23 January 2006
Committee Monitoring Compliance with Women's Anti-Discrimination Convention Takes up Periodic Report of Thailand
Experts Note Numerous Initiatives to Improve Women's Status, but Say Trafficking, Sex Tourism, Domestic Violence Problems
NEW YORK, 20 January (UN Headquarters) -- Expert members of the body monitoring the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women noted today that Thailand still retained its worldwide reputation as a sex-tourism destination and that domestic violence, trafficking in people and negative sexual stereotypes still remained strong throughout the country, despite the Government's numerous initiatives to improve the status of Thai women.
One of the 23 expert members responding to Thailand's combined fourth and fifth periodic reports on Convention compliance, said that the situation in the neighbouring countries, and poverty in Thailand itself, fuelled the problem of trafficking in people. Nearly half of the victims of trafficking, who were usually under 18 years of age, ended up in sex trade. The Government's measures to confront the problem included increased cooperation with the countries of the region, promulgation of a law on the prevention and suppression of trafficking in women and children and involvement of non-governmental institutions. Those steps, however, were not brining about the desired results, in large part due to widespread corruption.
The Minister of Social Development and Human Security, Watana Muangsook, introduced the report and outlined the Government's main initiatives in the area of gender equality. The country had achieved the Millennium Development Goal of eliminating the gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Women's access to health-care services had been improved through the "30 baht or 75 cents National Health System" that covered expenses relating to maternity, pregnancy and women's diseases, such as vaginal cancer and HIV/AIDS.
He added that the Government was "doing its utmost to bring the country's Family Law in line with article 16 of the Convention, while ensuring that the adopted measures did not undermine the richness of Thailand's cultures and traditions". The few remaining provisions of the country's family law that could still be seen as discriminatory were continuously discussed among lawyers and legislators. New amendments concerning engagement and divorce were now under consideration by the Office of the Council of State, for instance.
Also highlighted in the Committee's dialogue with Thailand's delegation was the issue of domestic violence, which as observed by one of the experts was closely related to the traditionally subservient women's role in society. While commending the Government's efforts to introduce a draft law on domestic violence, a member of the Committee questioned the rationale for providing a maximum penalty of six months in jail under its terms, while the Criminal Code provided for a two-year term for other forms of violence. Didn't that make domestic violence seem less important? she asked.
Regarding that draft, a member of the 17-member delegation said that its concept was based on the efforts to help the victims of violence and not merely punish the perpetrators, but also rehabilitate them. Normally, the perpetrators were bread-winners of the family, and their incarceration could harm the women's situation. It was also important to avoid breaking up the victims' families. The draft did not deny the victims their right to pursue the case against abusers, but it encouraged reconciliation if abusive behaviour was "not too severe".
Another expert pointed out that women's traditional role in the family was reflected in a definition of rape in the country's Penal Code, which limited it to a man's "sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his wife". That wording effectively allowed a husband to rape his wife with no penalty. In response to that comment, one of the country's delegates said that a proposal to delete the words "who is not his wife" from the definition of rape had encountered strong objections from the Council of State and efforts were under way to reach a compromise on the matter.
It was also pointed out today that the proportion of women in the country's political field was much lower than expected. Only 10 per cent of the Senate members were women, for example. Experts said that the country needed to do much more in the area of political and public life, developing more systematic collection of data and introducing quotas and targets for the number of women in public service and elected positions.
Further, although Thailand reported having withdrawn its reservation to article 16(g) of the Convention, which related to women's right to choose their name, profession and occupation after marriage, an expert noted that reservations to the rest of the provisions of article 16 remained. In that connection, a member of the delegation said that at present, Thailand could comply with most stipulations of article 16. The only remaining problem related to article 16(c), which stipulated "the same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution".
The Committee will take up the situation of women in Eritrea at 10 a.m. Tuesday, 24 January.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women had before it Thailand's combined fourth and fifth periodic reports of States parties (document CEDAW/C/THA/4-5) on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Thailand acceded to the Convention on 9 August 1985, and its obligation came into force on 8 September 1985. As a member of the Convention, Thailand submitted its first periodic report in 1987 along with a supplementary report in January 1990, followed by a combined second and third report in 1997 and a supplementary report in 1999.
The current report discusses ways in which the Government seeks to strengthen existing laws that touch upon women, including increasing the penalties for offences and extending the reach of its courts, as well as responding to known weaknesses in law enforcement. National strategies to promote women's development in general are also discussed.
The national mechanism responsible for promoting gender equality in Thailand is the Office of the National Commission on Women's Affairs (ONCWA) under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. The Commission is chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and its members include Government representatives, officials from non-governmental organizations and gender experts. When considering national laws to counter discrimination against women, the ONCWA National Committee on Law uses the definition of discrimination contained in the Convention, because Thai law does not yet have a specific definition of its own.
Another committee within ONCWA, the National Committee on Policy Development, is tasked with creating a "Women's Development Plan", which is then included within the country's periodic National Economic and Social Development Plans (NESDP). The Women's Development Plan within the ninth, and latest, NESDP -- which covers the period from 2002 to 2006 -- seeks to improve women's participation at all levels of decision-making; to promote equality and social protection; to increase the impact of mass media on promoting women's issues; and to develop organizational and administrative managerial mechanisms for such issues.
The report notes the persistence of various forms of violence against women, where campaigns for social awareness and understanding are seen as the long-run solution. Activities such as concerts, academic conferences, and public dissemination of information in the form of posters, pamphlets, television and radio spots and so on, have been undertaken as part of such campaigns. Gains from those activities include increased cooperation among various agencies to combat the problem and increased recognition among community leaders on the problem's severity.
Another problem besetting the country is the trafficking and exploitation of women. Here, Thailand's legal definition and practical guideline pertaining to the trafficking and exploitation of women is broader than that of the Convention, and covers "commercial sex work, labour exploitation, forced begging and any immoral act".
The Government has sought solutions to both domestic and cross-border sex trafficking in partnership with non-governmental organizations, foreign Governments, and international agencies. It has enacted laws dealing with trafficking and sexual exploitation, with offences and penalties enumerated in clear and specific terms. In the case of Thai offenders who exploit women and children in cruel working conditions and forced begging, Thai courts have been given the authority to prosecute even those actions conducted outside of Thailand.
However, the report says that Thailand is still weak in terms of law enforcement, which forms a crucial obstacle to the trafficking problem.
Regarding attitudes towards women in general, the Government is seeking to counter traditional attitudes that negatively impact women. This is being done through reforms within the education system, such as curricular changes and reform of teacher and educational personnel. In the public sector, every Ministry and department must have a centre for gender equity headed by someone with the rank of the Deputy Head of Ministry (or department) or higher, with the title of Chief Gender Equality Officer. That Officer must undergo training in gender mainstreaming and gender advocacy, and is tasked with promoting "equality within Government organizations to create favourable understanding and cooperation among male and female Government officers".
In terms of employment and economic empowerment, Thai law specifies that male and female workers must be treated equally, but the report noted that discrimination still exists, with employers setting "specific qualifications" for employment. The report also notes that "social attitudes" play a crucial role in determining whether jobs are appropriate for women.
Thailand acceded to the Convention with seven reservations, of which five have been removed. However, two reservations remain -- on the settlement of disputes between two or more States parties concerning interpretation or application of the Convention, and on marriage and family. Regarding the latter, the law on names requires a married woman to use her husband's surname and to use the designation of "Mrs". Also, if a woman has sexual intercourse with another man just once, the husband may cite this as a reason for divorce. However, men are allowed to have sexual intercourse with other women; his legal wife can only file for divorce if it can be proven that he "supports or honours another woman as his wife".
Introduction to Reports
WATANA MUANGSOOK, Minister of Social Development and Human Security, introduced Thailand's report, saying that 50 per cent of the Thai population of 65 million was female and, as such, were a valuable force in the country's development and economic growth efforts.
He said that the 1997 Constitution had led to the amendment of many laws and the establishment of several constitutional organizations to ensure the fair treatment of both women and men, as well as the protection of women's rights. Also, the transfer of the National Commission on Women's Affairs into the Office of Women's Affairs and Family Development Bureau (OWAFD) under the newly formed Ministry of Social Development and Human Security had given the body in charge of promoting women's advancement with a higher administrative status than before.
Mr. Muangsook also said that a special National Committee on the Promotion of the Rights of Women, Children and Youth, and the Disabled had been established in conjunction with the Ministry's mandates, and that members of non-governmental organizations and experts sitting on those committees provided transparency and a "broad outcome". He assured the Committee that the Committee's recommendations upon examination of Thailand's previous report had been disseminated to both the public and non-governmental sectors.
Regarding Thailand's reservation to article 16(g) of the Convention relating to family and marriage, he reported that it had been removed in 2003, so that married women could retain their maiden name after marriage. However, the few remaining provisions of the country's family law, which could still be seen as discriminatory, were continuously being raised and widely discussed among lawyers and legislators. New amendments concerning engagement and divorce were now under consideration by the Office of the Council of State, for instance. The Government was "doing its utmost to bring the country's Family Law in line with article 16 of the Convention, while ensuring that the adopted measures did not undermine the richness of Thailand's cultures and traditions", he said.
Also, with regard to the Committee's recommendation for the introduction of a specific anti-discrimination legislation, draft laws in a "gender equality bill" would provide a clear description of discrimination, specifying and addressing practices that would be considered as discrimination against women, he said. Similar legal instruments in other countries would be studied as guidelines, and plans were under way for public hearings on that draft instrument.
He then touched on six specific areas focused on by the Government: violence against women; the trafficking and exploitation of women; women's participation in political life and public office; minority, hill-tribes and ethnic groups; women workers; and social and economic benefits such as education, health and economic facilitation.
On violence against women, he said the Thai Cabinet had approved a draft act on the prevention and resolution of domestic violence, and endorsed "Eight Measures to Solve Problems Concerning Violence against Women", and "Policies and Plans to Eradicate Violence against Children and Women". Family centres at the community level act as surveillance networks to help prevent domestic problems and violence. A one-stop crisis service centre was now available in public hospitals throughout the country.
On the trafficking and exploitation of women, coordination was under way to ensure enforcement of the Prevention and Suppression of Human Trafficking Act, not only in countries of origin, but also to the destination countries, such as Japan or Germany, to ban the treatment of victims as criminals. The Act would also provide for the establishment of a fund to be derived from confiscated money or properties from human trafficking and related offences, and the money would be used to protect victims, their families and witnesses of human trafficking.
Since human trafficking was a transnational issue, the Government had made collective efforts to ensure close cooperation with neighbouring countries, including through a Memorandum of Understanding with countries such as Cambodia and the Lao People's Democratic Republic.
On women's participation in political and public life, networks in local politics and guidelines to promote gender equality among Government personnel had been established. In 2005, an increasing number of female members of parliament had been evident, alongside an augmented number of women holding top positions in civil service. The number of high-ranking women delegates represented in the delegation also spoke for the "ever growing and active participation of Thai women in political and public life", he said.
Thailand has also achieved the Millennium Development Goal of eliminating gender disparity in primary and secondary education. Women's access to health-care services had been improved through the "30 baht or 75 cents National Health System" that covered expenses relating to maternity and women's diseases, such as pregnancy, vaginal cancer and HIV medicines.
At the opening of the Committee's dialogue with the delegation, MARY SHANTHI DAIRIAM, an expert from Malaysia, paid tribute to the Government's numerous initiatives to improve the status of Thai women, which included institutional arrangements, legal reform and measures to stop violence against women.
While praising those efforts, she asked how discrimination against women was understood in Thailand. How had the agreement to the Convention's definition been demonstrated? Were development plans based on that definition? She also had questions regarding the relevance and applicability of the Convention in the country's domestic legislation. She was pleased that, to ensure the standards of the treaty, the Government was now proposing an anti-discrimination law, but wanted some clarifications in that regard. What was the time frame for the bill to be presented to the parliament?
She also drew the Government's attention to the need to publicize new laws, once they were adopted, and to provide training to judges, in that regard. In particular, women's capacity to use the law and bring cases before the Constitutional Plan should be developed through measures to raise awareness. Her other questions related to the functioning of the Office of the Ombudsman and other institutional arrangements within the country. In particular, she wanted to know what part of the budget went towards those structures.
MAGALYS AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ, an expert from Cuba, noted that the report and the presentation recognized many obstacles to the promotion of the goals of the Convention in the country. However, not all opportunities had been used to their full extent. Various special temporary measures could be very helpful in putting women on an equal footing with men, for example. While the report presented information on the "urgent policy" of establishing village and urban community funds, she wondered if women truly represented half of their members, as had been envisioned. She also asked about follow-up to the measures implemented.
Also participating in the debate as part of Thailand's delegation were: the Permanent Representative of Thailand to the United Nations, Laxanachantorn Laohaphan; Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Social Development and Human security, Kanda Vajrabhaya; Secretary-General for the President of the Supreme Court of Thailand, Jaran Pukditanakul; Director-General, Office of Women's Affairs and Family Development, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Suwit Kantaroj; Chairperson of the Centre for Philanthropy and Civil Society, National Institute of Development Administration, Juree Vichit-Vadakan; Director of the Labour Protection Bureau, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Sathaport Charupa; and the Deputy Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education, Mandhana Sangkhakrishna.
Also: the Senior Advisor in Medicine, Ministry of Public Health, Sriwanna Poolsuppasit; Director of the Burear of Policy and Strategy at the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Rarinthip Sirorat; Director of the Bureau of Gender Equality Promotion of the same Ministry, Chitrapa Soontornpipit; Counsellor, Department of International Organizations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Phantipha Iamsudha; Personal Assistants to the Minister, Pratana Phonprapha and Theppalit Keadchai; Social Development Technical Officer, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Pittha Israngkura Na Ayudhya; Thanida Menasavet of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and Nadariya Nopakun Phromyothi of the Permanent Mission to the United Nations.
On the definition of discrimination, one delegate said that the Government was preparing to adopt a definition that would address both direct and indirect discrimination, after having studied the United States and European legal systems. The new definition of gender discrimination should be wide enough to cover indirect discrimination.
He was unable to provide an exact time frame in adopting the law, but, taking into account the need to disseminate the draft to various organizations for review, followed by possible redrafting, it might take between six to nine months before Cabinet approval could be obtained. Thereafter, the law might be debated in parliament for a period of anywhere between two to five years.
He added that the Ministry of Justice, in particular its department for the protection of rights and promotion of liberty, would play a part in enforcing that law. Several independent organizations would guarantee the rights of women on an equal basis with men, including the Constitutional Court and other administrative courts. Most of those cases had to do with labour issues, or disputes over disability.
Another delegate added that 9,297 cases had been submitted to the Office of the Ombudsman. Among them, 7,837 had already been reviewed, and about 2,000 related to gender-based issues. She added that the Office of the Ombudsman had been responsible for questioning the constitutionality of the previous Name Act, which had required the wife had to use husband's surname upon marriage. It was subsequently deemed unconstitutional.
On whether the Convention concept was widely understood among judges, other members of the legal system, and the police, she said the Government had undertaken to educate those officials of the Convention's essence through an integrated training programme.
Responding to the question on village and urban community funds, she said it was the Government's hope that the special measures to ensure more ideas from women would be taken into account, making the programme more fruitful and successful.
On the status of the new women's mechanisms, she added that with the public sector reforms three years ago, the Government intended to group all closely related institutions together. Thus, women's and family affairs were grouped together, in the hope that related activities would complement each other. The budget allocations for gender issues were constantly increasing.
DORCAS COKER-APPIAH, an expert from Ghana, said that persistent stereotypes in Thai society were still having a negative effect on women's lives. For instance, a woman's role in marriage was reflected in a definition of rape in the country's Penal Code, which referred to a man's "sexual intercourse with a woman who is not his wife". The report recognized that such wording effectively allowed a husband to rape his wife with no penalty.
While persistent cultural stereotypes were being addressed through an educational reform, such efforts could not lead to the desired results unless all sectors of society were involved, she continued. What measures was the Government taking to change negative attitudes about women, taking into account all factors, including poverty and patriarchy? Did the new draft law on violence include a review of the definition of rape?
The situation in the neighbouring countries and poverty in Thailand itself fuelled the problem of trafficking in people, she said. Thailand had a reputation worldwide as a sex-tourism destination. It was well established that nearly half of the victims of trafficking ended up in the sex trade. They were usually under 18 years of age. The Government was taking a number of measures to confront the problem, but those had not had the desired result, due to a number of problems, including corruption. Had the country's proposed policy on trafficking and commercial exploitation of women and children come into force? What was being done to stop corruption among Government officials? She also wanted to know about the Government's collaboration with non-governmental organizations in its fight against trafficking and wondered about the situation of the citizenship of hill tribes.
SILVIA PIMENTEL, an expert from Brazil, highlighted the issue of domestic violence and emphasized the importance of the Committee's general recommendation in that regard. Women were traditionally regarded as subservient to men, and that was closely related to the problem of violence. She commended the Government for the efforts to set the indicators for evaluating the measures against violence. However, non-governmental organization reports had shown certain drawbacks in the draft law in that regard. She asked for clarifications on that issue. Since the draft was still being debated, she wanted to know if it was still possible to take into account the United Nations definition of violence in its preparation. What was the rationale for the violence draft providing for a maximum six-month jail punishment for domestic physical abuse, while the Criminal Code provided for a two-year punishment for other forms of violence? Didn't that make domestic violence seem less important?
On the domestic violence draft, a member of the delegation said that its conceptual framework was based on the efforts to help the victims of violence and not merely punish the perpetrators, but also rehabilitate them. Normally, the perpetrators were the bread-winners and their incarceration could harm the family. It was also important to avoid breaking up the victim's family. The draft never hindered the right of the victims to pursue the case against abusers, but it encouraged reconciliation if the abusive behaviour was not too severe. Psychologists, social workers and other professionals would be involved in the work with the victims.
The envisioned six-month penalty for domestic violence reflected the separate nature of that offence, he continued. In fact, the abuser might face double charges of up to two years for battery and assault under the Criminal Code and six months for domestic violence. Regarding the establishment of shelters, he said that many people were in favour of the draft's position that it would be better for the victim to stay at home, with a protection order from the authorities.
On marital rape, he said that it was a controversial issue within the Thai society. In the last three or four years, a proposal had been made to delete the words "who is not his wife" from the definition of rape, but it had encountered strong objections from the Council of State. Efforts were under way to reach a compromise on the matter. One of the options was providing for an exception in cases when a reasonable man would not commit such a wrongful act against his wife, for example if she was ill. With such a model, he was quite sure the language would be quite acceptable for both parties.
In response to the question on trafficking, another delegate said that the Prime Minister had made it a main issue in the national agenda, and had approved $12.5 million to assist victims. Among other things, that money would be made available to non-governmental organizations in the form of grants. A 500,000 baht project proposed by a non-governmental organization called "Foundation for Women" was approved last year.
Since poverty was seen as the root cause of trafficking, a poverty reduction programme had been launched. The new anti-trafficking act currently being considered by the State Council was expected to come into force in 2006, and would contain harsher punishment for traffickers, as well as provide for better treatment of victims.
In addition, in 2003, guidelines were approved and disseminated to non-governmental organizations and Government offices, on how to create the infrastructure needed to implement the policy. Capacity-building programmes were also provided to Government personnel. Also, baseline indicators were being developed, and subject to Cabinet approval, would be used in implementation guidelines.
Noting that it was a cross-border issue, she said that, in the last four to five years, the Government had assisted and repatriated about 2,000 women from neighbouring countries, in close cooperation with international agencies.
Another delegate followed up on the issue of cross-border anti-trafficking efforts, saying that guidelines for the repatriation and reintegration of victims were being disseminated to officials working at the provincial levels in Cambodia. A task force involving the Lao People's Democratic Republic was due to be held in February 2006. Training was also taking place to equip relevant personnel with "a common understanding".
Among the experts posing follow-up questions was CORNELIS FLINTERMAN of the Netherlands, who asked if it was possible for women to refer to explicit provisions of the Convention when taking a case to court, or if they could only refer to them in substance? Also, had they made the procedures of the Optional Protocol widely known?
HANNA BEATE SCHÖPP-SCHILLING, expert from Germany, asked whether the policy of temporary special measures had been included in the new draft gender law. She also commented on the Thai Government's decision to place women's issues and family issues together under one department, saying there was a danger that doing so might feed into pre-existing stereotypes.
MARIA REGINA TAVARES DA SILVA, expert from Portugal, asked whether moving the national machinery out of the Prime Minister's office resulted in its authority being lessened.
KRISZTINA MORVAI, expert from Hungary, asked what was the attitude of the Thai Government and society regarding the country's reputation as the "sex capital of the world". Did the delegates plan to address the issue of trafficking in a vacuum, while the sex tourism industry continued unabated? Was there any political will to get rid of the sex industry in Thailand and, if it were to happen, to what extent would the Thai economy be affected?
Responding to the question on the sex industry, one delegate said that the stereotyping of Thailand as a sex capital was not to the Government's or citizens' liking, and was an often hotly debated topic. It was a fallacy that Thailand's tourism industry was based on sex, she said. Discussions were, and did, take place on how to develop a tourism industry around the country's other features, such as culture, natural beauty and others.
On the Optional Protocol, another delegate explained that no one could apply the Convention's provisions directly in the country's courts. It was the Government's responsibility to translate its international obligations into domestic law before they could be applied.
He cited the case where a disabled individual's request to sit for the public prosecutor's examination was refused because "the appearance of his body was not suitable". The individual brought the case before the administrative court, which then reviewed it in light of Thailand's international obligations and submitted it to the constitutional court. Subsequently, the decision of the public prosecution authority was found unconstitutional.
Another delegate responded to the question of how the provisions of the optional protocol would be made known to Thai society, saying that the Office of Women's Affairs had announced it widely to various ministries and non-governmental organizations. However, that channel had not been used at all, indicating that cases could be solved satisfactorily within the country.
Another delegate addressed the question of the merging of women and family issues under one department. She said that, in reality, the two policy areas were administered separately, with one bureau focusing solely on women and the other on family. Only in special circumstances would their work be integrated.
She added that gender mainstreaming occurred under the guidance of high-ranking officers of different ministries, called chief gender equality officers. Private sector partners also participated in gender mainstreaming activities, examining their own training and scholarships programmes for possible discriminatory practices.
Thailand needed to do much more in the area of political and public life, HEISOO SHIN, expert from the Republic of Korea said. The report contained some inaccurate and conflicting statistics, in that regard. The Government needed to develop more systematic collection of data in the future. The proportion of women in the political field was much lower than expected. Only 10 per cent of the Senate members were women, for example. She wanted to know about the country's plans to increase the number of female Senators. It was also necessary to work with political parties in an effort to introduce quotas for their nominations. Special temporary measures would be needed to introduce targets for the number of women in such bodies as national committees. She also addressed the issue of women in diplomatic service.
ZOU XIAOQIAO, an expert from China, thanked the delegation for its informative presentation and asked for additional information on "a very complex procedure" for determining citizenship of hill tribes, which often led to corruption.
Mr. MUANGSOOK said that he would convey the experts' recommendations on elections to his Government.
Regarding corruption in determining the citizenship status of hill tribes, a member of the delegation said that certain abuses had been recognized by the authorities. However, if found guilty, the perpetrators were punished. It was difficult to determine the eligibility of members of hill tribe minorities for the change of citizenship. In particular, the procedure took a long time in view of the need to consider the possibility of drug or weapons smuggling. The Government was taking measures to expedite the process.
Another delegate said that there were 501 female diplomatic officers in her country, as compared with about 540 male counterparts. It was true that, at the higher level, men outnumbered women, but that could be traced to the prevalence of men entering the service as far back as 20 years ago. The present and future trends were very positive, as more women than men were entering the diplomatic service these days. As part of societal changes, women were becoming more ambitious and were increasingly posted abroad. They were also receiving more support from their families.
FRANÇOISE GASPARD, an expert from France, said that, while the Thai Government had not made any reservations regarding article 9 on nationality, there was still discrimination in that field. Foreign women marrying Thai men could get the country's citizenship, but a foreign man marrying a Thai woman could only become a citizen after five years, following a process of naturalization.
In response to this question, a member of the delegation said that, in 1996, a resolution to amend the nationality law had been passed, but objections had been raised to such an amendment, on the grounds of security. The national Commission on Women's Affairs did not agree with those objections and had requested the structures concerned to reconsider the issue. The matter had been deadlocked since, but efforts were being made to resolve the issue. As for the children of marriages with foreigners, the country's law clearly stated that they had equal rights.
Ms. AROCHA DOMÍNGUEZ, expert from Cuba, stressed that countries must pay attention to both human and economic factors in its pursuit of development. She noted the increase in girls' dropout rates from 2001 to 2002, and asked for more information on the level of enrolment of girls and boys in schools. She also asked if the increased number of female dropouts was a one-time occurrence, or if it was part of a trend.
Regarding the 2001-2006 health plan, she said special measures were adopted to protect minorities who were not eligible for health services. But, what of those who were not granted nationality? As for Thailand's sexual health services, both she and Salma Khan, expert from Bangladesh, asked about access to safe contraceptives. Ms. Arocha Domínguez noted that independent information received by the Committee from non-governmental organizations and other bodies, indicated that the nearly 20-year-old plan was not as effective as could be. Lack of contraceptive measures had resulted in a high rate of abortions. How was the Government dealing with that issue?
Ms. KHAN, expert from Bangladesh, also expressed concern about the large number of female workers in the textile industry, many of whom suffered from work-related ailments. Did provisions exist to ensure factories adhered to health and safety standards, as well as informed workers of health hazards, established good working conditions, and safeguarded women's reproductive and general health while on the job? She also asked if there were any minimum wage provisions and standard hours of work set for workers in the informal sector, including home workers.
On the country's HIV/AIDS prevention policies, Ms. Khan asked what specific measures had been taken to target young, marginalized women in the entertainment industry, as well as rural inhabitants.
She then asked about the post-tsunami effect on women's health, including their access to safe drinking water, and if the Government was responding to any special needs they might have. Also, many women minorities had lost their livelihood and were forced to live in worse conditions than before the tsunami. What measures were in place to help them, especially those who were heads of households?
Ms. Khan asked what was being done to ensure means of livelihood for nearly 200 women, whose husbands had died as a result of political violence in the south of the country. She also wanted to know about the measures to ensure that Muslim women in the south have access to education, social security, health care and economic opportunities.
Ms. PIMENTEL, expert from Brazil, asked if the country had policies in place to raise awareness on common responsibilities of men and women in the area of reproductive health. According to the report, the use of contraceptives had reached about 8 per cent in Thailand, but women still bore primary responsibility for contraception. Unplanned pregnancies often resulted in illegal abortions. She wanted to receive more detailed information on measures taken by the Government to diminish risks to women's health and to review existing legislation to protect women's reproductive rights.
FUMIKO SAIGA, expert from Japan, said that the work of village and urban community funds had been assessed as mostly successful. Had an evaluation been made in respect of a similar programme in the People's Bank? Did that institution provide services equally to women and men?
She appreciated the efforts to amend the country's name law, as recommended by the Committee in 1999, she continued, but it seemed that the situation of women's access to credit was not too much changed. A woman required her husband's consent to have access to credit. It was not an issue of marital designation, but of equal treatment of men and women.
She added that according to some reports, there was only one Buddhist nun in Thailand, but she had not even been ordained. Did she have the same rights as Buddhist monks?
Ms. ZOU said that 80 per cent of Thailand's population lived in rural areas, but the report did not provide enough information regarding their situation. Thus, it was difficult to evaluate how the Government was implementing the provisions of the Convention in that regard. Also, there were nine officially recognized minorities in the country who received less assistance from the Government than the rest of the population and she wanted to know about their situation. How were health and education programmes implemented in the rural areas? What was the situation concerning ownership of land for men and women?
Responding to questions concerning health and safety conditions at work, a member of the Thai delegation assured the Committee that both men and women were equally protected by the law. During pregnancy, a female employee would be protected from conducting harmful work, and given maternity leave of 90 days. It was not possible to terminate her employment because of pregnancy. On home workers, he said labour laws ensured that they must receive their wages as contained in contract, but they were not covered by a minimum wage law.
Regarding female overseas workers, the Thai Government recognized the special vulnerabilities they faced, and worked regularly to inform that group on both the benefits and risks of working abroad. Measures to protect the rights of Thai workers abroad included providing a safe passage home for workers who had been deceived by illegal employment agencies. Also, embassies and consulates provided assistance to those who were lured into prostitution, and help would be given to local authorities in those countries to prosecute those responsible.
The Government had also made attempts to reach women through vocational training centres, especially to benefit women in rural areas. Other methods of reaching the public included through television, radio, newspapers, leaflets and brochures.
Another delegate addressed questions on health. She reported an increase in the level of access of the poor to public health facilities after the Government embarked on its "30 baht National Health Policy". As for residents in remote areas, including hill tribes, special programmes administered by highland health centres and other social organizations had been established to provide such things as maternal health care, dental care, and vaccinations through the use of mobile health-care units. She noted that they could access regular public health services at low cost or no charge.
She said the Government recognized that high child mortality rates were a problem among hill tribes and some provinces in Thailand, and its goal was to reduce the rate by half by the year 2010.
Regarding unsafe, illegal abortions and the prevention of HIV/AIDS among young women, she said the Thai Government had taken a holistic and multisectoral approach to ensure access to different contraceptive methods and family planning services. Good quality condoms were accessible free of charge or through vending machines at low price throughout the community. Contraceptives were available at every pharmacy with no need for prescriptions. She noted that the law currently enabled physicians to terminate pregnancies in cases of severe health complications.
According to Thai family planning policy, women still bore responsibility for family planning. The Government had tried to promote male sterilization by providing free vasectomies, but this strategy had not been successful.
Turning to the question about dropout rates of schoolgirls, another delegate reported that, while there were more boys enrolled at primary schools than girls, those disparities disappeared at other levels because of girls' "tenacity" in school. Statistics from 1998 to 2005 showed that, from middle school onwards, there were more girls enrolled in school than boys. That was also true at the tertiary level. The non-formal education sector also showed higher rates of enrolment among women, even in rural areas. Also, more girls had been successful in attaining competitive scholarships, with 63 per cent of them going to girls.
Responding to the issue of unrest in the south, another delegate assured the Committee that it was a top national priority, and that the Government was committed to bringing about peace in the region. All cases of unnatural deaths had been investigated in accordance with the rule of law, with remedies paid to families of the deceased and injured amounting to 25 million baht. In addition, the Government had attempted to help affected people regardless of sex, religion and race.
In terms of the tsunami tragedy, she said that the Government acted promptly to provide assistance to all affected persons regardless of nationality and sex. The Prime Minister himself affirmed that, in providing assistance, there must be fair treatment without discrimination. On the question of women minorities who had not been well taken care of, she said that such incidents would have to be examined on a case-by-case basis, and a long-term plan of action must then be determined.
Another member of the delegation responded to the question about the nun, saying that there was a difference between a Christian nun, a nun within the Buddhist tradition and a Buddhist female monk. As opposed to a monk, a Buddhist nun did not need to be ordained, shave her head or wear special clothes. That practice was wide spread in Thailand. Women were also allowed to be ordained as Buddhist monks since the beginning of Buddhism. Those had to be ordained by a female monk before being ordained by a male monk. That could not be done at present, because there were no female monks in the country.
With regard to children in rural areas who did not have Thai nationality, ANAMAH TAN, expert from Singapore, asked how a draft rule that had been adopted in 2003 would help their situation. She also wanted to know about female victims of trafficking who did not have Thai nationality. Most of them were illiterate and did not have any documentation. How could they be assisted in an effective way?
Ms. MORVAI said that a big issue for rural women and women living in slums was that they often could not pay for their children's birth certificates and, as a result, the children did not have access to education and health care. She wanted to know what was being done to rectify that situation. Could young girls who got pregnant continue their education? What was being taught in sex education classes?
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING addressed the situation of home workers. Contract workers could be covered by new social security schemes, should it be adopted. What would happen to unpaid workers, who were family members? The report also referred to a small group of sub-contract workers who obtained work from employers without performing it themselves. They were making twice the money as contract workers. To her, that sounded like exploitation, and she wanted to know if sub-contractors were male or female.
Regarding rural workers, a member of the delegation said that, since the Government had started its people's bank scheme, about 80 per cent of women had applied for credit, which required no collateral. Women had been placed among the committee members of the village fund, and some studies showed that they had been very responsible in returning unpaid loans and monitoring the loans. The full impact of most schemes remained to be seen, but women were becoming more active in the economic sphere. She did not have sex-disaggregated data on land ownership, but she hoped that it would be available in the future. While traditionally relegated to domestic life, women had a voice in many decisions at the village level, and efforts were being made to promote their participation in the public life.
On non-Thai victims of trafficking, another member of the delegation said that, in 2005, a programme had been initiated to assist them, if it could be proven that they had been staying in the country. The matter was considered on a case-by-case basis, not necessarily on the basis of documents, but also evidence from people.
The law on the abortion had been revised, allowing termination of pregnancy if physical or mental health of the mother was in jeopardy, a delegate said. As an alternative, a system of shelters for pregnant women and childcare services had been proposed.
Regarding domestic workers, a delegation member explained that most home workers came from rural areas and needed the services of sub-contractors to find work. Sub-contractors received pay from employers and not from workers, who were supposed to be paid in accordance with their contracts. Unpaid home workers also had their rights as employees, within the framework of the social security funds.
Ms. SHIN congratulated Thailand for withdrawing its reservation to article 16(g) -- which stated that women had the same personal rights as husband and wife, including the right to choose a family name, a profession and an occupation -- but expressed disappointment that it could not do the same for other points in the article, such as the same right to divorce, and others. She asked about the status of those items.
She commented on a provision in Thai law stating that "if a man mistakenly has sexual relations with a girl over the age of 13 but under the age of 15" the Court would "permit the couple to marry without the man being prosecuted". That was tantamount to allowing marriage with a child.
She also called the waiting period of 310 days before re-marriage for widows and divorcees "absurd". As for the need for a wife to obtain written consent to undergo sterilization, would a man need consent to get a vasectomy, she asked? She asked what the National Human Rights Commission in Thailand was proposing to do about those discriminatory practices in marriage and family life.
The Government needed to send a clear message condemning domestic violence, she said. Often, domestic violence was not seen as "abnormal" in cases where society allowed it to exist.
A member of the Thai delegation responded by saying that promoters of the Convention were trying their best to encourage the Government to withdraw its reservation to all points under the article on marriage and family. Two sticking points included issues relating to divorce and to compensation in the breach of an engagement contract.
Responding to what he called "marriage between a statutory rape offender and his victim", he explained that, according to Islamic law of family and inheritance, applicable to Thai Muslims in the southern provinces, individuals were allowed to marry upon reaching puberty, which may be below the age of 15. He added, "How can a husband be punished for raping his own wife?"
As for the minimum age for marriage, he said that the law allowed it for people below the age of 17 for certain, exceptional reasons. "Offenders" would have to apply for permission from the family court to marry the "victim". The family court would give permission in cases where both people "loved each other" and where the families agreed they should marry. He said that such a case should be viewed as an "exception to the penalty, rather than an exception to the law." In 10 years, he himself had only come across one or two cases where such exceptions were made, and added that those unique situations deserved exception.
As for domestic violence abusers, he agreed with the expert, saying that they might appear ordinary but "could be insane" and that "many offenders had something wrong within their mental system" who deserved a chance at rehabilitation. He reminded the Committee that rehabilitation could only be assigned in place of punishment in domestic violence cases.
Following up on those comments, another delegate said that, in many instances, the legal framework precedes society's laws and vice versa. Social practices sometimes got ahead of the legal framework, and the country was "trying to find the right balance in practices relating to social justice and domestic violence, and so on". She then noted that, despite some discrimination, Thai women had a fair opportunity to advance themselves, and had done well in the spheres of education, decision-making and employment.
There was a need to improve not just the law but also social values and attitudes that were debilitating the full achievement of women's achievement in society, the delegate added. For that, it was necessary to concentrate on changing the mindset and attitude of the Thai people, and to seek an enduring impact.
GLENDA P. SIMMS, expert from Jamaica, said that an educational campaign could be useful to inform the country's men that they would not become impotent if they had a vasectomy. As for another remark by the delegation, indeed, women in Thailand had achieved great progress, but to reach true equality, it was necessary to look at "the intersection" of all factors, including race, class, gender and the situation of rural women.
DUBRAVKA ŠIMONOVIĆ, expert from Croatia, said that it was her impression that the Convention was perceived as a declaration, but not as a legally binding instrument in Thailand. It still needed to be transformed into national law. Under the Convention, that was a responsibility of each State party. It was encouraging that the country was considering withdrawing its reservation, and the position of the Committee was that it was urgently required.
Ms. TAN asked about the alimony in divorce settlements.
On article 16, Ms. BELMIHOUB-ZERDANI wondered about the proportion of Muslims, who were not subject to the national Family Law. It looked as if the entire population of Thailand was not subject to the same law. Were indigenous groups also following their own practices?
Ms. SCHÖPP-SCHILLING said that she had not received an answer on special temporary measures. The Constitution made it clear that preferential treatment of certain groups was not discriminatory. In its general recommendation on temporary special measures, the Committee had explained that such measures were most appropriate to achieve de facto equality. It seemed that the measures applied in the country were being applied in an ad hoc manner and were not obligatory for the Government. Thus, it was important to accelerate equality through obligatory special temporary measures.
A member of the delegation said that he appreciated the recommendation on special temporary measures, which could prove really beneficial for his country. Such measures as special scholarships for girls could seem to be discriminatory against boys, but they would really advance gender equality in the area of education.
The Government respected the binding nature of the Convention, he added, but individuals might not perceive it that way. As for the Muslim law applicable in the four provinces, he said that only 5 to 6 per cent of the population were Muslim. Islam was not only a religion, but also a way of life, which treated the law of marriage as the law of God. Thus, the Government could not enforce its laws on its Muslim population. Thus, an exception had to be provided.
Regarding alimony, he said that it could not be enforced by punishing the debtor. Usually, such measures as salary deductions on the order of the court were employed. However, if a husband was unemployed, such measures could not be enforced.
Another member of the delegation added that the notion of indigenous people was not used in Thailand.
The Committee's Chairperson, ROSARIO G. MANALO, expert from the Philippines, said that today's dialogue had highlighted the issues of violence, trafficking and prostitution, legal reform and society's attitudes towards women. While truly appreciating the efforts of the Government, members of the Committee had noted that much still remained to be done. The experts had provided the Government with useful recommendations, which could be advantageous to the advancement of women in the country.
In his closing statement, Mr. MUANGSOOK said that the Convention provided guidance for the advancement of women in Thailand. Not only did it shed light on how to move forward towards the elimination of some gender-biased laws, norms and attitudes, but it also encouraged dialogue, both nationally and internationally. The preparation and presentation of the report had been a useful learning process. Today was the first time that he had attended a conference relating to social issues as a Minister.
Promotion of women's rights was not a burden to his country, he said. The principles of the Convention would enable Thailand to realize the road towards promoting positive changes. That instrument provided an effective monitoring system, which helped the country to fully utilize the capacity of its human capital. The true understanding of the Convention's spirit and objective would inspire the Government to be aware of existing gender disparities and concentrate its energy on the transformation that would change the face of Thailand.
"We will make change and accomplish progress, not to please the Committee, but because these are fair changes that will benefit Thailand and the world community", he said. His Government had introduced several initiatives to draft new or amend existing domestic laws to align them with what was required under the Convention. Some of the efforts, for example the law on marital rape, or the nationality of foreign women marrying Thai men, might not find a good response from the security structures within the Government. However, he would continue to search for an agreeable solution in the best interests of women.
He assured the Committee that the Thai Government would uphold its commitment to the goals of eliminating gender discrimination and protecting and promoting the human rights of women domestically and internationally. He looked forward to the Committee's constructive recommendations in that regard.
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