Migrant Workers Go into High-risk Sexual Relationships

Ranjit Devraj

As a rule, Father Bruno Ciceri never solemnises marriages among his flock in Taiwan, which consists largely of young migrant workers of the Roman Catholic faith from the Philippines.
Why does the Italian priest forego the performance of an important social rite? He does not want to be party to what is jokingly referred to on this industrial hub and island republic as "Taiwan Love Marriages", the course of which can be as unpredictable and as devastating as the typhoons that sweep this island.

"More than 75 percent of the 300,000 odd migrant workers in Taiwan (of whom 80,000 are Filipinos) are here on false identities and their real ages and marital status are uncertain," Ciceri told IPS.

Though they are illegal and attract severe penalties, false identities are convenient to everyone.

For one, they allow workers a way to circumvent laws that prevent the extension of stay in this country beyond three years. For another, employers save time and money on training new workers and also have an extra handle on them in case of disputes, Ciceri said.

Complications do arise. "Recently I had to send back to the Philippines the body of a woman who came here on a passport issued to her sister-in-law and died - now the sister-in-law is officially dead," he said.

But false identities apparently are also conducive to encouraging a tendency toward the high-risk behaviour that leading sociologists say Asia's young adults are increasingly prone to.

At an international conference here in late November on 'Asian Youth at Risk' sponsored by the Taiwanese government and the East-West Centre in Hawaii, academics warned of increasing rates in smoking, drinking and extramarital sex among young people.

Although the specific problem of migrant workers swarming to prosperous Taiwan from the East Asian neighbourhood was not on the agenda of the three-day conference, which ended Friday, participants took the opportunity to say that their concerns about high-risk behaviour involving migrant labourers as well.

"The situation of young migrant workers as a particularly vulnerable group calls for special attention," said Eddy Hasmi, director of Adolescent and Reproductive Rights Protection group and a framer of migrant worker policy in the Indonesian government.

"Sending countries seem interested solely in the money that migrant workers repatriate," lamented Michael Tan of the University of the Philippines and a health activist, addressing the delegates.

Tan's colleague and researcher on adolescent sexuality, Corazon Raymundo, said that being away from home - some 800,000 Filipinos leave for overseas work each year -- takes away the two important "protective factors" of family and religion for young people of both sexes.

Raymundo's academic propositions including one that holds that one kind of risk-taking soon leads to "multiple risk-taking", is discernible at a Filipino watering hole here, called 'Combat Zone' because it was once patronised by American soldiers on rest and recreation from the Vietnam War.

"Filipinos who come to Taiwan smoke, drink and have messy affairs far more than they do back home - and they all claim to be single," said migrant worker Jackie Sotelo through the smoke haze and jazz music at the Manila Pub, on Combat Zone.

The vast majority of Filipino overseas workers here are in factory work, although many of them do not get the jobs they had signed for and up working in poultry and piggery in the rural areas. Filipino women workers hold jobs both as factory workers and as domestic . . . . .

No comments: