Subregional processes

South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation

The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC),11 is a key subregional body that focuses on economic, technological, social and cultural development. The Association has yet to develop a framework that fully protects the rights and interest of migrant workers. However, the SAARC Social Charter, adopted by the twelfth SAARC Summit in Islamabad in January 2004, is primarily an agreement that is used to exert moral pressure on governments. The objective of the charter is to establish a people-centred framework for social development to guide efforts to build a culture of cooperation and partnership. The Charter does not recognize labour as a distinctive group and consequently workers are not even mentioned in the document nor does it mention rights and freedoms of individuals in the subregion. In addition, it provided no explicit commitment by SAARC member States to respect the ILO Core Labour standards, Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work or, the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights (in particular Article 23) (Khatri 2007).

SAARC has made concrete steps in combating trafficking in persons. The adoption of SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children for Prostitution in 2002 at the eleventh SAARC Summit in Kathmandu is viewed as significant initiative in combating and preventing trafficking in South Asia, especially as it recognizes the need for extraterritorial application of jurisdiction. The Forum for Women, Law and Development, however, pointed out some problems with the definition provided by this Convention, stating that it focuses too narrowly on sex work and, thus, leaves no room for application to a broader scenario of trafficking cases. Moreover, the Convention lacks a strong treaty body and perspective on the rights of victims (Wickramasekara 2004).

Regional consultative processes

In Asia, regional consultative processes (RCPs) on migration and state-owned and state-led forums, have contributed to migration governance on a regional and global basis.12


11 SAARC was established in 1985 with seven member States—Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and then extended to eight members States in 2006 with the addition of Afghanistan.

12 For more details see chapter on migration policies and regional cooperation in this report.