The situation of the indigenous peoples of Taiwan, who linguistically belong to the Austronesian (Malayo-Polynesian) group, has been improving slightly in the last few years. Although about 98 per cent of the population is of Han ancestry, a dozen officially recognized indigenous peoples number almost half a million (in 2004), or close to 2 per cent of the country's population. Most of these are also Christians, whereas most Han are members of the Buddhist majority.
One of the main legal-political developments for the indigenous peoples of Taiwan in 2004–5 has been the drafting of a new constitution that includes an explicit recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples, including a right of autonomy presented as self-determination. This autonomy would potentially extend to the use of traditional lands, language, customary law and other rights. These reforms are part of a long-term process which is expected to be completed by 2008. Indigenous languages have additionally started to be supported by authorities, after decades of active government suppression, with a number of initiatives for total language immersion education being set up after 2001 in some districts. A special affirmative action programme also started in 2005 covering the admission of indigenous students to university, and 2004 legislation requires that, for a firm with 100 employees or more wishing to compete for government contracts, at least 1 per cent of its employees must be Aborigines. (This is a quota required under the 2001 Indigenous Peoples Employment Rights Protection Act.) On the negative side, a 5 per cent hiring quota for Aborigines in firms established in free-trade zones under the 2003 Statute Governing the Establishment and Management of Free Trade Ports was heavily criticized in 2005 and may be reduced.
Despite Mandarin being the first language (mother tongue) of slightly more than 20 per cent, and therefore a 'minority language', it is the main and almost exclusive language used by public authorities. (The language of about 67 per cent of the country's population is actually Southern Fujianese, also called Minnanese.) The Hakka-speaking minority (about 11 per cent of the population) has only recently started to see its language being taught in primary schools – in the years just prior to 2004–5 – though this seems to be limited to a few hours a week. Overall, it seems that in this period the government has continued to follow a more inclusive and tolerant approach towards its minorities, although its language policies could still be seen as discriminatory in some respects.
Amnesty International still reports rampant social discrimination in 2004, with indigenous people subjected to discrimination in employment in the cities. The unemployment rate among indigenous people was 15 per cent – compared to an average of 4 per cent for the population as a whole – and 48 per cent received less than a third of the average wage (Amnesty International Report 2005: The State of the World's Human Rights).
Freedom of religion is widely respected, and religious minorities are not subjected to any form of visible discrimination. However, in 2004–5 they are still not permitted to have religious instruction in their own private schools accredited by the Ministry of Education, although if a minority school is not accredited by the Ministry of Education it can provide religious instruction.
One area that has been of increasing concern is the treatment of 'new' minorities in Taiwan. Minorities who have arrived since the 1990s in Taiwan as migrant workers, especially Filipinos, Indonesians and Thais, have become in 2004–5 more vocal, even violent, over their limited legal protections. A violent riot by more than 1,500 mainly Thai migrant workers erupted in August 2005 over poor working conditions and alleged abuses of workers building a mass transit railway project in Kaohsiung Taiwan, leading to the resignation of Council of Labour Affairs Chairwoman Chen Chu.
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