Is Germany’s “Stay-At-Home” Bonus Plan Anti-Women?

Starting next year, the German government would like to put a little money in the pockets of stay-at-home parents. The E.U. Commmission in Brussels doesn’t approve, saying the bonus scheme encourages mother's not to rejoin the workforce.

German stay-at-home parents could have a little more
German stay-at-home parents could have a little more
Stefanie Bolzen

BERLIN -- The E.U. Commission has reservations about the bonus that, come 2013, the German government wants to start paying stay-at-home parents. In Germany, critics have dubbed it the "Herdprämie," meaning kitchen-stove bonus.

The European Union's Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion László Andor told Die Welt that "giving parents an incentive to stay home by giving them money for doing so weakens the work force." Andor said he was surprised that the German government would encourage women to stay at home and look after their children. "The European policy of promoting the presence of women in the working world is absolutely clear," he said.

The bonus could have some undesirable consequences for the German government at the European level because -- within the framework of measures taken to combat the present crisis -- Berlin too has to present national reform programs to the E.U. Commission. Adopting such a bonus could make Germany, which likes to see itself as something of a maverick economically speaking, appear as if it is hobbling its national economy.

A dearth of state-provided daycare

The social minister for the German state of Bavaria, Christine Haderthauer, was outraged by the criticism from Brussels. "The E.U. Commission's sweeping blow to family policy stems from ignorance of the subject," she said. Haderthauer is one of the strongest advocates of the bonus. She pointed out that it's not an either/or situation. "All parents, irrespective of whether or how much they work, would get the bonus if they organize an alternative to daycare centers or other pre-school arrangements for their kids," Haderthauer said.

In reply to questions from Die Welt, E.U. Commissioner Andor criticized the inadequacy of state-provided daycare in Germany. He said he is aware Germany is working to improve the situation, but "would very much welcome it if they would increase the number of places available in daycare centers." Brussels, in other words, wants more kindergartens, not stay-at-home bonuses.

The German government must now provide a statement in writing that the planned bonus will not get in the way of integrating women fully into the work force. The E.U. Commission is not in a position to impose any sort of punitive measures, but its disapproval of the bonus plan will undoubtedly generate further debate about it in Germany, where it's a source of disagreement not only between the government and the opposition, but also within the government coalition itself.

Read the original article in German

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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