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Malaysian NGO on Population 30 June 1995


Creating a successful life for oneself

By Ashali Varma

MALACCA, Malaysia—“I think economic development has in own evils.  I am concerned about labor migration and how migrant workers are marginalized and have limited access to health care,” said Dr. Selva Ramachandran who heads the Australian International Development Bureau in Malaysia.  Ramachandran’s interest in migrant labor stems from his own life story.  As the son of a plantation worker, his grandparents were brought to Malaysia from India by plantation owners.  His father died when he was 2 years old  and his mother worked in a rubber processing factory to support her eight children.  Determined to move out of the plantation, Ramachandran got a scholarship to go to university and got a doctorate in labor and development from Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia.  His thesis was on the marginalization of plantation labor in Malaysia.

 “Due to an acute shortage of labor in plantation and the construction business, Malaysia import labor from Bangladesh, Indonesia and Pakistan. They are between the ages of 18 and 30 years and though the official figure is 1.5 million, there are about 3 million migrants working here,” said Ramachandran.

The workers have three year contracts and since they come without their families they visit brothel. “There is a growing problem of reproductive health infections but unfortunately nobody has done much research on it,” he said, “This has to be monitored not only in Malaysia but in other countries like Singapore and Brunei.”

Ramachandran feels that the import and export of diseases like Tuberculosis and AIDS will be a major problem in the future if governments don’t act now.

Ramachandran funds NGO projects in Malaysia, “The Australians are very supportive of women and development projects,” he said, “and have funded a women’s NGO for Beijing.” He feels that NGOs have to help each other more and promote the smaller grassroots organizations that are working in rural areas.