Desperate migrant pays for baby to be drugged, smuggled to Myanmar: researchers

By Alisa Tang BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A Burmese woman working in Thailand hired a man to sedate and smuggle her 3-month-old baby across the border to relatives in Myanmar, researchers said, describing a common "service" for desperate migrant mothers fearful of losing their jobs. Researchers whose study was published on Wednesday surveyed 114 women migrants in the six countries along the Mekong River about their health, and found that many went to extremes to end pregnancies or send babies home because of problems at work. "A lot of people noted they will get fired when they get pregnant when they are abroad... they will get fired and go home," said Rebecca Napier-Moore, who wrote the report for the Mekong Migration Network, an advocacy umbrella group of organizations. The woman who hired the smuggler – a migrant in her 20s who used to work at a fish canning factory near the Thailand-Malaysia border - told researchers her employer did not allow babies in the workplace and she could not afford a babysitter. "So I sent my baby with a broker to my parents in Mon state, Myanmar," the woman was quoted as saying in the report. "You need to pay a broker 5,000 baht ($150) for one baby" who they sedate with drugs for the duration of the journey. Brahm Press, director of the MAP Foundation rights group based in the northern Thai city Chiang Mai, who led the research in Thailand, said her account indicated the service was a known way for Burmese women in Thailand to send their babies home. "It's not uncommon. This is a service they (smugglers) provide," Press told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone. Millions of migrants cross borders to find work in the Greater Mekong subregion, made up of Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Yunnan and Guangxi provinces in China. Thailand, the main destination country, hosts an estimated 3 million documented and undocumented migrant workers, 80 percent of whom are from Myanmar. Migrants are often unable or unwilling to access health care in host countries because of discrimination, high costs, language barriers, or fear of arrest and deportation. The study said that of the women interviewed - who worked in sectors including construction, agriculture, domestic work, sex work, retail and manufacturing - 41 percent lacked migration documents. DANGEROUS ABORTIONS The most shocking accounts in the report involved pregnant women, very few of whom receive antenatal care. The study found that 57 percent of women worked at places with no maternity leave. A former sex worker from Myanmar told researchers that a Thai employer sent her friend to Myanmar for an unsafe abortion with an untrained midwife. "She put red medicine into my friend's vagina, and massaged her pregnant belly hard. Blood came out after half an hour and then the fetus," the unnamed woman was quoted as saying. The cost of the abortion depends how far along the pregnancy is, the woman said. "For aborting after one month of pregnancy, we need to pay 10,000 kyat ($10). Some women die during these abortions." The report said that the women surveyed - 62 percent of whom had no health insurance - usually treat themselves and continue to work while ill. Many use home remedies and seek care from traditional healers or pharmacies, where they can get drugs "faster, cheaper and without the discrimination they might find in hospitals". Because of language barriers or miscommunication, migrants may get the wrong medication, or they may receive no advice about how to take the medication, the report said. "Counterfeit or poor quality drugs, overuse of antibiotics and poisoning are risks of self-treatment in a region that does not strictly regulate pharmacies or require prescriptions for most drugs", the report said. (Reporting by Alisa Tang, Editing by Tim Pearce)