BANGKOK — Women migrant construction workers and their children in Thailand are exposed to violence and abuse in hazardous living conditions, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The report by the UN children’s agency (UNICEF) underscores the risks to laborers from some of the poorest countries in Asia.
Besides physical abuse and limited access to healthcare and education, the 60,000 or more migrant children living in construction site camps are particularly vulnerable to child labor, according to the report.
Nearly a third of the children surveyed said they had started working before turning 15, the legal minimum age. Almost 90 percent had suffered some form of physical violence.
“These experiences of violence are severe barriers to the children’s physical, emotional and social development, in addition to being threats to their basic safety and well-being,” said Thomas Davin, UNICEF’s Thailand representative.
“That is not a childhood for any child.”
Thailand has more than 3 million migrant workers, according to the International Organization for Migration, with rights groups putting the figure higher.
Construction is the top employer of migrant workers, with women from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos making up about 40 percent of the nearly 600,000 documented migrants in the sector, according to the International Labour Organization (ILO).
They are a rarity in an industry generally dominated by men. But they are paid less than men, get few maternity or childcare benefits, and are more exposed to safety risks, the ILO said.
Families live in refashioned containers or flimsy shacks of tin and plywood at the sites, with poor sanitation and limited access to potable water, according to the survey of 119 migrant parents and children in 21 sites in northern Thailand.
More than 40 percent of mothers said they had experienced some form of abuse or physical violence, it said.
“I was shocked at the extent of the violence faced by women and children,” said Nicola Crosta of Baan Dek Foundation, a non-profit which helps to provide education and healthcare to migrant workers at construction sites.
“But many companies are stepping up to provide better facilities and services, which can help reduce the incidence,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Since taking power in a 2014 coup, Thailand’s ruling junta has had varying degrees of success in regulating the foreign workforce, spurred partly by media reports that unregulated workers faced exploitation by employers.
Thai industries are under international scrutiny this week as a team of UN experts undertake their first visit to the country to examine human rights in a range of businesses.