Thursday, 6 October 2011

Granting the rights to healthcare for stateless people in Thailand: The case of migrant children in Muang District of Ratchaburi Province in 2010

This article aims to extract our lessons learnt in promoting the migrant children's right to health service. Firstly I would like to say “thank you” on behalf of the children to those who still think of marginalised population in Thailand who has no access to health service. Although the cabinet resolution granting this right was issued on 23 March  2010, it was not well publicised and only few relevant government agencies aware of this new regulation. The question now is how “migrant children and those who have no citizenship” can enjoy their right to health.

The cabinet resolution issued on 23 March 2010 regulated that the Ministry of Public Health must “return” the basic rights to the 457,409 stateless people – with the allocated budget of 472,823,683.30 Thai Baht. This can be operated from 1 April 2010. The guideline was that the people with identity number begin with (3) (4)  (5) (6) (7) (8) and (0) shall register themselves at the public health units in their locality without any cost. This should be done within three months starting from 1 April 2010. As I already mentioned earlier, this policy was appreciated. However, there have always been gaps in turning policy into practices.

When I first saw this cabinet resolution sent to a public health office, it was on the 9th of May 2010 – which is almost one and a half month passed the starting date of April the 1st. At that stage, only a few knows about this cabinet resolution, and moreover, the public health officials were not clear about the procedure of how this could be done, which offices exactly could register the stateless population, and what are the difference among the various digits of identify numbers. There has not been any public campaign whether through leaflets or cutouts that target stateless population. It was only “rumors” spreading amongst the migrants that they have the right to register for healthcare service, but nothing else is known.

As LPN has provided education opportunity to more than one hundred migrant children by sending them to government schools, and these children possess identity numbers which begin with (6) (7) (0) and etc. depending on how their parents were categorized; LPN therefore facilitated the registration process for these students. Documents they needed to bring with them for the registration include Thor Ror 38 Kor ( ทร.38 ) and their identity card. On the first day, it takes almost the whole day for the officials to register around 10 children as they have had no clear instruction. They themselves were not sure if all the children brought by us were eligible for this right. 

LPN realised that time is short, therefore, to speed up the process, we coordinate with schools to gather the list of children with eligible identity numbers as specified in the cabinet resolution. After that the step of making copies of the Thor Ror 38 Kor for each individual child had faced problem. The officials refused to make copies of documents if the children were not presented (as we did not bring the children with us). We had to explain and refer to the cabinet resolution to persuade the officials.

I am sure that there are much more children who are eligible to register for healthcare service and their parents are not aware of this right. Although there have been migrant children went to claim this right, but, still, many of them fail to.  This is due to various reasons; first of all, they do not know that this right was entitled. Secondly, many children do not have a permanent house registration, and this makes it not possible to identify the health unit where they should go for free service. With regards to permanent house registration, some parents made an effort to move children out of a central house registration, but fail to register them into a new house within 15 days. As a result, the children were removed from the house registration database and are not eligible for anything. To re-register them into the system is also challenging, as an official is needed to approve their status, and they are quite reluctant to do so for migrant children.

After my experience in this process, a suggestion occurred: If the Thai government wants to help this marginalised and underprivileged population in accessing the right to healthcare, a public campaign on this right should be developed and made it known among relevant governmental agencies including schools, village headmen as well as municipalities and district offices.

What had happened was that some target population came to know about registration for healthcare only when the deadline was closed. They then had to go through all troubles like being absent from work, hunting for their house registration documents which may take them to travel across provinces, not to mention costs that occurred from these efforts.

Another point that I want to make with regards to this cabinet resolution is that if the intention of the Thai government is to grant the right to healthcare to the stateless population, it does not make any sense to limit the timeframe for granting it. The registration procedure is cumbersome and lengthy; therefore it should not become an obstacle for migrant population to access this right. There are more migrant children and the children of migrant workers who are still await to be granted the right to healthcare as similar to their classmates. And this should be our priority.

Sompong Srakaew
Labour Rights Promotion Network, 2010

Translated by Chitraporn Vanaspong


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