Migration and crime have grievously impacted women and children. The numbers do not seem to be improving (decreasing) over time and they are continuously being  exploited by things like human trafficking (Mâțu & Schwartz, 2013), domestic and  sexual violence, child abuse and neglect, elder abuse and neglect, stalking, voyeurism,  kidnapping and hate crimes (Bailey, Talbert, Myers, Brown, & Benelli, 2016). They fall  under the umbrella category of ‘vulnerable group’ due to their sheer placement in  society. Limante & Теrеškinas (2022) described this term in their bo0k as those who  are perceived to be impacted sociologically either through opportunities, experiences,  quality of life and also based on their well-being while Schröder et al. (2022) identified  them through radicalisation processes. 

Regardless of the categorical processes and definitions, among the most  discussed and agreed on are those identified as women and children. According to the  World Migration Report (WMR) 2022, a team of researchers found that climate  change can affect these two vulnerable groups which indivertibly were part of the 4.4 million people from the Philippines alone who got displaced because of natural  disasters in 2020 (McAuliffe & Triandafyllidou, 2022). Southeast Asian countries are  prone to increase natural disasters during the typhoon season with cyclones, heavy  storms and flooding. This is because the countries in the region are mostly facing the  open ocean or are totally surrounded by the seas. With the shifting phases of El Niño  and La Niña, the climate conditions are getting worse over time. 

Climate Uncertainty 

Reports gathered by the Aid and International Development Forum indicated  the natural disaster that occurred in 2017 had impacted countries such as Vietnam,  the Philippines, Cambodia, and Myanmar with the most severe impact that year  ranking at number 2 on the Global Climate Risk Index (GCRI) (Aid & International Development Forum, 2017). The numbers were staggering with 2 million, 229,000,  2.5 million and 525,448 people for each of the countries mentioned respectively, where  approximately more than half of them were women and children. They were deprived  of basic needs such as food security not just due to the typhoon but also caused of the drought and landslides. 

At least one of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries  made the list each year with Vietnam, Myanmar, the Philippines and Thailand being  the most frequent (Figure 1). Other than the GCRI, the United Nations International  Children’s Emergency Fund or UNICEF listed Myanmar and the Philippines among  the top Southeast Asian countries with high Children Climate Risk Index. This is very  telling of how the government of each country struggles to mitigate or adapt to these  posing risks. Argumentatively, the ideal thing to do by the policymakers of these  nations is to prevent the same experience to happen twice, let alone every year. 

FIGURE 1: Southeast Asian countries Global Climate Risk Index from 2000 to 2019 (Eckstein et al., 2021)

A lesson that ASEAN leaders should learn from is the case study of Delta Works  in the Netherlands, especially how the Maeslantkering helped reduced the flooding in  2007’s storm significantly. Despite the state-of-the-art architecture had helped the  country survive the natural disaster, hydrology experts, engineers and policymakers  continue to quantify the risks and benefits in making sure all the Dutch are safe in the  long run (Wesselink et al., 2007). 

Migration and harsh treatment 

Since recovery can take time to get the way it was, migration was seen as inevitable  because these people want to improve their lifestyles and get better opportunities.  Destination countries for the displaced and also those who seek refuge because of  political turmoil in their own countries are Malaysia and Thailand (McAuliffe &  Triandafyllidou, 2022). However, these migrants ended up being exploited for forced  labour and sexual purposes. As such, women and children are always the prime  example of being the victims of bad decision-making and abuse. Other contributing factors to this issue are the socio-political turmoil and power  struggle that tarnish these lands. This not only poses a conflict between the citizens  and the political figures but also tests the neighbouring countries’ morals or values when dealing with migrants. In an article by Chy (2017), it was reported that 10.3% of women who worked in the service or entertainment industries and worked during the  night shift experienced harassment and assault. 

Livelihood threats 

Communities that live in the coastal areas are faced with even bigger problems when  they depend on fisheries, aquaculture, and related industries (Lin et al., 2022). The  rise of sea water level which causes flood can destroy their source of income since they  very much depend on these sectors for their economical growth. Albeit the women  decided to work or preferred to be housewives, the devastating effects of typhoon  storms will cause them to lose everything either is it their jobs, their houses, lands and  sometimes lives would also be taken away.

Based on the Human Development Index (HDI), only four countries from the  region placed under the Very High Human Development ranking; Singapore, Brunei,  Malaysia and Thailand with their indices higher than 0.8, while the rest ranged  between 0.6 to 0.79 except for Cambodia and Myanmar. This is somewhat translated  by the industries they are majoring in. Myanmar is very much dependent on its top  three industries which are agricultural processing, knit and woven apparel, wood and  wood products (ASEAN Up, n.d.). From this, it is understandable how devastating it  can be when their productivity areas are swooped by a flood or drought. Without  improvement in mitigating the effects, women and children can be easily affected by  the lack of food security during these seasons. Cambodia also relies on agriculture and  the garment industries other than manufacturing, construction and tourism (Open  Development Cambodia, 2015). 

Building Tension 

Due to the sheer stress and the aftermath of rebuilding their lives on top of Covid-19, domestic abuse and child abuse seemingly continues which was labelled as the  ‘shadow pandemic’ by the United Nation that plagued the Southeast Asian countries.  Traditionally and based on how everyone is being brought up in the region, women are  less likely to report domestic abuse because wanting to uphold the family’s name, not  tarnish the husband’s respected position. 

It is no secret that the global pandemic had a tremendous effect on our mental  health and this subsequently can affect women and children further. With being paid  less, displaced and abused, the women would miss jobs and their children would miss  school (UN Women, n.d.). The amount of the stress of losing a place to live, a source  of income, women and children continued to be the prime target to let get go of some  of the anger. Even when some of them are brave enough to leave, they would end up  being judged by society as this is very common where single mothers are seen as a bad  patch and do not know how to take care of their families. 

Call for Action

There is a lot needed to be done across the region by supporting one another in terms  of providing the best talents and pushing for better decision-making. However, no  matter how much advice is given to the other country leaders, the sovereignty of each state is duly noted since no simple solution can be offered without tackling the issues  from all sides. What causes migration could be contributed to both climate change and  the internal power struggle within the countries which then again will cause further  harm to the two vulnerable groups since there are certain entities that misuse their  power and treat the migrants as lesser than humans. 

Nonetheless, the continuous efforts by youth, respected leaders and media  coverage to impose pressure on the corrupted party will surely see a brighter day. This is to ensure more women and children are saved and protected from being mistreated. Better decision-making and good policy implementation not only will improve the  country’s preparedness in tackling climate change but also minimise other correlated factors causing bad treatment towards vulnerable groups in Southeast Asia. 

 By: Ibrahim Muhammad Hasifullah


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