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Understanding Freedom of Religion and Belief in Taiwan: A View from the Migrant Community

Longgang Mosque in Taoyuan City, Taiwan, established in 1962. Photo by Olimpia Kot-Giletycz

What is happening?

Taiwan, as one of the leading democracies in Asia in areas such as freedom of the press or LGBTQI+ inclusion, also declares its commitment to freedom of religion. In recent years, along with the expansion of the migrant community, the number of Muslims and Catholics has risen significantly. However, many migrant workers do not enjoy opportunities to worship like local employees. While Muslim migrants are currently observing the holy month of Ramadan and preparing for celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, Catholics are gearing up for Easter. Yet, it remains an open question to what extent employers will respect their religious freedom.

 

What is the broader picture?

The Republic of China Constitution, which serves as Taiwan’s basic law, ensures religious freedom. Article 13 of Chapter I of General Provisions states that “the people shall have freedom of religious belief.” Nearly 30 percent of Taiwanese follow traditional folk religions, almost 20 percent are Buddhist, over 18 percent are Taoists, and just under 24 percent of inhabitants declare no religion. Protestants constitute 5.5 percent, I-Kuan Tao (一貫道) 2.2 percent, and Catholics represent 1.4 % of believers. Members of other religious groups include Jews, Sunni Muslims, Tien Ti Chiao (天帝教, Heaven Emperor Religion), Tien Te Chiao (天德教Heaven Virtue Religion), Zailism (在理教), Precosmic Salvationism (皈依道, Guiyidao) and many others. In response to American initiatives to advance religious freedom, Taiwan appointed its first Ambassador at Large for religious freedom in 2019. Pusin Tali is a Presbyterian and a member of the Atayal Austronesian Indigenous group. In 2023 the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) organized an International Forum on Peace and Human Rights, Freedom of Religion or Belief at the National Taiwan University.

At the same time, one of the major concerns related to the human rights situation in Taiwan is the discriminatory treatment of the migrant community. This includes infringements on their religious freedoms. The number of migrant workers in Taiwan has risen significantly to over 700,000 since the opening of the labor market in 1992. With most migrant workers hailing from Southeast Asia, there are approximately 250,000 Vietnamese laborers who are predominantly Buddhist, followed by 240,000 Indonesians, a predominantly Muslim population. In contrast, most of the 149,000 workers from the Philippines are Catholic. Due to labor shortage, as well as the fact that the Labor Standards Act does not include domestic workers and caregivers, migrant workers performing these tasks are often denied a day off and thus unable to attend religious services. Considering the number of caregivers and domestic workers, more than 200,000 people are deprived of the opportunity to participate in weekly ceremonies. There have also been instances of forcing Muslim workers to consume pork, a practice contravening Islamic principles

 

Why it matters?

The labor force market in Taiwan is shrinking due to the low birth rate. It is estimated that Taiwan will become a “super-aged society” by 2025. Thus, its reliance on migrant workers will only grow in the future. With the government planning to introduce more migrant workers, there is a need for a better understanding of the rights of migrant workers and their cultural settings, including the rights to worship, and to identify and address the shortcomings of the related regulations.