From child to community
WHEN the New Internationalist ventured into the emotional minefield of child sponsorship in our May, 1982 issue we expected some flak. And we got it: passionate letters from angry readers and long correspondence from sponsorship agencies. We were accused of being heartless, negative, biased and inaccurate.
But the controversy spilled far beyond the Letters Page of the New Internationalist. Nowhere was it more heated than in Canada where it started a national debate. The United Church of Canada (the country’s largest protestant denomination) reprinted the lead article in their in-house magazine Mandate. That prompted a Canadian Press wire story which was picked up by papers across the country; open-line phone-in shows debated the topic, columnists ruminated and Maclean ‘s (Canada’s Time) featured a snappy survey of both sides of the argument.
According to Mandate editor, Rev. Dean Salter, the United Church has been grappling with the question of child sponsorship for years. Finally, the church’s World Outreach Division spoke against it, blasting it as potentially divisive and creating aspirations impossible to fill. ‘Many congregations support children overseas even though the official church does not endorse sponsorship’, says Salter. ‘It’s traditionally been the feeling that supporting a child is at least something concrete. When we said there were better ways to help that caused a lot of serious re-thinking’.
For the Canadian Save the Children Fund (Cansave) the re-thinking had been going on for some time. In February, 1983 Cansave decided to drop out of the sponsorship business. The decision came after nine months of investigation and discussion by a special task force. Overseas field staff, the families of sponsored children and the sponsors in Canada were all interviewed.
The committee concluded that individual child sponsorship is ‘one step forward and one backward’. ‘It attempts to deal with symptoms of underdevelopment, not root causes. It reflects Western individualism and subverts the sense of community and equality which is traditional in many Third World societies’. The report called for ‘balanced policies aimed at the long-run improvement of the economic and social life of the community to help people create employment opportunities and improve their incomes to become self-sufficient and self-respecting’.
Cansave’s Director of International Programmes, Bill Stock, says bluntly ‘sponsorship is an effective way of raising money, but not a very effective way of spending it’. Cansave had 7,000 sponsorships. Many will finish in March, 1984; by March, 1987, the programme will be phased out completely. The sponsorship programme contributed $1.5 million a year, about a third of Cansave’s budget.
Instead, Cansave is now pushing what it calls ‘community spbnsorship’. Donors pay $200 a year each and in turn each receives two reports a year from the field with details of the project and glimpses of the life of the people involved. Says Bill Stock: ‘the whole business of selecting children was very difficult and potentially open to abuse. You tended to be dealing with symptoms, not causes. One child might get an education but the reality in which he lived wouldn’t change. You would still have high unemployment, no running water or sanitation; those major problems tended to get by-passed’.
Other child sponsorship agencies are more sanguine. Foster Parents Plan of Canada, part of the international Foster Parents network, also says community development is the main goal behind its sponsorship programme. But Plan’s Canadian Director, Paula McTavish, says the principle of child sponsorship is not about to be abandoned. ‘We will not reverse our position.’ McTavish stresses. ‘We believe the personal one-toone relationship is critical.’
YOU can buy live python by the foot or lizards by the pound weight in pet shops in Malaysia - where there is a thriving and illicit trade in protected species. Porcupines, monkeys and flying squirrels are interned in small cages, waiting to be sold as pets or served up as exotic dishes in restaurants.
The lack of protection for the country’s wildlife is, according to a report from Malaysian Friends of the Earth (SAM), typical of the country’s attitude to development in general. Laws may exist to protect animals or to control factory pollution or tree-felling but they are often swept aside in the rush for Western-style development. Those who lose out are usually the poorest in the cities or the rubber tappers or the tribal people in the countryside.
The report is especially critical of national policies on food production. Malaysia has to import about 20 per cent of the rice she needs and imports of fruit and vegetables have been rising each year even though the country’s fertile soil can grow plenty in rich variety. Yet the sprawling cities are being allowed to take up more and more of the land.
But SAM does more than just complain about such destructive policies. It is a campaigning organisation and the report details one success story - stopping the construction of a dam which would have flooded part of the National Park. Practical economic arguments about the country’s energy needs were combined with all the public ballyhoo of petitions, postcards and tee-shirts to have the project cancelled.
State of the Malaysian Environment 1983/84
THE world recession is now beginning to have an impact on the lives of millions of children, according to a new report from UNICEF.
In Costa Rica, for example, the number of children being treated for severe malnutrition doubled in 1982. In the USSR infant death rates have been rising for some time. And in the United States infant mortality has risen in areas such as Alabama and Michigan which have been particularly hard hit by the recession.
But the international economy also amplifies the effects of recession for poor countries. It has been estimated that a one per cent fall in the rate of growth of the rich countries produces on average a one and a half per cent fall for the poor nations. And within the poor countries themselves a three per cent fall in average incomes can become a 15 per cent fall in the incomes of the very poorest.
Even within poorer communities it is often the weaker members - the women and young children - who have to go without. If we take the combined effect of these multipliers into account it is easy to see that for a poor child of a large landless family engaged in an export industry like tea-picking only a small drop in demand could result in a dramatic fall in their wages.
In many parts of the world average incomes have begun to decline for the first time in many years. In a country like Zambia, heavily dependent on copper prices which have reached their lowest level for 50 years, average family incomes have been almost halved. In Cost Rica real incomes are down by as much as a third.
‘In most of the countries for which there is data,’ concludes the report’the number of people living below the poverty line shows an upward trend.’
COMPARED with malnutrition and disease it is hard to accept that road deaths are a serious problem in the Third World. Yet a recent review of work by the Overseas Unit of Britain’s Transport and Road Research Laboratory highlights traffic accidents as a major cause of death and financial loss in developing countries. The researchers estimate that road crashes cost nearly one per cent of a developing country’s GNP and are the sixth biggest killer of its five to 64-year-olds.
What is more, fatality rates in developing countries are increasing. In the North, they are falling.
A major reason for this is simply bad driving. A vehicle on the road in Nigeria is 47 times as likely to kill as one in Britain. In Pakistan the figure is 11 times, in Chile, four times. In one test, only 10 to 17 per cent of Third World drivers stopped for pedestrians at ‘zebra’ crossings, compared with 72 per cent in Reading, England (stopping was mandatory in all countries investigated).
Poor knowledge lies behind bad driving, with only 53 per cent of Pakistani drivers knowing what colour follows amber on traffic lights. Particularly worrying is the state of pedestrian safety education - most Thai children ‘simply looked straight ahead while crossing the road’. Only half of them had discussed road safety with their parents (95 per cent of UK children had done so). The researchers point out that poor countries have a large proportion of children in their populations and children account for a tragically high percentage of road fatalities.
But the British group has not confined itself to horror statistics - it proposes solutions too. One of the simplest (at least in principle) would be to stop the overloading of passenger-vehicles. Another possibility would be to improve the standard of vehicle maintenance; the big hurdle is enforcement. Police in the Third World often have to spend their time directing traffic rather than enforcing safety laws.
Any safety legislation would have to bear in mind local conditions. Motorcycle deaths in Nigeria went up following crash-helmet legislation - riders did not fasten helmets properly because of the heat. In Thailand helmet legislation was rescinded after accusations that it was designed solely to boost helmet sellers’ profits!
The most effective cure may involve improvements to roads themselves. Experience in developed countries suggests that simple things like road widening and marking can pay for themselves in months. But for poor countries, where will the money come from? How about asking the multinationals who sell them the vehicles?
Bankrolling the bottle
DESPITE strenuous and expensive PR efforts by Nestlé to convince the world that it is now adhering to the World Health Organisation code on the marketing of breast milk substitutes, the international boycott goes on. Campaigners believe that although Nestlé’s marketing practices have shown some improvement, the company still has some way to go.
According to an American campaigner, Nestlé has financed ‘a heavily bank-rolled guerilla war to beat the boycott behind the lines’. With mass mailing to clergy, academics and other key groups, Nestlé is trying to convince the public that it has adequately responded to the code.
In Britain the company has been trying to link itself with child health organisations. Minutes of a Save the Children Fund meeting show that Nestlé offered to invest $1 million in a fund-raising campaign for the fund in the United States.
The offer - which Nestlé claim it never made - was rejected, with the fund’s chairman and directors recommending ‘against involvement, as association with Nestlé would do no good to the fund’.
The London-based Institute of Child Health was also offered and rejected Nestlé financing. However the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine seems likely to accept the company’s money.
In Asia, the Indian Pediatric Association has said that under no circumstances will it take money from any breast-milk substitute company. Should government funding for Britain’s health service decline, Nestlé may, however, seek new opportunities to step in with financial offers. John Madeley
AUSTRALIA’s anti-uranium movement has received a shattering setback from the political party which gave a ‘total, unequivocal commitment to phase out the nation’s involvement in the uranium industry’. The pledge, made in 1982 when the Labor Party was in opposition, is official policy.
But in government Labor has given the goahead to the Roxby Downs project in South Australia. There, under the desert, are 1.3 million tons of uranium ore, described by experts as the largest deposit in the world and called by the Prime Minister, Bob Hawke - an open advocate of uranium mining and export - ‘the daddy of them all’.
The Roxby deposits consist of an estimated 50 per cent copper, five per cent gold and silver and the remainder uranium. But uranium would be the project’s biggest money-spinner.
The policy announcement was also followed by cries of ‘betrayal’ from many interest groups and a warning from the peak trade union group, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, that the ACTU saw the decision as contradicting its own policy. ACTU president, Mr Cliff Dolan, said the ACTU would be looking at ways to stop Roxby Downs ‘whether it has been given the parliamentary OK or not’.
The convenor of People for Nuclear Disarmament, Dr Joe Camilleri, has been putting on a brave face. He says the movement ‘will continue the educational work, the mobilisation work, and we are going to apply pressure on the Labor Party to act honorably’.
The movement’s efforts will focus on next April 15. Dr Camilleri says: ‘In every state around Australia, we will try to establish a coalition bringing together the environmental and peace movements as well as the specifically anti-uranium organisations, the women’s groups, church groups, the democrats, large sections of the Labor Party, trade unions and many other organisations.
This first appeared in our award-winning magazine - to read more, subscribe from just £7