New Internationalist

Update

Issue 189

new internationalist
issue 189 - November 1988

Update

POPULATION

Mortal coils
Baby ban in East Timor

Simple device - complex moves to control Timorese population.
Photo: United Nations

'Keep young! Get sterilized!' Birth control programmes can take many forms - but few can be more dishonestly motivated than Indonesia's current assault on the population of East Timor.

The World Bank-backed drive - which incidentally violates United Nations recognition of East Timor as an independent country - tells newlyweds that birth control (or better still, sterilization) is the key to health.

Fuelling this propaganda are free supplies of birth control pills, capsules and IUDs which are given out to Timorese who are used to paying a small fortune just to consult a doctor.

Not surprisingly these devices are distributed with little or no instruction on correct use - thus increasing women's health problems. And fear of being 'treated' with permanent sterilization keeps women from seeking medical help. There are also doubts about the check-ups women are persuaded to have as these examinations are frequently followed by a miscarriage.

According to the Indonesian Human Rights organization TAPOL the Government's birth control and natal care programme is itself causing the high infant and maternal mortality rates which the authorities claim to be fighting. But the Indonesian authorities are not only trying to control the rate at which the Timorese breed - they also want to dictate where they live. The plan is to reduce the present 1,873 villages into 412, thereby tightening security and making the best land available for incoming Indonesian settlers.

Nyree Gracey

TOURISM

A man's needs
Third World sexploitation

[image, unknown] Feminists are not good news for Western sex tour club operators. But such organizations generally prefer to keep a low profile as they peddle Third World prostitution - hoping to attract the attention only of potential customers.

Not so the Norwegian Scan Thai Travellers club which has decided to take its most active critics, the Kvinne Fronten (The Women's Front), to court. It is not necessary to repeat what Kvinne Fronten says about Scan Thai. The declarations of its founder Ivar larrasen in the club's brochure are clear enough.

He writes: 'The Women's Front, and other equal rights fanatics chose to completely disregard ... a small difference. Men's deepest instincts are to admire and protect women. To compete with women is totally against nature. How can one discuss equal pay for equal work and disregard the fact that women have "a gold mine of their own".

The brochure goes on to plead that prostitution is just a natural part of Thailand's culture: 'You have to pay for women in Bangkok - for one night, for one week or for your whole life. In return they give you a lot of care and sex.

In an attempt to defend his activities Iarreson says: 'You might say that I sell sex, but the girls in Bangkok appreciate this. If prostitution were to be stopped they would have to work in the rice fields on a starvation salary.'

But his interests appear to remain firmly with the purchasers' 'needs' - and pockets - as he advises: 'If you want to buy a girl from one of the escort firms it will cost you quite a lot. The escort girls are for the rich man who does not want the bother of leaving his hotel room if the need gets too strong.

Kvinne Fronten (The Women's Front) can be contacted at
Ostenjovelen 62, Boks 53 Bryn, 0611 Oslo 6, Norway.

CULTURE

Video truants
Skipping class in Ghana

A nation does not have to be affluent for its children to become video junkies. In Ghana hundreds of new commercial video-viewing centres are luring youngsters away from their lessons by operating during school hours. Some centres even allow youngsters to watch pornographic films.

Not surprisingly, this is causing concern amongst parents, teachers and some Government authorities. The Ministry of Information estimates that there are now more than 200 video centres in Accra alone. In rural areas where there are few cinemas the video centres are especially popular.

Truant children often use their bus or lunch money to get into the centres. Or else they steal. One thing is certain: they have no difficulty finding videos of their choice - they are advertised on virtually every street corner in Accra, even in the poorest areas.

The authorities have responded to complaints of increasing truancy with legislation apparently strict but in practice almost ineffective. The Ministry of Information directed that the centres should operate only after 4pm. This was complied with initially but soon ignored.

Following further complaints from religious groups and women's movements tougher legislation was introduced. Premises must now be licensed annually by the police and have adequate ventilation, fire extinguishers, fixed seats and doors that open outwards. Most importantly, children under 18 should be accompanied by an adult. The penalty for showing a pornographic film is £500 - oddly, the fine is expressed in pre-colonial currency, not cedis.

It sounds good but in reality none of the video centres operate according to these regulations.

Ajoa Yeboah-Afari / Gemini

HEALTH

Hot dinners
Radiation alert

Why should milk from Holland be labelled 100 per cent Australian when sold to the Philippines? And what are large quantities of Bulgarian jam, French and West German cheese and British chocolate doing on the supermarket shelves in Asia and Australasia?

These are questions asked by a small group of paediatricians and parents, Awareness Education, as they travel far and wide, visiting schools and county halls throughout Australia and Aotearoa.

Chernobyl - combined with inadequate import safety controls - is the simple answer. Generally, imported foodstuffs undergo random testing. But the inefficiency of this system is reflected in the number of contaminated foodstuffs reaching supermarket shelves in the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore, Aotearoa and Australasia.

The Australian Health Authorities openly admit that they lack the person-power and financial resources to check for radioactive contamination in every shipment that comes in to the country. If this is the case in Australia what can be expected in the impoverished Philippines.

As a result there has been a steady inflow of contaminated food since July 1986. Currently levels are up to 100 Becquerel are allowed to pass unchecked while levels of up to 600 Bq can be imported but require a permit. Now, 1 Bq represents one nuclear disintegration (or atomic explosion) per second. During this disintegration, particles of energy are ejected that can smash into our body cells causing damage that can lead to cancer.

Radioactive elements remain in our bodies for a long time. Caesium-137 for instance can stay in the body of a child for 30-50 days and in that of an adult for 70-100 days. As a result just one Bq of Caesium-137, contained in one litre of milk, will undergo a tiny explosion every second; 60 explosions every minute, 3,600 explosions every hour or a total of three to seven million tiny atomic explosions in its stay in our bodies - any one of which can cause cell mutations which eventually lead to cancer or genetic damage.

But despite current theories that ingested radiation may be 20 times more cancer-forming than external radiation, the new limits have been set at up to three times higher than previously accepted.

And what is the ordinary consumer meant to do in the face of such confusing and horrendous information? 'Read the label' is the first lesson from Awareness Education. And if you must buy from Europe ask your supplier if they can guarantee the product.

Ray Barker, Awareness Education, P0 Box 8290, Stirling St., Perth 6000, Australia.

HUMAN RIGHTS

Banana ban
Colombian killings

A boost in production - and murder of banana workers.
Photo: Peter Stalker

Boycott Colombian bananas. That is the message from human rights and solidarity groups following a shocking independent report on the systematic assassination of banana workers in the country.

More than 150 workers have already been killed so far this year, according to a report by rural sociologist Jose Ramón Mauleon. And none of the killers have been brought to justice.

The situation is worst in the Urabá area in the north of the country - and is said to have deteriorated since Amnesty International launched its human rights campaign for Colombia in April.

Those killed were members of trade unions in an area which, with a total of 10,000 troops, has become so highly militarized that there is one soldier for every two banana workers.

Meanwhile the Colombian banana industry - largely controlled by the multinationals United Brands, Del Monte and Standard Fruit - is booming. Colombia is now the fourth biggest banana exporter in the world.

Certain trade union leaders have always been at risk in Colombia - a military state thinly disguised as a two-party democracy. But the military has recently extended its brief to make all trade union leaders 'fair game'. Since this tactic came into operation in September 1987 all founding members of the banana trade union movement have been assassinated or subjected to assassination attempts.

There was nothing gradual, however, about what happened at Uraba on the night of March 4 this year. Just nine days before local elections 29 people were assassinated. Of these, 20 were banana workers and nine were left-wing politicians. The workers, killed on the Honduras and La Negra plantations, all belonged to the political organization Frente Popular.

On the night of the killings a dozen armed masked men broke into the workers' dormitories. One of the assassins had a list of names written on his hand and began to call them out. A witness reports that after the shots one of the assassins shouted across, 'Corporal, one of them is still alive'. 'Finish him off,' came the reply.

There are several other testimonies indicating army involvement. The Colombian weekly Semana comments: 'We cannot dismiss the fact that military personnel were members of a group of killers'. And it adds that these 'cleaning operations' are being financed by the region's plantation owners. There are also clear indications that although the assassinations may have been carried out by low-ranking army officers the orders came from the military high command.

The overall aim appears to be to stop the growth of left-wing political organizations strong enough to challenge both the power of the military and the appallingly low wages and living conditions of plantation workers.

The two main unions, Sintagro and Sintrabanano, are not to be cowed, however. They responded to the killings by organizing a six-day stoppage, demanding the withdrawal of military personnel from plantations and requesting the presence of international observers at forthcoming local elections.

For more information contact the Colombia Solidarity Committee,
Priory House, Latin American House, Kingsgate Place,
Kilburn, London NW6 4TA, UK.

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