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Cablegate: Citizenship Hardships Greater for Highland Women Than Men

DE RUEHCHI #0127/01 2381014
R 251014Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

CHIANG MAI 00000127 001.2 OF 002

Sensitive but Unclassified; Please handle accordingly.


1. (SBU) Though the Thai government has increased its efforts to
streamline the naturalization process for members of hill
tribes, corruption at the tribal and local government level and
inherent ethnic biases have delayed progress, especially for
women. Because most hill tribes are located in remote areas in
Thailand, many of their members lack proper birth records, and
therefore, are not entitled to government welfare programs,
legal property rights or the ability to move outside designated
areas. Hill tribe women encounter further obstacles as cultural
norms and gender biases confine them to a certain socioeconomic
level that hampers their access to citizenship information.
Moreover, by not having legal status, women face additional
risks such as human trafficking and insufficient pre-natal
health care. End Summary

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Citizenship Complications Greater for Highland Women than Men
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2. (SBU) According to official government and NGO estimates,
there are approximately 900,000 highland people in Thailand
(nearly all in the north), 420,000 of whom do not have
citizenship. NGOs, such as the Inter Mountain Peoples Education
and Culture in Thailand Association (IMPECT) and the Center for
Redressing Problems for Highlanders, maintain that the majority
of stateless persons are women, though no numbers are available
to evaluate the extent of the gender gap in citizenship
attainment. External corruption and internal social barriers
are the main factors putting highland women at a disadvantage in
securing legal status.

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Highland Women Weighed Down by Local Corruption
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3. ( SBU) Externally, corruption between village leaders - who
act as middlemen in facilitating the naturalization process and
provide needed birth documents - and local government officials
- who grant citizenship - have held up the process, especially
for women. NGOs acknowledge that the central government has
improved its laws and has increased its budget to better
facilitate citizenship registration, but implementation has been
complicated by inefficiency and local level corruption. For
example, although legally there is no processing cost for
citizenship papers, highlanders claim to have paid anywhere from
3,000 to 15,000 Baht (USD 90 to 450), which they allege is
divvied up among tribal leaders and government officials. Other
problems that have contributed to inefficiency include
processing delays in district offices due to a lack of central
pressure; a poor understanding of the naturalization process by
local officials; and inherent ethnic biases that make some local
officials reluctant to give hill tribe members citizenship.

4. (SBU) Under these conditions, highland women prove to be more
vulnerable and face more difficulties than men. Activists say
that women tend to fit the mold of hill tribe gender roles by
being characteristically docile and introverted, and therefore,
are at a disadvantage when faced with a tedious naturalization
process and uncooperative officials. Highland women also have
few economic opportunities outside of the home, and therefore
may not have enough personal income to afford the
under-the-table asking price for citizenship registration. In
addition, women are more susceptible to sexual advances by
district officials, with IMPECT representatives stating they
have encountered cases where women have solicited themselves in
exchange for speeding up delays in citizenship registration.

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Internal Social Barriers Impede Access to Citizenship
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5. (SBU) Internally, tribal customs and traditions have
subjected highland women to a lower socioeconomic level than
that of men. Predicated on the view that a woman's role is
restricted to the home, this social status limits hill tribe
women's access to post-primary education, political
opportunities and knowledge of the citizenship process.
According to the Center for Redressing Problems for Highlanders,
currently no members of Parliament and a disproportionately low
number of elected sub-district officials are hill tribe women.
Literacy rates are low among hill tribe groups, especially among

CHIANG MAI 00000127 002.2 OF 002

the women (highland activists estimate that 30% of hill tribe
women and 50% of men are literate). Some highland parents place
little value on a daughter's education and her knowledge of the
Thai language, reasoning that she will be married off anyway and
time would be better spent working and contributing to the
family income. With limited educational and political
opportunities, most hill tribe women do not possess enough
information about the citizenship process or speak enough Thai
to pursue legal status individually and must rely on village
leaders, many of whom are allegedly corrupt, for guidance and
needed documents.

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Larger Risks for Undocumented Highland Women
--------------------------------------------- --------------------

6. (SBU) In addition to facing more complications than men in
securing citizenship, highland women also encounter more risks
by not having legal status. According to the UNESCO Highland
Peoples Survey, lack of citizenship is the greatest risk factor
for females to be trafficked. This report also concludes that
those without citizenship are 73% less likely to enter primary
school and 98% less likely to pursue higher education.
Undocumented women also face exacerbated health risks during
pregnancy or labor, since they are without access to
government-sponsored health care or do not have the money to see
a private doctor. According to IMPECT, the Central Government
has only slightly improved in recent years with regard to
increasing health care for stateless persons.

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Emergent Progress in Citizenship Laws and Education
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7. (SBU) In recent years there have been considerable
improvements in the citizenship process, leading to an increase
in the number of stateless persons receiving legal status. Due
to coordination efforts among NGOs, hill tribe members and the
central government, more legal channels have opened up and more
people are becoming informed about their citizenship rights. In
the past ten years, registration numbers have increased by
100,000 people. The 2008 Nationality Act, which took effect in
February, has dramatically sped up citizenship registration by
decentralizing final authority from the Ministry of Interior to
district offices. A process that once took up to many years can
now be completed within 90 days. Additionally, children who are
born in Thailand to stateless parents can now apply for
citizenship and are not considered illegal or at risk for
deportation. Another sign of progress is that more highland
girls are receiving an education, which is helping to change the
image of female roles in hill tribe society. NGO
representatives have observed rising literacy rates among hill
tribe men and women, but contend that their Thai language skills
are still very basic and insufficient to navigate the
citizenship process on their own.


8. (SBU) Citizenship attainment for highlanders has been
steadily increasing due to more favorable laws and grassroots
efforts to register stateless persons. However, hill tribe
women will continue to be more disadvantaged than men in
attaining citizenship until they can break out of the
traditional social mold and until local corruption is curtailed.

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