Risks and difficulties faced by migrant workers in child care


What challenges do migrant workers face in childcare? Are their children at a higher risk of abuse than Taiwanese kids?

Recent discussions on child abuse have shed light on reported cases involving foreign children, prompting concerns over the difficulties pregnant migrant workers face, childcare struggles, and the issue of undocumented babies. Interviews with migrant workers, NGOs, and filmmakers who have documented pregnant migrant workers and their children delve into the predicament of pregnant migrant workers and the heightened risk of child abuse among migrant children.

Recently, a one-year-old child allegedly died from abuse while waiting to be adopted, sparking public outrage. Following this, the Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare received two suspected cases of serious child abuse involving foreign children, one of which resulted in death. These incidents have once again stirred up controversy.

In response, the Ministry of Health and Welfare issued a press release on the 17th, urging the Taipei City Government's Department of Social Welfare to investigate whether the cases involved any mistreatment and to submit investigation reports for further review.

On the 20th, Minister of Labor Hsu Ming-chun revealed that two suspected cases of child abuse involved a child of a Swazi student and a child of a missing migrant worker.

Are migrant children at a higher risk of child abuse compared to Taiwanese children? According to Kelly Lee, Director of GOH-Migrants, the budget for migrant childcare is generally insufficient to afford legal childcare services in Taiwan. Additionally, due to limited vacation time, it's difficult for migrant workers to monitor the quality of care if they can't visit their children regularly. As a result, cases of child abuse among migrant children are more common than imagined.

Under the support of the Ministry of Labor, the Taoyuan City Government's Department of Labor commissioned the Harmony Home Foundation to operate the "Foreign Women and Children Consultation Service Center," providing legal consultation, referral, case assessment, and placement services for pregnant migrant workers and their employers.

Lee noted that since the official launch of the Foreign Women and Children Consultation Service Center in late December 2021, it has served over 600 people and received over 3,800 consultation calls. Furthermore, since the improvement of maternal and infant care facilities at the Harmony Home Foundation's Migrant Workers Placement Center in August 2022, they have begun providing placement services for pregnant migrant workers, with 19 workers placed awaiting childbirth by the end of last year.

According to Lee, based on the foundation's experience, news of child abuse or neglect among migrant children has long circulated within the migrant community. However, the cost of 24-hour childcare, ranging from NT$27,000 to over NT$30,000 per month, along with additional expenses for diapers and formula, is simply unaffordable for migrant workers. Therefore, many turn to informal channels to find childcare providers.

Hazel, a family caregiver, is one such case. She gave birth to a son in December last year and brought him back to the Philippines this March for a week before returning to Taiwan. She explained that compared to factory workers, the situation for foreign caregivers is different. They not only lack benefits like paid maternity leave but also do not receive maternity benefits due to not being covered by labor insurance. The main reason she decided to send her child back to her home country is because she couldn't afford childcare costs and felt the social atmosphere in Taiwan was unfriendly towards caregivers with children.

Hazel revealed that before her son was born, she already had three children. Faced with the unexpected arrival of another child, she initially felt anxious, nervous, and overwhelmed, even considering abortion. However, her son's father wanted to keep the baby, so she ultimately accepted "God's arrangement." Although Hazel's original employer unilaterally terminated her employment, she sought resources and assistance from NGOs, allowing her to safely give birth to her child while retaining the right to work legally in Taiwan.

However, many pregnant migrant workers face discrimination and may be terminated by their employers or pressured by intermediaries to return to their home countries. This ongoing issue raises concerns, as it's unclear how many migrant workers conceal their pregnancies until the last moment, or even become missing workers.

How can missing migrant workers address issues such as childbirth, childcare, education, or medical care? Taiwanese director Tsai Chia-hsuan, who documented the stories of Harmony Home Foundation, Taiwan founder Yang Jie-yu helping migrant women and their children, points out that missing pregnant migrant workers either rely on themselves or on NGOs. However, NGOs operating in the gray area between legality and illegality struggle to provide assistance due to limited resources. Additionally, if the children of missing migrant workers become seriously ill or injured, it may be more challenging to seek medical help.

Tsai believes that since society requires migrant workers, their desire to start families and have children while in Taiwan is inevitable. Therefore, the government should pay more attention to the lives of migrant workers and their next generation after coming to Taiwan. She sees the Labor Ministry's plan to develop pregnancy guidelines for migrant workers, both legal and missing, as a positive step. Although addressing this issue has been delayed for many years, starting to pay attention to it is a step in the right direction.

Tsai is concerned that when the government seeks to promote the rights of migrant children, Taiwanese people may begin to differentiate between "us" and "them," making it difficult to accept "using Taiwanese resources to assist foreign children." However, she emphasizes that if society views missing migrant workers solely as illegal individuals, it may fail to see the context and overall picture of the problem. She believes that the emergence of missing migrant workers is due to structural factors that require attention and understanding from society at large.

〔RTI / Reporters Chen Nianyi〕2024-03-24 10:00

〔Photo from Unsplash〕