Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Why Hong Kong Women don’t Want to Have Babies

Saturday, 19 November 2011 12:47 Banyar Kong Janoi

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Download The global population just reached seven billion.

But the Hong Kong government wants their women to have more babies.

While Mainland China has a strict one child family policy the Hong Kong territory government is trying to encourage married women to have three children by offering tax incentives.

Hong Kong has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. If current trends continue, a quarter of Hong Kong's population will be 65 or over by 2031.

Banyar Kong Janoi takes a look at why many Hong Kong women don’t want to have babies and if the government’s incentives will work.

A 21-year-old university student, Aman Wong, is determined never to get married.

“I think I am quite selfish so I don’t think I can give up for others. Because of that I don’t think I should just find somebody and then he do everything for me, but I am not doing anything for him. So I feel bad. Second thing is the guys here are not mature enough. You know there is a word ‘kidult’. We call guys kidult because they are adults but they act like kids. A lot of guys, when they go back home, play computer games and just sit in front of the computer. I don’t want to be like I am having a boyfriend and I feel like I am having a child.”

This year’s census has revealed that the number of adult unmarried women in Hong Kong has increased by more than 60 percent in the last two decades.

In response the Hong Kong government is trying to encourage women to have babies with money.

Parents can claim tax breaks worth more than 20,000 US dollars.

Aman says this will not change her mind.

“The government policy, it is good they have the policy to help people and make people to get married because they think one of the concerns is why people don’t get married, is they think it will be too costly for them to get married and have a child so they don’t want to have that. But for me it is not whether to have the economic stability. I think for most Hong Kong people why don’t get married is because they have economic backup already and they have ability to earn money so they don’t think they should get married to rely on men.What Hong Kong government is doing now is “Oh you got benefit when got married” but I don’t think that benefit attracts me a lot.”

But she says some of her friends have been encouraged by the government incentives to get married but they don’t necessarily have children.

“I know some of my friends, they are older than me, they really do get married because of the government policy. They don’t have enough money, they get married, they have their wedding, and they register under the government registration so legally they are couple. But they don’t live together yet. They just have the names so that they can be together so they can apply for the government housing which is much cheaper.”

Local companies are also trying to encourage couples to have children.

DBS Hong Kong Bank introduced a policy earlier this year called “5@5” allowing their employees to go back home at 5pm instead of 9pm.

American Express has introduced flexible work arrangements during school exam seasons when many parents take time off to help their children prepare.

And the accounting giant KPMG offers employees with families up to 40 days more leave than workers without children.

Bonnie Lam who works with a technological equipment selling company says incentives like these do encourage her to have a family one day.

“I think this is a benefit for the employee. For sure, if I have a family, I welcome this policy but even if I don’t have a family; I also welcome this policy because it is good to the workers. It can enhance a sense of belonging to the company and it is good to all employees”

But 33-year-old Bonnie is not in a relationship yet.

“May be too busy during these years, I think so. I am looking for another relationship but no target at this moment so it is OK, just follow my heart and just wait for the new one. I think my social cycle is too small and too busy on working and also too lazy to get out. I think this is the main point.  I am too lazy to get out and I always watch TV.”

Dr. Lau Yuk-king is doing research into the family friendly policies in Hong Kong and Mainland China.

She says Hong Kong women have high expectations when it comes to relationships.

“I think traditional ideology, even our university graduate girl wants to find someone have the same education level or higher education level. Even if she has a very good job and good earning she still wants to find someone who has a better job and a better earning. So it is really difficult. It is extremely difficult for Hong Kong women. Because they have their own comfortable life so they prefer if they can’t find a good mate, they remain single.”

Those that do marry usually have one or two children. Dr. Lau Yuk-king says that it is because the education system is very competitive in Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong is not a good place for people to live. It is a good place for people to earn money but the quality of life is so low in Hong Kong and the competition is so king. So if we have children, we have to worry about them the whole life because there are high probabilities that they will lose in competition if we do not have intensive input on their study, language training or the whole personality development. We have to do a lot of thing to make sure our children do not fail in the competition. So it is burdensome for us not only money but also psychologically.”

In order to slow down the aging population she argues that rather than pushing women to have more babies the government should encourage more migration.

“We may invite more people to come to Hong Kong if replacement rate so low; welcoming outsiders to become us is one of the way but how could to be selected in the process. The government has to think about it. How about domestic helpers? I think if they have stayed over 7 years, we should honor their rights to become one of the Hong Kong citizens because everyone can get this kind of rights. It is not fair to discriminate against them because they are domestic helpers.”

However, the government is still not allowing domestic foreign workers who have lived in the territory for a long time to become permanent residences.

This is despite a court ruling in favor of the domestic workers.

Instead the government would prefer their own women to have more babies.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Philippine Immigrant Maid Wins Landmark Hong Kong Case

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Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Hong Kong's High Court has ruled that a domestic helper from the Philippines should be allowed to apply for permanent residency in the city.

The case was brought by Evangeline Banao Vallejos, who has worked to for the same Hong Kong employer for more than 25 years.

The ruling could lead to more than 100,000 other foreign maids winning rights to residency.
Banyar Kong Janoi takes a look at why the case is so import to the lives of thousands of people.

A group of Filipinos play games, while others watch a culture performance in Victoria Park.
It’s 43 years old Minda only day off. She comes here to forget about work.

“I sleep in the toilet because they don’t give me a room. They put the bed there.”
She says if lunch was three minutes late her boss would get so angry she threw a fork at her.

“She said the water is dirty, I said it is dirty because I’ve cleaned the floor already. So she is angry she gets a bottle of water and throws it to me. I was scare so I called the police.”

She had two weeks to find another employer or she would have had to leave Hong Kong.

“I found another employer but still crazy. You see I have a mark because she hurt me on Monday night. She said I didn’t properly wipe up her daughter because I was taking a bath to her daughter. I didn’t finish to wide her body yet and than she come and peel her, and it is still wet. She gets the towel.”

And she beat Minda. She shows me the red marks on her arm.
In one high profile case a domestic worker from Indonesia had a hot iron placed on her neck by her employer.

“Foreign domestic worker if we complain our abuse, we immediately we lose our job.”
Eman Villanueva is the secretary General of United Filipinos in Hong Kong. They advocate for greater rights for domestic workers.

“So in our case, it will difficult to complain because that would mean losing your job; that would be going back home and that would be no job for me. It is not easy. Especially, if I have my family; I am supporting my children to go to school; if I am paying some debts, that is not acceptable. So I will rather keep silent; I will rather not complain even I am being abused as long as I can bear the abuses. Because of the absence of permanent residency for foreign domestic workers, we become very vulnerable to abuses and exploitation.”

If you live in Hong Kong for more than seven years legally you have the right to become a permanent resident.

But until now, not if you are a foreign domestic worker. This week’s landmark court decision that a Filipino domestic workers can apply for residency changes that.
There are more than 300,000 foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong, mainly from Indonesia and the Philippines.

It is thought that around thousand have lived here for more than seven years and now could potentially also apply for residency.

The case has sparked a great deal of debate in Hong Kong.
Some people are worried that their jobs will be taken if more foreign workers are allowed to stay.
The government has argued that it will create a burden on social welfare because workers will bring in relatives and children.

But Eman says that is not true.
“It is superficial. It a made-up belief. For example, they said that once we get the permanent residency half of million people will come. That is the exactly what happened in case of Mainland Chinese. 12 years ago, the Hong Kong government also said the same thing. Because of the court ruling favouring Mainland children, they said 1.67 million Mainland Chinese will come to Hong Kong in span of ten years. Now 12 years after, there is only eight thousand of them who came.”

Back in Victoria Park where domestic workers come to relax on their day off...women say even if they were given permanent residency they wouldn’t want to stay.

“No, I don’t interested because the cost of living in Hong Kong is very high. So if stay out we need to pay for the house, we need to pay our own food and daily affair. I think working in the same employer and without taking permanent residence is okay.”

For them this court decision is not so much about living in Hong Kong, but it is about having the legal power to stand-up for rights at work and having the option to stay.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Burma’s Civil War Denies More Children an Education

Burma’s Civil War Denies More Children an Education

Saturday, 27 August 2011 14:25 Banyar Kong Janoi . Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi
Burmese rights groups say thousands of children in conflict areas are missing out school as physical survival and food security takes priority.
Rights groups say nationally 60 percent of Burmese children don’t finish primary school and in conflict areas the situation is worse.

Fighting that broke out in early June between the government troops and armed groups ethnic groups has displaced thousands of people including many children.
Banyar Kong Janoi reports from a make-shift school in a refugee camp, in provincial capital of the Kachin state, Laiza.
Sitting on bamboo benches and writing on flat bamboo tables, children read sentences written in chalk on the blackboard; they are paying close attention to their teacher.

These students have been recently displaced from their homes by the fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army or KIA.
Dressed in the school uniform- a white Shirt and a green skirt- 17-year-old Kha Lan says she has dreamt of going to university since she was a little girl.
“My plan is after I finish grade 9th this year, I will attend high school either in Myitkyina or in our town then I will go to a university in Burma.”

But in early June she was forced to leave her village due to fierce fighting.

“On that day, KIA soldiers told us to leave so we came to Laiza with our classmates. I want to be educated. I believe educated people can achieve things in life. I would like to be an actress I want to entertain people to keep them happy.”
Kha Lan is one of thousands of children, who have had their education disturbed by civil war in Burma.

Roi San is the headmaster of a refugee high school in Laiza.

She says children like Kha Lan are the lucky ones as they can continue their education at the refugee camps.
“There are lots of children who cannot attend school at all during the year because they have to run from one place to another. But it’s even hard for the children in the camp who are getting some education to focus on their studies when their lives are so uncertain. Children who get behind in school lessons often just drop out.”

She says they don’t have enough teachers to teach all the displaced children; her staff are already working overtime.
“Some students can catch up the lesson they missed when on the run but some cannot. Besides they are living in a very crowd camp so it’s hard for them to focus. There are a lot of difficulties for them. They don’t have stationery such as books and pens with them. They left them at home when ran from the war. We hand out equipment as much as we can.”

Anna Lena Till is doing research about Burmese refugee education in shelters along Thai-Burmese border for her post-graduate academic paper.
“Education in Burma is not stable; as soon as Burmese army comes to village, comes to schools everybody has to flee and hide in the jungle, for example. So a five days school week is not possible because the education disturbed so often.”

Till said students at shelters in Thai-Burmese border can get a high school education in the camp but there is still no hope of them being able to go to university.

“There was a pilot project in some years ago, whereas were ten students from the shelters were selected to take part entrance exam to a Thai University, an English program. Actually, they passed the test so the Thai university were ready to accept them. But the issue is the [Thai] ministry of interior policy which does not allow them to leave the shelters. So in the end, they could not go [to the university] because the ministry of interior did not give them permission.”

Less than five percent of Burma’s state budget will be spent on education this year. While nearly quarter will go into military expenditure.

According to the United Nations, 60 percent of Burmese children do not finish fourth grade; 19 percent drop out after first grade.

U Myint Wai is the duty director of the Thai Action Network for Democracy in Burma.

He runs a Sunday school for Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok. He says an uneducated generation is dangerous for both Thailand and Burma.

“Only a few students finish high school. So without higher education, these migrant workers struggle to understand the Thai legal process and their rights. If they don’t know their rights, they are not able to take opportunities. They also don’t know if they bringing diseases with them when they go back to Burma. We are very concerned about how our country can progress without educated people.”

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rape Being Used as a Weapon of War in Burma

Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Burmese Rights activists and the US based Human rights watch are accusing the Burmese military of crimes against humanity.
They say the Burmese army is raping civilan women in the conflict zones where there is separatist fighting between the state army and armed ethnic groups who are demanding greater independence.
Banyar Kong Janoi in a village in Kachin State hears the story of one such rape victim.

It is raining when I arrive in a small village in the Kachin state where 35 year old Ma Myit lives.
Ma Myit is not her real name; she asked to stay anonymous.
She says all her life she has lived in fear of Burmese soldiers.  
“When I was about 15 years old, I was out in the woods finding food for pigs along with other girls from our village. There is a Burmese battalion posted near our village and when soliders saw us they tried to catch us. Luckly I escaped then. Some of my friends who couldn’t run fast enough were caught and raped by the soliders.”
But this year on the 20th of June Ma Myit wasn’t so lucky.
“Our village is on the way between Myitkyina and Bhamo. I was heading to Bhamo for a religious meeting. There was fighting on the way, so I was walking around the paddy field instead of going straight to avoid confrontation. Unfortunately, I met the Burmese soldiers in the paddy field and they captured me.”
She says the Burmese soldiers used her as entertainment for five days.  
“The soldiers took me along with their army battalion, passing by many villages. During that time they were raping me every night. I don’t want to recall my experience with them. I feel bad even when talking about it now. I don’t want to recall anything: I just want to forget it. I was forced to sleep with a soldier and a colonel. In the middle of the night, the colonel came to me. I screamed, but the soldier beside me said nothing and neither did other people. The colonel and I struggled. I think he is about 60 years old. In the morning, I told the soldiers that if they continued to assault me this way they would have to kill me first.”  
Ma Myit escaped and ran to a Shan village where she asked for help.
“I was naked and came knocking at a house the village in the middle of the night. The people came out of and pointed with flash lights.”
Then a woman gave her clothes and brought her some food.
The next day they helped her return home.
Ma Myit is one of the many women force to live with the horrors of war.
Ma Naw Myay Sein is from a Kachin womens organization in the provincal capital Laiza.
The group is documenting rape cases taking place in the Kachin State.  
She shows me some documents and pictures of the raped victims.  
“We have documented a lot of rape cases. As an example case, two Burmese officers raped a woman on the way when she went to a rice field. One officer ordered her to perform oral sex and another assaulted her. While one of the officers attempted to kill her, she ran away. There are countless cases we have received but some cases we can not verify so we have to put them aside. In some cases, the victims were able to escape, but some were killed by the Burmese soldiers on the spot.”
They have verifyied 18 rape cases commited by the Burmese soldiers since the fighting broke out in the Kachin state in early June.
Kachin independence activist Htoi Bu says the human rights abuses are politically motivated.  
“In Kachin State, if the Burmese soldiers see a passerby, they asked: ‘Are you Kachin?’ If he or she answers yes, he or she will be killed. In the worst cases, women including young girls are raped and killed by the Burmese army. We have heard that the soldiers get their orders from their senior officers. This kind of act is really inhumane and shameful among Burmese people and in the international community. If the Burmese government is to be genuine in its call to build a united country, they must recognize that Kachin people are their people.”
Elaine Pearson is Human Rights Watch’s deputy Asia director.  
She says it is time to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate the allegation of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Burma.
“Clearly, the Burmese government has shown that they are unwilling to address this kind of abuses unless there is some kind of external pressure. So the number one thing we are calling the commission of inquiry to investigate is this allegation of war crimes. This would then lead to an international independent investigation. And we believe that could indeed play a role in deterring the future violation of human rights and future abuses by the Burmese army.”
The co-ordinator of a relief committee for the Kachin, La Rip said international communities should respond quickly to this emerging humanitarian crisis.
“The fighting should not be excuses for these abuses. Simply people around here would say that ‘aww, it can be because the war is there, because the fighting hasn’t been stopped, so the abuses would happen.’ No, actually, I don’t agree with that. Even the fighting if there has been on dialogue at the moment that kind of abuses should be totally stopped. And if those kinds of abuses are taking place, international organizations, who are responsible to protect civilians, should take immediate actions.”

Friday, August 19, 2011

‘We have to Dance to the Rhythm of War Music’: Kachin Refugees

Saturday, 13 August 2011 13:16 Banyar Kong Janoi

Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Burmese Rights groups are calling on international humanitarian organizations to help the growing number of people fleeing the conflict between the Kachin Independence Army and Burmese government army.
Thousands have already been displaced from the conflict that started in June.
As fight spreads to neighboring Shan and Karen states hundreds more are fleeing to the Chinese border everyday.
Local refugee groups as they don’t have the resources to look after them.
Banyar Kong Janoi reports from a make-shift camp in Laiza.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Generation War in Burma

Saturday, 06 August 2011 15:15 Banyar Kong Janoi

Photo: Banyar Kong Janoi

Download Despite ceasefire talks being attempted between the Kachin Independence army and the Burmese government, fierce fighting in frontline areas is still taking place.
As with other armed ethnic groups, the Kachin have abandoned their previous claim for independence from Burma.
Instead want they say they are fighting for is a certain degree of autonomy over their own affairs which would guarantee respect for their own rights and culture.
Banyar Kong Janoi reports from Kachin Independent Army headquarters in Laiza.

The Kachin Independent Army’s headquarters in Laiza is a hive of activity for senior officials to fight against Burmese army.  
A big map is hanging on the wall with a line of remark where the current fighting is.
Update military reports hang to senior officials.  
The Burmese soldiers fire their rockets to Laiza.  
Using high-tech equipment, such as Google earth software, an officer tracks where Burmese soldiers fire their rockets. It is about 9,000 meters far from Laiza.
Thirty years old Htoi Bu has joined Kachin Independence Organization, the political wing of KIA, after her post-graduated in linguistic five years ago as a campaigner.
She is campaigning among young people about their struggle.
Despite ceasefire talks between the government and the KIA, she said this war will not end soon.
“I think this civil war will be widespread around the country; not only in border of Kachin State, but also other cities. The ethnic armed groups have an agreement, if we cannot solve the problem with the Burmese government politically, we have to solve militarily.  That’s why; all ethnic groups will fight for their rights until they can achieve what they want.”
Some 17,000 people have been displaced by the fighting that began in early June.
But Htoi Bu says her people are use to suffering.
“We are fighting federalism so we can be governed by our own people. The way junta governs us today is threaten our culture, language, and religion so this fighting is meaningful for us. Of course, our people are suffering because of this war but we have been facing much more trouble under Burmese military government. So we believe this war is worth the sacrifice.”
La Nan is the joint-secretary of the Kachin Independence Organization.  
He said if the Burmese government is genuine about a ceasefire, they should make a nationwide ceasefire with all ethnic armed groups.
“If we want to stop this civil war, it is impossible to make a deal only one group. Now, the government has been fighting against with Shan, Kachin, Karen, and Mon. So first they should stop fighting against those groups and then start talking about the ceasefire plan. If they even do not stop fighting against those groups, how we can believe this ceasefire is genuine? We know, we cannot find a solution by military means. At the end of the day, we have to talk and negotiate to find a solution.”   
The fighting in June marked the end of 17 years ceasefire agreement.
The agreement defined a framework for future business deals and outlined a portion of the Kachin State that would fall under the KIO's control.
However, the document was never made public, which made the assessment of its implementation difficult.
La Nan said signing that agreement back in 1994 was a mistake.   
“At that time, only two parties: KIO and junta witnessed the ceasefire agreement. No one knew what the agreement was about. Besides, we did not have a third a party to monitor the agreement. As a result, the government as they were the biggest force was taking advantage of the deal and they did whatever they want.”
La Nan says they do not want to make the same mistake again.
“If we have to sign ceasefire again, we need to have a clear timeline on what both parties will do for the country’s political development. Besides, we need a third party to monitor the agreement for who is taking advantage of it. We are ready to sign a ceasefire agreement if it is solid and has some kind of guarantee. We don’t want only talk without solid evidence. We have experienced when Burmese military said they would stop fighting but later they fought us again.”
He says they would accept China as the third party observer.
Laiza is crossed by a stream marking the Chinese border and About 300,000 Kachin also live in neighboring China.
“China should not think, this matter is internal problem. This problem is not internal problem, when the fighting broke out, it affected Chinese investment inside Burma plus more refugees will flee to China so it affected them directly. So they should involve solving the problem.”
La Nan says recent ceasefire talks between KIO and Burmese government official in Laijayang did not reach a solution.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has sent a letter to government and ethnic armed groups calling for a political solution to be found instead of trying to solve disputes with guns.
Her effort was welcomed by the ethnic groups.
La Rip, coordinator of a refugee relief committee for the Kachin, said both sides should not proud of their fighting.
“Fighting between them in military form, using military equipments also hurt civilian population and also daily activities of normal people. That’s why; there should be a space for dialogue negotiation and peace talk to find lasting solution. It is not no matter who win [this war], they should not be, both sides KIA and military government, should not be proud of claiming a victory one another. There won’t be that kind of victory against each other, I think. The finding solution is a victory for all: for KIA, Burmese government and civilian population.”

Monday, July 04, 2011

Living the dream

A non-profit school helps Burmese migrant workers improve their local job prospects

Clad in a black-and-white school uniform, Khine Mi Mi Thein, 22, listens attentively to her Thai teacher in class.

The computer science graduate from the University of Computer Studies in Mawlamyine, Burma is among more than 600 students attending Sunday classes for Burmese migrant workers in Bangkok. They study the Thai and English languages and computing skills in hopes of a better future here.
Founded in early 2003, the DEAR Burma School is run by the non-profit Thai Allied Committee with Desegregated Burma Foundation (TACDB).
With more than 700 students each year, the school offers 17 classes for English language, 15 for Thai and five for computers. Students pay only 350 baht a course.
"I hope my life will get better after learning new skills and knowledge from this school," said Khine Mi Mi, her eyes radiant with hope.
Coming to Thailand to pursue her dream of a better job, she works as a manual labourer in a Samut Sakhon car equipment production factory.
Working from 8 am to 8 pm, she earns only 315 baht a day, although that is five times more than she could earn as a skilled worker in Burma.
The bus trip to the school in central Bangkok's Ratchathewi district takes her two or three hours.
School director U Myint Wai said the school provides migrant workers not only better skills, but also knowledge about their rights and Thai labour regulations.
"As many Burmese migrant workers do not speak or read Thai, they don't know local laws, regulations or traditional culture, so problems often occur between Thai authorities and migrant workers. We want to solve this problem by providing them with training," said U Myint, who is also the deputy director of the TACDB.
He said supplementary courses include environmental awareness, labour and human rights, and legal aid.
Domestic helper Ma Moe Moe, 42, has dreamed of learning Thai since first arriving in this country. Her dream became reality when she first signed on with the school five years ago.
"I've been working hard to please my employers, as I don't want them to stop me from studying," she said.
"I learn a lot here. Apart from language skills, I've studied workers' rights. For example, I know that Thai regulations guarantee workers a minimum wage."
The school is also a venue for meeting up with friends. Burmese food and products are sold on campus, and the sound of students chatting in Burmese and other ethnic languages from her country make her feel at home.
"We exchange both good and bad news among ourselves," said Ma Moe. "My mind has really opened up."
Hla Min Aung, who has also studied at the school for five years, is one example of a success story.
He now sells garments in Soi Nana. Using his English- and Thai-language skills, he usually earns about 400 baht a day working from 5 pm to midnight.
As well, he does some freelance interpreting for Burmese tourists in Bangkok and occasionally acts as a middleman for Burmese companies, buying local products and shipping them back to his home country.
"The school's education has been very helpful. My life has improved. Without these languages skills, I could not do the job I'm doing now," said Hla Min.
Amnesty International (AI) says more than a million Burmese migrant workers are employed in various Thai sectors including fisheries, manufacturing, domestic work, construction, hotels, restaurants and agriculture.
Thai Labour Ministry figures show 149,990 Burmese migrants are registered.
In 2005, AI reported Burmese migrant workers in Thailand faced pay that was well below the minimum wage, unsafe and unclean working and living conditions, vulnerability to harassment, arrest and deportation at the hands of the local police and a lack of access to the levels of education and medical care that were available to Thai workers.
U Myint said the school cannot solve all these problems, but it is a first step.
The DEAR Burma School is looking to expand to other locations, but this can only happen with the cooperation of donors and the Thai Labour and Education ministries, he said.
U Myint said the school is negotiating with both ministries to be recognised as a vocational training institute.