issue 230 - April 1992
Unwelcome in India
Aborting girls increases
One of the most disturbing results of the 1991 Indian census was that a decline in the female proportion of the population, evident since the turn of the century, has not been reversed. Neglect for girls from birth onwards is the main reason. But an alarming trend of aborting unborn female children is sweeping the land.
What began as a middle-class, urban phenomenon is now penetrating rural areas as well. Ultrasound clinics can be found in medium-sized towns, while roving diagnostic teams take their ultrasound scanners wherever there is a demand. They advertise using catchlines like 'Spend 600 rupees ($23) now and save 50,000 rupees later.' The implication is that by avoiding a girl, couples will be spared the heavy dowry expected in Hindu society.
So far only Maharashtra state has banned pre-natal sex determination. In Rohtak, a town in Haryana, there are four ultrasound clinics. In the past decade Rohtak's sex ratio has declined from 879 women per 1000 men to 866. 'The very existence of women is under attack', said Jagmati Sangwan, a physical education instructor at a college in Rohtak. 'They are being denied even the right to be born.'
Hamish McDonald / Far Eastern Economic Review No.52
The prominent placing of brand names in films is an old advertising trick. It is so effective that companies are willing to pay $50 million a year for the privilege. One of the most popular recent US films aimed at children, Home Alone, had 31 featured brands.
Concern has centred as much on the deception as on the placement, for viewers are unaware that advertising is taking place. The Center for the Study of Commercialism in the US is campaigning to make such placements 'transparent' with an announcement at the start of the film.
New Consumer, No 10, 1992
Saving the animals
A new and inexpensive way to test drugs without killing laboratory animals has been developed by a Viennese professor at the University of Cincinnati. At a recent meeting in Linz, Austria, Professor Heinrich Koch described his use of yeast cells to measure toxicity in standard tests in which animals - usually mice or rats - are given increasing doses of chemicals until 50 per cent of the animals die. Using yeast cells, which are insensitive to pain, Koch has been able to test drug toxicity in hours rather in the weeks it would take to test the drugs on rats and mice.
World Press Review, 39.1
Who would have thought...
More than 62 percent of Japanese think that they can get AIDS from a bite by a mosquito that had first bitten a virus carrier, a government survey has shown. The figure was up from 52.2 percent in a survey in 1987. Those believing mistakenly that they can catch the virus by sharing bath and toilet items with HIV carriers rose sharply to 40.9 percent from 29.8 percent in 1987.
World Press Review, 39.1
Electronic gadgetry isn't worth much
to people who need a good stove.
The woman who runs the Northwest Territories
Most Canadians see their politics revolving around the relationship between the Federal Government of Brian Mulroney and the country's 10 provincial governments. Whether Quebec will break away from the other nine provinces is their main concern.
Few people even know that one fifth of the country is actually being governed by a strong-willed woman named Nellie Cournoyea. She is Government Leader of the Northwest Territories (NWT), most of whose 50,000 population are native people: either Dene, Inuit, and Metis, or mixed Dene and French-Canadian. Nellie - nobody calls her anything else - herself is of mixed ancestry. Her father came from Norway in 1925 and her mother is Inuit.
Politics in the North West Territories are unlike anywhere else in Canada. There are no political parties and each member is elected on her or his merit. The legislature conducts its business in no fewer than six languages - once a sitting had to be adjourned when a member spoke in the rare Dogrib Indian dialect and the interpreter had taken the afternoon off.
The leader and her or his ministers are chosen by vote of all the members of the legislature. Before voting members subjected Nellie and the other candidate to a four-hour long, tough inquisition.
After Nellie was chosen as Government Leader, she said she wanted the title changed to 'Premier', to match the system in neighbouring Yukon. 'When will that happen?' asked a journalist. 'When we have run out of stationery with "Government Leader" printed on it,' was her reply.
She has, of course, bigger problems to deal with. Since 1980 there have been negotiations to divide the North West Territories into two, and a plebiscite is due this year to seek agreement on a proposed borderline.
If accepted, the Eastern Arctic will be mainly Inuit. The Western Arctic is far less homogeneous and faces more intensely the disruptive problems of modernization. After a 10-year moratorium, a pipeline to carry oil from the North Slope of Alaska and the Beaufort Sea is to be built, and the mineral riches of the territory will be increasingly exploited. The division, if agreed, will not finally take place until 1997, but Nellie will be busy preparing for these changes.
Stitching up those flies
Forty million sterile flies from Mexico were released from aircraft over Libya each week as part of a UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) campaign in 1991 to eradicate a grave threat to African live-stock and wildlife.
Some 26,000 square kilometres of Libya are believed to be infested with the New World Screwworm fly, which lays its eggs in wounds on any warm-blooded animal, including humans. The larvae eat into the flesh of the host which, if not treated, can die within days.
Because flies have such a short lifespan the introduction of sterile males greatly reduces the flies' chances of reproducing themselves. That's the theory - and it's working, says the FAO.
UN Food and Agricultural Organization
Cry for me, Argentina
The Argentine Team of Forensic Anthropology is bringing some comfort to the relatives of the thousands who were killed during Argentina's military dictatorship. According to Alejandro Inchautegui, a member of the team, 'The relatives are under a state of suspended mourning, of permanent shock, due to the fact that they have had no access to the truth: "Where are they? What was it like? What may have happened? Were they badly tortured? What may have been the date of their death? Where may their remains be, so that I can take them flowers or practise the rites, or remember them on their birthday?" For the dead torture ended the minute they died, but for the relatives it has gone on and on in time.'
The team has taken on the mammoth task of identifying bodies recovered from mass graves so that each death may be given the dignity it deserves but did not get. According to official estimates, 10,000 people went missing between 1976 and 1984 but according to some versions the real figures could be twice as high.
They work from a series of pre-mortem data collected to make up the history of a body when it was alive - its diseases, dental information, traumas, operations, injuries, malformations. Then this data is compared (aided by computers) with the bodies they carefully unearth.
Where pre-mortem information is lacking they are studying the DNA of bone remains in collaboration with foreign universities. They attempt to match this genetic information with that of surviving relatives to identify the bodies.
Disturbing statistics on the treatment of the people who were taken hostage and then executed have emerged. Ninety per cent were shot from behind. Pregnant women were allowed to deliver their children and then shot. The search is on for the missing children who were taken away by their captors.
The laws of Punto Final ('Full Stop', which put an end to the possibility of filing claims for human rights violations in Argentina) and Obediencia Debida ('Due Obedience', which pardoned those who had violated human rights while following orders given by superiors) have limited the possibility of sentencing anyone other than top rank officers.
Based on an interview with Alejandre Inchautegui by Cristina Canoura/Third World Network Features
The Domino theory
The voting out of the Sandinista Government in 1990 brought in a devoutly religious President in Violeta Chamorro. One bonus is an unexpected flow of private investment. Thomas Monaghan, founder and owner of Domino's - an American firm claiming to be the world's biggest purveyor of pizzas - is helping to put four million dollars into a new cathedral for Managua, Nicaragua's capital.
Some believe the multiple domes and campanile designed by Ricardo Legoreta, a Mexican who specializes in big hotels, would look better on a mosque. 'Nobody likes it much apart from the Domino's Pizza man,' remarked a local government official. 'But then beggars can't be choosers.'
The old cathedral has been a roofless, shaky shell since 1972, when an earthquake wrecked it along with much of the city centre. As for Mr Monaghan, he spent part of his childhood in a nuns' orphanage, went to a seminary for a year and now owns the Detroit Tigers baseball team. Yet for all his charity, Mr Monaghan does not neglect his recession-hit pizza business. Recently he fired the Domino Pizza president, reshuffled senior management and reasserted his own control.
The Economist, Vol. 322 No. 7742 1992
LANDRU CLARIN / BUENOS AIRIES
Smacking: an arrestable offence
There are now proposals for Germany to join Austria and the Scandinavian countries in making physical punishment of children illegal. The German Children's Parliamentary Commission has drafted legislation which would outlaw not only the hitting of children, but also 'mental cruelty' including ignoring children, withholding affection and constant criticism. This follows a government committee commissioned to look at violence in German society which proposed, as its first recommendation, that corporal punishment within the family be made illegal.
Childright No 83, 1992
"I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that."
Lawrence Summers, Chief economist of the World Bank
in an internal memo, 12 December 1991
"They who have put out the people's eyes reproach them for their blindness."
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