A tobacco plantation isn’t a safe or healthy place to work for a child, but it was the only way my family could survive. My parents are poor farmers and barely able to support a family of eight on MK20,000. This is about US$ 50 per year. I had nothing. My parents are tobacco tenants and we all had to work together as a family. I’ve been working in tobacco since I was five. Attending school was never an option for me.
I am one of many indigenous women living and working in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh where thousands struggle to make a living in the beauty, garment and domestic work industries. Most are poor, with little education and lack access to basic healthcare and social protection. In fact, indigenous peoples around the world share these injustices.
But my story is different. I’m 32 years old and I’m from the Lushai community in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In 2010 I left my family and headed for Dhaka on my own to work as an intern for the International Labour Organization.
There are over 3 million migrant workers in Malaysia who play a vital role in the local economy. They keep households in order and look after children as domestic workers, prepare and serve food in restaurants around the country, manufacture key exports, and build the cities’ towering skyscrapers.
In addition to long hours and backbreaking work, many migrants are exploited or suffer from discrimination and abuse, including hazardous working conditions and unfair wages. They have trouble getting access to healthcare and sometimes even experience harassment from authorities – especially if they are undocumented. In some extreme cases, migrants end up in situations of forced labour or become victims of human trafficking.