In the cosmopolitan city-state of Singapore, celebrated for its dazzling skyline and economic prosperity, there exists a somber underbelly that remains largely concealed – the plight of pregnant migrant domestic workers. In this comprehensive exploration, we venture deep into the heart-wrenching dilemma faced by women like Vinny*, whose discovery of pregnancy propels them into a heart-rending choice between motherhood and the looming specter of deportation. This article aims to untangle the intricate web of policies, societal norms, and personal struggles that define the lives of these marginalized individuals.
The Perplexing Predicament
1. The Unforgiving Policy
At the core of this issue lies Singapore’s draconian policy concerning migrant domestic workers. These diligent women, unless united in matrimony with a Singaporean citizen or permanent resident, a union blessed with the imprimatur of the Ministry of Manpower, are categorically prohibited from conceiving or delivering a child while under the auspices of a work permit. This stringent prohibition remains steadfast even if their work permits have met their expiration date, have been revoked, or summarily canceled.
2. The Grim Statistics
Officially documented records from the Ministry of Manpower paint a stark picture. Between the years 2019 and 2021, an annual average of 170 migrant domestic workers were unveiled as expectant mothers. However, it is crucial to acknowledge that experts contend that the actual number might transcend these figures by a significant margin. Many women, caught in the vice of their circumstances, opt to embark on a covert odyssey, shrouding their pregnancies in secrecy and opting for clandestine terminations.
3. Reporting Pregnancies
The severity of this policy in Singapore is so unforgiving that it compels employers to promptly report their domestic helper’s burgeoning pregnancy to the appropriate authorities. Furthermore, even if employers opt for an ominous silence, migrant domestic workers are subjected to mandatory health screenings every half a year. These screenings encompass pregnancy tests, leaving no room for subtlety. The result is a relentless reminder, a clarion call that echoes in the lives of these women, warning them that should they dare to traverse the path of pregnancy, their clandestine journey will be unveiled within six months, as asserted by the sagacious sociologist, Laavanya Kathiravelu.
4. Underground Procedures
In a desperate bid to evade the grim clutches of their situation, some domestic workers imperil their own well-being by seeking illegal abortions in proximate locales like Batam, Indonesia. Although abortion services there remain technically illegal, they are paradoxically more accessible. The stark reality is that these perilous procedures often occur under harrowing and unsafe conditions, subjecting these women to life-threatening risks. Yet, the agony of their circumstance propels them toward these precipitous decisions.
The Irony of Legal Abortion
5. Legal Abortion in Singapore
The irony deepens when one delves into the legal landscape. Abortion is indeed legal in Singapore, inclusive of migrant workers who, in theory, enjoy access to safe and lawful abortion procedures. Yet, the stark and inexorable reality of financial burden rears its head. The cost of these procedures, which can range from approximately S$750 to reaching the zenith of thousands of dollars, forms an insurmountable chasm for most migrant workers, who labor under the yoke of an average monthly wage that stands at a meager S$620.
6. Birth Control Challenges
While contraception stands as a bastion of hope, the stark challenge lies in its cost. Condoms, despite being the most economical option, still present a notable financial hurdle for many. In contrast, birth control pills and emergency contraception demand the imprimatur of a doctor, thereby amplifying the overall expense.
7. Citizenship Regime
The crux of Singapore’s stringent policy knits together a tapestry of intricate considerations – immigration and labor. The nation aspires to lure highly skilled immigrants, particularly those brandishing the coveted employment passes and S passes. These individuals are the veritable crown jewels, encouraged to settle in Singapore, accompanied by their families, and ultimately embark on the voyage to permanent residency and citizenship. In contrast, those who reside beneath the banner of work permits, such as migrant domestic workers, are cast into the shadows, perceived as a disposable population.
8. Discriminatory Practices
Vocal critics have vehemently decried the pregnancy ban, labeling it as a pernicious practice steeped in discrimination. It is an affront to the fundamental reproductive rights of these women, discouraging the cultivation of personal relationships and exacting an onerous toll upon their lives.
9. Hong Kong’s Different Stance
Hong Kong, by virtue of a radically different approach, stands in stark juxtaposition to Singapore. It stands resolutely illegal in Hong Kong to terminate the employment of a pregnant migrant domestic worker. Employers who transgress this sanctified line face substantial fines that can reach up to HK$100,000 (S$16,900). Furthermore, these domestic workers stand entitled to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave, a significant stride toward the recognition and safeguarding of their rights.
10. Challenges for Employers
This distinctive approach adopted in Hong Kong, while a boon for the workers, has presented its own set of challenges for certain employers. The financial obligations that accompany maternity leave, including the requirement to continue paying a significant portion of the helper’s salary and potentially hiring a temporary replacement, have been a source of concern for some employers.
The issue of pregnant maids in Singapore constitutes a far-reaching, multifaceted conundrum. It embodies a complex intersection of labor rights, immigration policies, and the deeply personal choices and struggles of the individuals ensnared in its web. As we contemplate this issue, we must remember the very real human toll it extracts from the lives of these women, who are too often left with no viable choices and no solace.