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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examines the situation of women in Thailand

Committee on Elimination of Discrimination 
against Women 

5 July 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Thailand on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Napa Setthakorn, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, introducing the reports, said that the 2017 Constitution provided for the equal treatment and protection for women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  To further eliminate gender-based discrimination, Thailand had passed the Gender Equality Act of 2015, the first anti-discrimination law which protected not only women but also people with different sexual expressions; criminalized marital rape; and adopted the law on domestic violence and the amendment to the anti-trafficking in persons act.  The Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development had been established under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to specifically look after the issues of empowerment of women and gender equality.  There were still gaps and challenges to be addressed, including violence against women, teen pregnancy, protection of migrant women and stereotypes, said Ms. Setthakorn and reiterated the commitment to working hard to change the perception and value system in the society to truly foster gender equality.

In the discussion that followed, Committee Experts commended the actions taken to implement the Committee’s previous recommendations and concluding observations, including to withdraw the reservation on article 16, criminalize marital rape, and give both spouses an equal right to file for divorce.  The current Government which had taken over the power in 2014 was a junta, a military government composed of only men, noted the Experts and wondered about the functioning and the effectiveness of civil courts in the protection of human rights of people in the context of lèse-majesté laws.  The delegation was asked to explain what was meant by “unjust discrimination” which was permitted by the 2017 Constitution, and the reasons for which the national Human Rights Commission had been downgraded to status B.  Experts were very concerned by reports of violence against women human rights defenders including torture, murder and disappearances, and asked how Thailand ensured that the invocation of the security of the state was not abused by the police and other authorities to criminalized the legal activities of women human rights defenders.  Other issues discussed today included efforts to combat and prevent violence against women, ensure access to justice for Muslim women in the southern provinces, and increase political representation of women.

In concluding remarks, Juree Vichit-Vadakan, the Second Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the National Commission on the Policies and Strategies for Women Advancement, said that many issues raised would allow Thailand to make headway and progress on policy and larger issues that were facing the nation. 

Ms. Setthakorn said, in her concluding remarks, that Thailand would make sure that the lessons of today would translate into concrete actions and further improvements in line with the obligations under the Convention.

The delegation of Thailand included representatives of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Constitutional Court, National Commission on the Policies and Strategies for Women Advancement, National Legislative Assembly, Ministry of Interior, Royal Thai Police, Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Southern Border Provinces Administrative Center, and the Permanent Mission of Thailand to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The concluding observations on the reports of Thailand would be made public on Monday, 24 July and would be available at the session’s webpage.

Live webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available at http://webtv.un.org/

The Committee will reconvene in public on Thursday, 6 July, at 10 a.m. to consider the combined seventh and eighth periodic reports of Romania (CEDAW/C/ROU/7-8).

Reports

The combined sixth and seventh periodic reports of Thailand can be read here: CEDAW/C/THA/6-7

Presentation of the Reports

NAPA SETTHAKORN, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, introducing the reports, reiterated the firm belief that ensuring the rights of women, who made up more than half of the population of Thailand, was key to fostering socio-economic growth and promoting sustainable development.  In 2012, Thailand had withdrawn its reservation on article 16 on marriage and the family, and its Constitution which had entered into force on 6 April 2017 gave priority to mainstreaming gender perspectives into policy-making at all levels, provided for gender-responsive budgeting for all Government agencies for the first time, and also defined the obligation of the Government to provide equal treatment and protection for women, children, the elderly and persons with disabilities.  Many other laws had been introduced to eliminate gender-based discrimination, including the Gender Equality Act of 2015, the first anti-discrimination law which protected not only women but also people with different sexual expressions from gender-based discrimination; the revision of the Criminal Code to criminalize marital rape in 2007; the Domestic Violence Protection Act of 2007; and the amended Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act of 2008.

Gender equality had always been a priority issue in Thailand.  The National Committee on the Policy and Strategy for the Advancement of Women - chaired by the Prime Minister - operated as the main national mechanism, and was tasked with updating the National Women Development Plan under the National Economic and Social Development Plan.  The draft twelfth Plan, which the Cabinet was currently considering, embraced the obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the spirit of the Beijing Declaration, as well as the Sustainable Development Goals.   The 20-year National Strategy of Thailand contained strategies to improve social equality and would provide an umbrella framework for the principle of the equality of men and women and other groups.  In 2015, Thailand had established the Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security to specifically look after the issues of empowerment of women and gender equality. 

Regionally, Thailand was among the key countries that had pushed forward for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Action Plan on Violence against Women, adopted in 2015, and internationally, it had played an important role in the area of gender equality and women’s rights, including through the chairing of the fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women in 2015.  Notwithstanding the progress on many fronts, Thailand recognized that there were still gaps and challenges to be addressed, including violence against women, teen pregnancy, protection of migrant women and stereotypes, and reiterated the commitment to continue to work hard to change the perception and value system in the society to truly foster gender equality.  Ms. Setthakorn concluded by stating that Thailand realized that success did not depend on the existence of laws and policies but on their effective implementation and genuine commitment, and it was ready to work collaboratively with partners in all sectors, including civil society organizations, to advance the rights of women in the country.

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert remarked that the current Government in Thailand, which had taken over power in 2014, was a junta, a military government composed of only men, and noted that all appointments made by the Government were so far men. 

The Expert took positive note of the enactment of the laws or legal amendments to remove discrimination and, noting that the 2017 Constitution defined an “unjust discrimination”, asked the delegation to define what “unjust” meant considering that all discrimination was unjust.  The definition of human rights in the new Constitution was not clear – could the delegation comment?  What were the reasons for which the national human rights institution had been downgraded to status B and what steps were being taken to remedy this? 

The delegation was also asked to inform on the status and the effectiveness of the civil courts in protecting the human rights of people in general, and in particular women and girls, and also to explain how the 2017 Constitution applied and protected Thai Muslim women in southern Thailand.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the wording of “unjust discrimination” could look a bit strange as discrimination could not be just, and said that the reason was that the wording had derived from two concepts of discrimination, and wanted to capture the positive examples of discrimination and different treatment which had objective justifiability.  Any discrimination which could not be defined as objectively justifiable was considered to be unjust and un-constitutional.  Applying this provision of the Constitution, the Constitutional Court had reversed the legal provision which made a wife use her husband’s surname and had requested the parliament to promulgate a new law.

All courts in Thailand had to follow the rule of law; the Constitutional Court decided from time to time in accordance with article 3 of the Constitution that the “rule of law” embraced international obligations of the country and the basic concept of human rights. 

The reasons for which the national Human Rights Commission had been downgraded included the fact that the selection process of its members had not been transparent and that the Commission had failed to report on the events in Thailand during the conflict.  To remedy the situation, the new draft law on the national human rights institution was being discussed, to ensure the independence of the Commission and to enlarge the membership of the Selection Committee of the Commissioners to include more non-governmental representatives from civil society and the academia.  The role of the Human Rights Commission would be strengthened to make it more proactive, and it would receive the mandate to receive complaints and take cases to court on behalf of victims.  The Human Rights Commission would also actively work on raising awareness about human rights in the country, as the lack of adequate knowledge and awareness of human rights on the part of State officials and the public alike was often at the root of human rights violations.

According to the previous and the current Constitution, there were specific provisions providing protection of human dignity to both women and men, including in the south of the country.  Women and men were free to profess their religion, choose their educational path and attend educational institutions of their choice, and there were programmes in place to encourage women to engage in political and public life, for example through the Women Empowerment Fund.

In their follow-up questions, Committee Experts raised serious concern about the situation of women human rights defenders, particularly women defenders of rural women, indigenous women, women in the southern regions, and lesbians, bisexuals or transgender women, who were often harassed, threatened, abused, attacked and some were tortured, murdered or disappeared. 

What measures were being taken to avoid that the invocation of the security of the State was abused by the police and other authorities to criminalize the legal activities of women human rights defenders?  Would Thailand reinforce the effectiveness of the Witness Protection Office and simplify the conditions to access the Justice Fund, and take steps to protect women human rights defenders from judicial harassment and efforts to silence them?

The delegation was also asked about the intentions to suspend the application of the Suppression and Prevention of Prostitution Act of 1996 for legally registered enterprises; the plans to withdraw the remaining reservations to the Convention; and steps taken to correct the situation under which it was legal for a boy under the age of 18 who had sexual relations with a girl aged 13 to 15 to marry her with her consent.  How was national security defined and how did the way in which national security was defined ensure that the human rights of women were protected at all times?

Responding to questions raised about the situation of human rights defenders, the delegation reiterated its obligation to ensure the work of human rights defenders and lawyers in freedom and liberty and said that in 2016, it had produced a handbook for the protection of human rights defenders, which had been prepared in collaboration with civil society organizations and the regional Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  This was an initial step and more needed to be done, including adopting a definition of “human rights defenders” and how they could be protected.  Human rights defenders had been specifically included as a target group in the draft fourth National Human Rights Plan, which was a testimony of the importance that the Government accorded to their work.

As for the reservations to the Convention, the delegation said that the legislative activity and the new laws passed in Thailand such as the Gender Equality Act and the Name Act had enabled it to withdraw the reservation on article 16.  As for the existing reservations under article 29, it was a matter of Thai policy to enter such reservations on all international treaties and reserve the right to refer to its own courts.

With regard to the applicability of international law in Thai law, Thailand had a dualist system which meant that courts were unable to apply international law directly, but domestic laws had to be passed.  Most of the substantive issues contained in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women had already been addressed through the existing domestic legislation.

The Committee on Unfair Discrimination was in place and it received all individual complaints of discrimination.

The Women Empowerment Fund had been around for some time; 80 per cent of it was a revolving fund used by women and women’s groups to improve their economic situation and another 20 per cent was released as grants to empower women to participate in political and public life.  The Fund was operational in all provinces and it aimed to support women in accessing finance for their income generation activities and economic independence.

In response to questions raised about impunity, the delegation reaffirmed that if a report or a complaint was lodged to the police, an effective and prompt investigation and collection of evidence would be undertaken to enable the case to be passed on to the judicial system.

The proposal to amend a section of the Criminal Code was being considered by the Council of the State to make this law more in line with international obligations.  There were national mechanisms for the implementation of the Gender Equality Act, such as the Commission for Gender Equality Promotion headed by the Prime Minister whose Board was composed of representatives of 11 ministries and 9 human rights experts and representatives of civil society.  The Committee received complaints of harassment and administered the compensation fund.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the questions raised about the national gender machinery, the delegation was asked whether the recent move of the machinery from the Prime Minister’s Office affected its status and prestige, and whether the machinery was well adapted for the implementation of the international obligations of Thailand in this regard.

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that the change in the position of the national gender machinery had already been done, even though many questions were being raised in Thailand as to how it would affect its status and effectiveness.  The issue at hand now was how to strengthen the machinery. 

As a result of the creation of the new Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, there were more staff and more resources available but it also meant that the mandate had been enlarged.  It was certain that the future mandate of the Department would be shaped with the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in mind.  The fact that the Department was in the Ministry meant that it was better positioned to push through the gender agenda and promote and mainstream gender equality in all Government functions.  The National Commission on the Policies and Strategies for Women Advancement would also seriously consider the machinery needed for the effective implementation of the provisions of the Convention.

The Commission for Gender Equality Promotion chaired by the Prime Minister was the main body for the implementation of the Gender Equality Act, which contained two Committees, one on the gender equality fund and another on considering gender discrimination cases.

In order to ensure the effective implementation of the Convention’s obligations, Thailand had set up 16 working groups to correspond to the Convention’s articles, and there were some cross-cutting subjects and areas that were being discussed by all groups.  The outcomes of the work of those groups had been communicated to the Government. 

Questions from the Experts
 
A Committee Expert noted that although there were efforts to promote gender balance in political participation at all levels, the proposal for gender balance at the municipal level had been rejected by the Council. 

What were the plans concerning the adoption of the law on quotas for the political participation of women and for the use of temporary special measures in areas where gender balance was lacking and where there was major discrimination against women?  Would the Government promote policies to highlight the rights and protection of rural women, women with disabilities, indigenous women and other disadvantaged groups of women?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that there was no gender disparity in education and said that at the tertiary level, women outnumbered men. 

In the economic field, the participation of Thai women in middle management was at 40 per cent in the private sector, but what was lacking was the greater participation of women in top level management.  The discussion in Thailand was how to overcome the barriers in this regard, as there was a great resistance to the introduction of quotas, including by women who felt that women who obtained positions due to the quota system were not seen positively. 

Quotas had been used in the past to increase the proportion of women entering university study and the experience had been very positive, so this example was being used to illustrate the power of quotas in other walks of life too.  The new Constitution had opened up the discussions on quotas, but the change must be gradual and incremental, keeping in mind what was acceptable and what was not.  There were also discussions about a possible draft law on the quotas for the political participation of women. 

In the Royal Police, 70 women were chosen every year for a study at the Royal Police Academy.  To date, there were 630 policewomen who graduated from the Academy after four years of study; 17 female police generals out of 500 police generals, and 295 female superintendents out of 3,200.  Appointments in the police were made on the basis of capacity and competence and not gender.  There were 74,000 villages and their chiefs, and of those 4,000 were women.

Questions from the Experts
 
Harmful traditional practices such as bride kidnapping, polygamy and female genital mutilation still persisted in Thailand, noted another Committee Expert and asked about measures taken to combat such practices and how the work was coordinated between various women’s organizations.

With regard to violence against women, the Expert took good note about the campaign to combat such violence and asked about the role of the main players in this campaign and what measures should be taken to prevent and address violence against women, including through hotlines, shelters, supporting civil society organizations running shelters, and training judges, prosecutors and police officers on issues of domestic violence.  What was being done to enable Muslim women in southern provinces to access justice, and to enable ethnic groups in remote areas to access justice for violence against women and sexual violence?   

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation affirmed that combatting violence against women was not only a matter of women, of the Government alone, but of everyone in the society, and men had a very important role to play.  November was the month of stopping violence against women, but there were efforts to expand the campaign throughout the year, including through the “New Gen Says No” campaign in schools and universities to raise awareness about violence against women among youth.  Stopping violence against women was also one of the key objectives of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and Thailand was fully committed.  

The One-Stop-Crisis Centre operated under the Ministry of Social Development, and a hotline was in place.  Violence against women still occurred, and it was considered by some as a private matter.  Last year, 411 cases of violence against women had been reported and 298 had led to arrests.  Awareness raising was seen as the best tool in the fight against violence against women and domestic violence, and women were encouraged to consider domestic violence as a public and not private affair.

Access to justice for Muslim women in southern provinces was a larger issue in Thailand of getting women to access justice.  The Justice Fund was in place to support the most poor and vulnerable to access justice, but for women in the south the largest challenge was to overcome stigma and social pressure in coming forward with complaints of domestic violence.  The Government was promoting projects which raised the awareness and knowledge of women in the south about their rights, and how to access justice and approach the legal system.  The Southern Border Provinces Administration was one agency which provided legal aid and information to women and also helped women understand how to apply all that knowledge in their daily lives.

Since 2016, the Government had been producing the national strategy on the implementation of the United Nations Security Council resolution 1325, which covered five broad issues of protection, prevention, capacity building and other issues related to the women, peace and security agenda.

Thailand had undertaken the evaluation of the National Women’s Development Plans and had found that although the plans had defined transformation of values and attitudes, it had not been matched by concrete activities, and this would have to be remedied, as it was the values and attitudes that drove violence and harmful practices.  Female genital mutilation was not an issue in Thailand and the delegation was surprised that it had been raised in the discussion.

The police station had facilities to receive victims of violence, and would refer them to the Ministry for Social Development for social services and remedy.  If a person was placed in the witness protection programme, they would be under the care of the Ministry of Justice and would receive financial support.  Continuous training was being provided to investigative officers on laws, policies and issues concerning women and children.

Responding to the earlier questions concerning the role of civil courts in the context of lèse-majesté laws, the delegation explained that Thailand had separate jurisdiction between the military and civil courts; the military court had jurisdiction over a member of the armed forces regardless of who the victim was, and also it had a power of disciplinary action over military personnel.  The exception to this separation of jurisdiction was the situation of war or armed conflict, or coup d’état, when the jurisdiction of the military court was wider, usually following the pronouncement of court martial.

Questions from the Experts
 
Turning to issues of trafficking in human beings, a Committee Expert noted that it had been reported that the Government had not met international standards in several areas, including in victim identification, inadequate conditions in shelters and lack of convictions for the crime of trafficking in persons. 

What plans were in place to respond to this criticism?  What were the root causes of trafficking in persons?  Could the delegation assess the effectiveness of the action plan with 11 measures to prevent trafficking in persons and would the proposed amendments to the anti-trafficking in persons law address the issues of impunity for the crime and ensure greater protection of victims?

Migrants were reportedly badly treated, and due to lack of a referral mechanism, it was hard to identify undocumented migrants and those who were victims of trafficking for exploitation purposes. 

Prostitution was criminalized but people working in entertainment places were not considered to be engaged in illegal activities – how were those individuals protected from exploitation?

Responses by the Delegation

In response to the issues raised by the Experts, the delegation said that human trafficking was a global scourge and its suppression had been included in the national priority agenda since 2014 and all relevant agencies had adopted five strategic dimensions of policy, protection, prevention, prosecution and partnership.  Budgets allocated to the fight against human trafficking were being regularly increased, the laws had been amended and this had improved the prosecution of perpetrators: in 2016, a total of 333 cases of trafficking in persons had been investigated, 301 had been indicted and 268 individuals had been convicted.

By virtue of the labour laws, the rights of female workers in the entertainment industry were protected on the same basis as workers in other industries.  In addition, informal sector workers had a possibility to insure themselves with the social protection system.  All migrant workers legally employed in the entertainment industry were protected by labour laws.

Thailand recognized the importance of migrant workers in Thailand and the impact – both positive and negative – of their migration.  The Ministry of Labour had put in place several schemes to register undocumented migrant workers and give them temporary status; to date, about 1.6 million had been registered and they had obtained work and stay permits until next year.  Thailand had signed bilateral agreements with neighbouring countries in order to promote safe and orderly migration and to date some 1.8 million workers had migrated to Thailand under those agreements.  The new law on migrant workers, the royal ordinance on management of the employment of the foreign worker, had been adopted in June 2017 to encourage and regulate the employment of foreign workers in line with the existing bilateral agreements.  This ordinance would play an important role in the fight against trafficking for labour exploitation.

The revision of the anti-trafficking in persons act 2007 had been passed in December 2016 and would enter into force during 2017.  The purpose of the revision was to strengthen the protection of children from trafficking in persons and exploitation and the law now prohibited practices similar to slavery, and it increased maximum sentences and fines.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the next round of questions, a Committee Expert noted that the picture on the representation of women in politics was not very clear; the available data from 2014 showed that women were still severely underrepresented in political bodies, despite the strategies to encourage women to participate in decision-making processes.

What strategies were being adopted to increase the representation of women in political bodies, including the Senate and public administration, and in particular in the diplomatic service and the judiciary, as well as in the private sector?

How many females had applied under the initiative to put an end to statelessness?  The restrictions to the acquisition of nationality for foreign men married to Thai women were stricter than for foreign female spouses – when would the act be brought in full compliance with the Convention and provide the same conditions for the application for nationality for foreign spouses of both sexes? 

What measures were in place to ensure universal birth registration, how many hospitals were part of the national strategy on the issue, and what was the proportion of children born in hospitals? 

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation reiterated that as of June 2017, there were 16 women in executive positions in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs making up 41 per cent, including in the position of the Permanent Secretary.  Nine ambassadors out of 67 were women representing 13 per cent, and about 40 per cent of mid-management positions were filled by women.

In terms of acquiring Thai nationality, the delegation explained that the right to marriage and the right to acquiring nationality were two separate issues.  A Thai citizen of any sex had the right to marry a person of any nationality, without any restriction.  A foreign person marrying a Thai citizen could request a nationality, with foreign female spouses usually acquiring nationality faster.  Over the past two years, the Ministry of Interior had requested an amendment to the nationality law in order to provide for equal treatment of foreign spouses of any sex. 

In terms of political representation of women, the delegation said that at local elections there had been improvements and now 16 per cent of women served in the local public administration, and Thailand was among the top three Asia-Pacific countries with regard to representation of women.  Representation of women in the judiciary was quite high with over 40 per cent of the magistrate positions being held by women.  Efforts were ongoing to prepare women to run as political candidates, including through training and awareness raising, while the bill on elections for the senate was currently being prepared.

Questions from the Experts

A Committee Expert commended Thailand for its efforts to promote female education, and in particular free and universal education up to the age of 15, including from kindergartens. 

What measures were being taken to reduce illiteracy among women aged 40 and above; to encourage girls to choose non-traditional fields of study and so increase their occupational and earning prospects; and the major manifestations of prejudices in textbooks identified by the review and the steps taken to remedy them?

The situation of teenage mothers was of concern.  The Committee welcomed the decision to allow them to complete education until high school graduation and asked about concrete steps taken to support their continued education and prepare them for work or tertiary studies.

Another Expert noted the gaps in the protection offered by the labour and social protection legislation to domestic workers, and asked what steps would be taken to grant them full protection, including during maternity and breastfeeding periods.  What was a timeframe for the ratification of the International Labour Organization Convention 183 on maternity protection?

The delegation was also asked about complementary measures to be taken to deal with high teenage pregnancy rates, to decriminalize abortion also in the case of foetal malformations, and how Thailand would ensure legal access to abortion.  The HIV/AIDS rate was on the increase and people affected experienced difficulties in accessing care – could the delegation comment, Experts asked and also requested information on the situation of single mothers and rural women.  What steps were being taken to address the root causes of sex trafficking of rural women?  Three per cent of the population had a disability and they lived principally in rural areas - what steps were being taken to implement the recommendations by the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities?

Replies by the Delegation

Responding to the questions and comments made by the Committee Experts, the delegation said that Thailand was aware about the existence of gender stereotypes in schools, and had put in place a commission to examine textbooks, identify what needed to be removed, and review the practices of teachers in promoting equality between boys and girls in schools.  The aim of the initiative was to understand how to make school a more gender neutral area which would not reinforce stereotypes but promote leadership of girls.

Education institutions were required to provide support, information and counselling to pregnant teens, and ensure that they received appropriate reproductive health services and social welfare support. 

According to the statistics, literacy rates of women over the age of 40 was above 90 per cent.  As far as encouraging girls to choose non-traditional fields of study, the delegation said that the 2015 study into the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in the Asia-Pacific Region had found that in Thailand, more than half of students in science fields were girls, and that women made more than half of the researchers.  Girls were under-represented in engineering, technology and math fields.

Employers were not allowed to terminate the employment or reduce wages or benefits of a pregnant employee and had to ensure that pregnant women did not work in hazardous conditions.  Since 1997, the sexual and reproductive health policy had been successfully promoted in Thailand, and that was why it was not deemed necessary to pass a separate reproductive health bill; however, Thailand had passed a law on the prevention of the adolescent pregnancy in 2016, which had been identified as a society-wide problem.

The National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2017-2030 aimed for zero new infections and zero new AIDS-related deaths, and also addressed stigma and discrimination.  The data showed that 98 per cent of all pregnant women in Thailand, including documented and undocumented migrants, received anti-retroviral therapy, and Thailand was the first country in the Asia-Pacific region to ensure an AIDS-free generation.  Since 2002, Thailand had achieved universal health coverage for the whole population and an equitable access to health services for all, regardless of their social status, income or migratory status.  Health care delivery was based on the principle of non-discrimination and was also offered to non-Thais on an equal basis.

Land tenure by women was still slightly lower than men, and the Government was committed to protecting the right to land tenure of all.  All land disputes were handled according to the law, in full transparency and without any preference given to gender.  Evictions were only carried out with a court decision, and those who had encroached on public land had to leave, but were provided support and assistance including in finding housing.

The delegation would provide the information on abortion in writing.

Questions from the Experts
 
In the final round of questions, a Committee Expert commended the actions taken to implement the Committee’s previous recommendations and concluding observations, including to withdraw the reservation on article 16, to criminalize marital rape, and to give both spouses an equal right to file for divorce. 

Could the delegation confirm that all provisions of civil and commercial code concerning marriage and divorce applied to everyone in the country without exception?  Customary law allowed for some discriminatory practices such as polygamy, said the Expert and asked the delegation to comment on the issue.  What measures were being taken to eliminate child marriage?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said that, for more than 80 years, marriage in Thailand was monogamous, with only exception in southern provinces to make accommodation for the religion of the population there.  The Government was working with religious and traditional leaders to persuade people not to enter into polygamous marriages without the prior consent of the previous wife.  It had been found that people living in towns usually lived in monogamous marriages, while those living in remote communities still practiced polygamy.

Responding to question about the 310-days obligatory waiting period for women to re-marry, the delegation said that it was the practice set by religious leaders, who waited for a period of time to ensure that the wife was not pregnant, before proceeding with the divorce.  It was very difficult for the Government to interfere in the lives of people who believed firmly in the religious principles which they took as a divine right.

The surrogacy act was in place to ensure that surrogacy was not used for trafficking in persons and the law therefore defined that a would-be surrogate mother be a blood relative of the couple, and that the couple must be married and childless.

Concluding Remarks

JUREE VICHIT-VADAKAN, the Second Vice-Chairperson of the Committee on the National Commission on the Policies and Strategies for Women Advancement, said that many issues raised would allow Thailand to make headway and progress on policy and larger issues that were facing the nation.  The reports by civil society organizations were welcome to highlight the issues that the Government had overlooked and to foster collaboration toward the shared and common goal of gender equality. 

NAPA SETTHAKORN, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Social Development and Human Security of Thailand, said that the dialogue was very useful and that Thailand would make sure that the lessons learnt today would translate into concrete actions and further improvements in line with the obligations under the Convention.  Thailand was aware that policies, measures and legislation were not enough; actions spoke louder than words, and the work on shaping the right mind set of the general public especially children and youth on gender equality, would continue.  

DALIA LEINARTE, Committee Chairperson, commended Thailand for its efforts and encouraged it to address various recommendations which the Committee would issue with the purpose of more comprehensive implementation of the Convention throughout the State party.

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