makes you vulnerable to all sorts of sexual abuse and violence. When you cannot afford to raise a child, and returning home means facing hunger, harsh poverty and even political persecution.

Under these circumstances, what would you do if you became pregnant?

Strange, isn't it, that Mr Charlermchai's policy has come amid the public rage against abortion, following the gruesome discovery of some 2,000 foetuses at a temple morgue. Yet, the morally righteous people who are furious with women who seek abortion, see nothing wrong with Mr Chalermchai's move, which will cause a bigger rush to abortion clinics! Why is that?

Undoubtedly, the deportation policy will force countless women to face life-threatening risks from unsafe abortion. Many of them will suffer serious health complications. Many will die.

Yet we don't care. Why?

Mention abortion, and our usual tendency is to blame the women who end their pregnancies as being morally decadent and sexually loose. Using religion to condemn abortion as being a sin, we refuse to open our hearts to consider these women's difficult life situations. We also refuse to give any help in the belief that loose women should be punished.

Meanwhile, we embrace a myriad cultural values, social practices, and state policies which force women to choose the painful path.

Mr Chalermchai's deportation policy for pregnant workers is a case in point. Like him, many of us believe that migrant workers are a threat to our society. That their children _ if allowed to be born here to enjoy life's opportunities _ will overwhelm our society with social problems.

So we agree with Mr Chalermchai. But when our endorsement ends up pushing more women to seek abortion, does it mean we also have blood on our hands?

No, this deportation policy is not about our ethnic prejudices only. The problem runs deeper than that. It is about gender oppression which cuts across cultures. Women, Thai nationals or migrant workers, are trapped in the same sexual double standards which rob women of control over their life, their sexuality, their body.

That is why despite all the statistics showing how our draconian anti-abortion law has caused the deaths of many women and injury and pain to others, they have failed to stir our hearts and trigger change. It is estimated that around 400,000 women seek an abortion each year, judging from the number of women who seek hospitalisation for abortion-related complications. About 300 out of 100,000 women die from complications. This means illegal abortion _ as a result of the lack of safe and legal services _ causes 1,000 women to die every year.

But who cares?

It does not matter if family planning statistics show that only 1% of men use condoms, which explains the high rate of HIV infection among women as well as the higher incidence of unplanned pregnancy.

The fact is that 70-80% of women who need abortion are those who risk losing their jobs if they are pregnant, or are too poor to feed another mouth. Yet, the focus is always on "loose" teenage girls whose libido must be contained; the blame is never on the schools' heartlessness, on inhumane business practices, or on the lack of state services to give pregnant women more options.

In our gender-oppressive worldview, women will be bad if given the chance. That is why teenage pregnancy statistics are played up. The same with the number of aborted foetuses: the higher the better, to portray women's cruelty and the need to keep women under control.

Abortion fury over the temple morgue tragedy cannot make us see the cruelty in Mr Chalermchai's deportation policy. Can it still change the abortion policy?

Not when the blame is still put on the women.

Now that the headlines have moved on to "how to tame" the foetuses' haunting spirits, the coverage is drawing to a close. The shock has failed to shake the draconian anti-abortion law and sexual double standards _ just like a wave that hits the shore, only to subside, leaving nothing behind.


In the current slave trade, Indonesia the largest exporter

Upon hearing the news of the murder of an Indonesian housemaid and of another who was severely tortured, both in Saudi Arabia, the nation went through somewhat predictable motions. The government lodged protests with the Saudi ambassador and the public went into a frenzied outrage - fueled by a barrage of media reports about the ordeal that many poor Indonesian women working overseas go through.
Typically, all of the responses demanded the same thing: better deals and better protection for these women working abroad. No one — not the government, not the politicians and not even the activists in advocacy groups that help these women — are suggesting that the practice of sending housemaids be stopped completely.
The stakes are just too high, in terms of employment opportunities and the billions of dollars of foreign exchange earnings these housemaids send home. The nation has just too much to lose from phasing out what is essentially a 21st century version of the slave trade.
Live-in housemaids — whether in Jakarta, Surabaya, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Riyadh, Dubai, Hong Kong, Taipei or anywhere else in the world — essentially work under arrangements not unlike the slavery system of old.
The contract that a maid signs is unenforceable the moment after she steps into the house. She becomes a slave and the employers become her masters. The masters can disregard contracts, international conventions and national and international laws. There is nothing that she, the slave, can do. The only law applicable inside the house is what master says. Like the old slavery system, the maid a piece of property owned by the masters.
Don’t be misled when a maid tells you that she is treated kindly, like a member of the family. That is precisely the bond that evolves between servants and masters, instead of the professional or contractual kinds of relationships found in most other areas of employment.
While most maids may work for benevolent families, some unfortunate women have violent employers, such as Sumiati, who is now nursing severe wounds in a Saudi hospital after abuses allegedly inflicted by her employers, or worse, allegedly murderous employers, such as the family who employed Kikim Komalasari.
Nobody knows for sure how many others are there like Sumiati and Kikim — not only about Saudi Arabia, the Middle East or Malaysia, but also here in Indonesia, where the bulk of the Indonesian women work as housemaids.
The few cases that do surface are just the tip of the iceberg. Out of fear stemming from the master-servant relationship, most cases of abuse in Indonesia and elsewhere go unreported.
The whole point of the slavery-like system is that there is not much that the law or the government can do to protect maids from being abused  – except to take action after the fact (and then only if maids have the courage to report their employers to the police, assuming they were still alive). There is no mechanism that can prevent the employers from abusing their maids if they want.
Another factor that makes housemaids comparable to slaves is the absence of free will. Like olden-day slaves, these women are condemned to this kind of life by abject poverty and a lack of educational opportunities. Most are destined to such work by circumstance. Being a housemaid was never their choice.
Unfortunately, the nation’s attitude is not helping them. Instead, everyone seems to want to maintain this slavery system.
Indonesian households are the biggest beneficiaries of modern day slavery, so they have no interest or incentive in phasing out the system. Just listen to the complaints that housewives make two weeks every year when their pembantu take annual leave for Idul Fitri. Some families are so dependent on housemaids that they check into five-star hotels in their absence.
Indonesians, first and foremost, need their housemaids. Those sent abroad are just a surplus that the country has decided to generously share with other countries in the world.
The government, which should take the initiative to phase out the slavery system, is instead glorifying housemaids as “heroines of foreign exchange”. But officials are only interested in the forex receipts and commissions they get from labor exporting agencies. The way these vulnerable housemaids are harassed after their return shows the contradiction between what the government says and what it does.
More than 65 years after Indonesia’s founders proclaimed independence, it is disheartening to see that the nation, with the government in the lead, is deliberately perpetuating a system which keeps part of the nation in perpetual poverty and ignorance  —  ultimately to work as slave labor for others, at home and abroad.

[RAP: Brilliant, angry, forthright and clear commentary. More like this please. If only the Indonesian government recognized the importance of this issue.

In this comment "Don’t be misled when a maid tells you that she is treated kindly, like a member of the family. That is precisely the bond that evolves between servants and masters, instead of the professional or contractual kinds of relationships found in most other areas of employment." RAP is reminded of the "house-negro" (as opposed to the "field negro") spoken of by Malcolm X, only with Indonesian Domestic Workers they're already called "house"-maids. ( )

It is irrelevant how pleasant life might be with her owner, domestic workers have rights and must be respected or brought home. No third option.]

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Thailand’s Abortion Debate

Thailand is still recovering from the shock caused by the appalling recent discovery of more than 2000 illegally aborted fetuses at the Wat Phai Ngern temple in Bangkok.

The discovery of even one dead fetus usually generates strong condemnation in the country, especially from conservative circles. But what's the reaction when thousands of dead fetuses are found in a Buddhist temple?

The first instinct of authorities was to investigate the temple’s caretakers. But this isn't only a police matter alone—according to one analyst, the dead fetus horror is merely the ‘tip of Thailand's illegal abortion iceberg.’ It’s estimated that around 150,000 to 200,000 women every year across the country are going to private clinics for illegal abortions.

Abortion is illegal in Thailand except under certain conditions such as if a woman is raped, if the pregnancy negatively affects her health, or if the fetus is abnormal. Abortion is seldom discussed in the media, but the sight of the bagged fetuses has activated lively public debates on whether it’s time to update the country’s abortion laws.

Asked about his stand on the issue, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said there's no need for new legislative measures since abortion laws are already adequate. What Vejjajiva suggests instead is further re-education of the country’s youth so that proper social values will be instilled in Thais from a young age. But this position is contrary to current public opinion as reflected in the polls, which favours the legalization of abortion now that more people are linking abortion with individual rights.

If the prime minister is unwilling to rethink his stand on abortion, one of his fellow party members in parliament has already proposed the legalization of abortion. But MP Rayong Sathit Pitutecha 's objectiveisn’t merely to give women access to proper health services, but also to reduce the country’s ‘low quality’ population. This point—a public official favouring abortion to get rid of ‘disagreeable’ members of society—has created doubt amongst human rights advocates about the motivation behind this push.

Thailand has taken some bold and effective measures in the past to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases in the country. Maybe the dead fetus scandal will also embolden authorities to review the country’s abortion policy. Or if they are hesitant to change abortion laws, at least they can do something to substantially improve the delivery of reproductive health services to prevent future such incidents.