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UN Report Calls on World to Protect Female Migrants

The United Nations has issued a new report calling on governments to enact stricter laws to protect women who leave their home countries. The annual State of the World Population study focuses on the plight of female migrants. The report comes just ahead of a U.N. meeting on migration and development.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population Fund, says this year's report highlights what she calls "the shortcomings and the dark side of globalization."

Obaid says female migrants all too often find themselves "ignored, disenfranchised, and abused."

"This report calls on governments and individuals to recognize and value the contributions of migrant women and promote and respect their human rights," she said. "There is an urgent need for stronger cooperation between countries to make migration more safe and fair. And there is a dire need for greater action to address the lack of opportunities and the human rights violations that lead many women to migrate in the first place."

Nearly one-half of the 191 million people who migrate annually are women, primarily from poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Most women migrants go abroad in search of a better life. The study shows that women tend to send more of their earnings back home than men do. But, Obaid points out, many women find themselves trapped in prostitution or abused as domestic workers.

"The report shows that, while migration can open new doors to a world of greater equality and opportunity, it can also lead to terrible human rights violations, cases of migration gone bad, from the enslavement of trafficking victims to the exploitation and abuse of domestic workers, millions of female migrants face hazards that must be urgently addressed," she said.

Bibi Sattaur is the daughter of a Guyanese immigrant who moved to Suriname. She is studying to achieve her lifetime dream of becoming a nurse. But she only earns $18 a month during her studies. She says wages are so low that she and most of her fellow students will leave Suriname when they finish school.

"Over there it is like as soon as we get our certificates, everyone just leaves searching for a better life or better future over there. So probably, maybe, I will also leave my country," Sattaur said. "It is sad to say that I want to leave it also to seek a better life because we really work hard over there and we can't meet our needs when it's the end of the month. The bills are really high to pay over there also."

Population Fund director Obaid says the poorest countries are losing health care workers at a time when they most desperately need them. Some 20,000 doctors and nurses leave Africa every year for better paying jobs even as the continent is being ravaged by diseases like AIDS and malaria.

"In Europe and North America, aging populations and a shortage of nurses and doctors are driving the demand for health workers," she said. "In poorer countries, skilled women and men are increasingly turning to migration as a means to improve their own lives and those of their families. But their countries are facing a health-care crisis unprecedented in the modern world."

Obaid says the report was designed to highlight the issue of female migration for world officials as they meet in New York next week for a special U.N. session on international migration and development.