New Internationalist

Updates

Issue 245

new internationalist
issue 245 - July 1993

Update

INDIA

Tough terms
Textile workers lose out

Women working with textiles in Bangladesh have financial and social status, but factories are replacing the practice of craft at home.
photo by SHAHIDUL ALAM / DRIK

Pending the outcome of the current GATT world trade negotiations, European Economic Community ministers are phasing out barriers to exports from Eastern Europe but extending the life of the Multifibre Arrangement (MFA) which restricts exports from Third World textile producers.

Trade barriers on clothes and textiles cost poor countries almost $50 billion per year – as much as all Western aid put together. The US’s current ban on products made by child labour in the Third World has thrown thousands of children out of work and into even greater poverty. When Britain and France used the MFA to impose quotas on Bangladeshi garments in 1985, 100,000 workers lost their jobs.

‘No-one is condoning child labour,’ stresses Farida Akhter, a director of Policy Research for Development Alternatives in Bangladesh. ‘But these children are now stranded on the streets, starving or selling their bodies. What good has (the US’s ban) done them?’

Exploitation is rife in the garment factories. Shima Das Shimu, who runs a workers’ rights centre in Dhaka, describes an average day in a Bangladeshi garments factory:

‘An eight-o’clock start means 7.59 or have your job terminated. Loud music begins immediately to prevent anyone talking. The boss gives you a deliberately unrealistic target, maybe 1,200 collars, for the day. Since you will fail to meet the target, you must finish during compulsory unpaid overtime ’till late at night. Toilets are usually so unclean that workers try to avoid using them. But if you need the toilet, you have to obtain a permit card from the supervisor who times you.’

But for garment workers – most of whom are women – it is preferable to unemployment and hunger. The rag trade has given women a degree of financial and social status unheard of a decade ago. Trade-union membership has risen sharply and now is at an all-time high. Women have even taken to the streets in mass industrial action.

Farida Akhter is confident that Bangladeshi garment workers will seize the first chance the West gives them to create genuine prosperity for themselves. ‘Women are becoming skilled and confident,’ she smiles. ‘I am sure it will not be possible to exploit them in the future as they have been exploited so far.’

Kay Parris

If you would like to join the World Development Movement’s campaign for fair world trade contact WDM at 25 Beehive Place, London SW9 7QR, UK Tel: 071 737 6215

Rat crime Rat crime
Police officers in the town of Busia, Kenya, were ‘stunned when a muscular young man went to the police station clutching four rats and accused them of having consumed his bread’, according to the Daily Nation of Nairobi. ‘I want these rats put in cells and charged,’ the man said. Instead the police held him for interrogation to determine if he was ‘drunk or insane’. Being found ‘sober and of sound mind’, the newspaper says, he was told to take his complaints to the public-health office.

World Press Review, Vol 40 No 4, 1993

 

STREET CHILDREN

Safer in sewers
Oil executive gets stuck in

In 1980 Jaime Jaramillo, a Colombian oil executive, found a young girl, Rebecca, lying on the street after an epileptic fit. He paid for her treatment in hospital, and afterwards, when he accompanied her home, he discovered she lived in a sewer. ‘I couldn’t understand how anybody could last an hour there. Yet this was her home,’ he recalls.

Since then Jaramillo has ventured into the sewers most nights, to visit los gamines, the street children, bringing food, medicine and comfort. He has become a regular sight and is known to the children as Papa Jaime.

The sewer children face disease and infection from living in untreated human waste, and from flash floods that sweep through when it rains. Still, life in the sewer is preferable to the dangers the children face on the streets above.

Until recently, death squads roamed Bogotá’s streets, assassinating children, considering them little more than vermin. Some 170 children are known to have been killed, though the actual figure is probably higher. The death squads have now disappeared, thanks in part to Jaramillo’s tireless work. But abandoned children still retreat to the sewers rather than face abuse on the streets. To survive, they most often resort to crime, which gives them a bad reputation in the city.

Almost all of them sniff glue or petrol fumes or take bazuco – the cheap residue left from the manufacture of cocaine. ‘It is the cold of the sewers at night that leads many of the children to take drugs,’ says Jaramillo.

When he began his work, children of all ages made their homes in Bogotá’s sewers. Babies were born there to mothers so young they were no more than children themselves. The children gathered in small families, looking after the youngest members and guarding their parche or patch.

But Jaramillo’s achievements over the past 12 years are remarkable. He has rescued all the children under ten from the sewers and babies are no longer born there. Pregnant girls are given two free meals every day and vitamins after their third month, and are taken into hospital for the delivery.

He has established rescue centres where the children – over half of them disabled – are given medical attention, education and training.

When he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 the Government began to increase its support for his projects and action was taken against the death squads. In 1991 a British charity was set up which supports his work and other projects in Colombia vetted by Jaramillo.

His Fundación Niños de los Andes (Children of the Andes Foundation) now has four centres all aimed at giving the children self-sufficiency. Rehabilitating the children from their drug addiction is one of the most difficult steps. No child is forced to come to the centres, and it is hard for the children to sacrifice the freedom they had on the streets for the life at the centres, especially when they are drugged.

In May a centre for drug-dependent children opened in Subachoque, 60 kilometres from Bogotá. Here the children are away from the temptations of the streets, making the process of rehabilitation easier. Jaramillo’s organization has helped some 2,000 children so far and astonishingly Jaramillo hasn’t lost sight of any of them.

Edmund Blair / Gemini

The London address of Children of the Andes is Enterprise House, 59-65 Upper Ground, London SE1 9PQ, UK

Goldfinger
GIANNI TORTOLI /
CAMERA PRESS

 

 

Goldfinger
The ecologically friendly banana has arrived. Developed by the Honduran Foundation for Agricultural Research, ‘Goldfinger’ is much hardier than traditional varieties and is resistant to the two worst fungal diseases that afflict bananas. Usually plantations are sprayed with fungicides which are hazardous to workers and the environment to ward off these diseases. Antifungus chemicals cost more than $750 per hectare a year. These are not needed for ‘Goldfinger’ – a short fat apple-flavoured banana is a cross between a wild Asian banana and a Brazilian variety. It is hoped that seedlings will be available in 1994.

New Scientist, No 1869, March 1993



Pol Pot prosecution?
The US Congress will shortly be debating the ‘Khmer Rouge Prosecution Act’. This would legally commit the US Government to actively support efforts to call Pol Pot to account for his crimes against humanity. Pol Pot was leader of the Khmer Rouge which was responsible for the genocide of as many as one and a half million Cambodians in the 1970s.

Concerned Cambodia-watchers worldwide are pressing their governments to delegitimize the Khmer Rouge. This would involve their expulsion from all the UN bodies on which they are currently represented.

Campaigning groups are asking their supporters to contact their congressional or parliamentary representatives and urge them to pursue the prosecution of Pol Pot under international law on genocide.

Craig Etcheson
Campaign to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge

 

WOMEN

Jailhouse shocker
Protests in Papua New Guinea

A controversial report on mistreatment of women in the five main jails of Papua New Guinea and a series of mob attacks on women by men in markets have angered community leaders. In recent market-place attacks young women were assaulted and stripped naked for reasons such as wearing shirts and shorts or trousers instead of the more conventional meri dress. Some were attacked for wearing make-up. Women are protesting against the absence of police patrols in public places, the slow arrival of police when attacks are reported and lack of support by security guards in markets.

Papua New Guinea’s deeply male chauvinistic social values are reflected in the fact that not one woman candidate was elected among the country’s 109 MPs in last year’s general election. The cabinet minister responsible for women’s affairs is a man.

A recent national study said up to 70 per cent of murder victims in Papua New Guinea were women and 67 per cent were beaten at least once at home. In her survey of five major prisons, criminologist Dr Anne Borrey found it common for women to be jailed for a month or more without being charged. It was also common for a woman to be jailed for not appearing before a court.

Women prisoners were often in poor shape, dirty and underfed. In most jails they had their underwear confiscated. Wardens considered them ‘hiding places for cigarettes’. They were allowed to wear undergarments only during their periods. Detainees who broke the rules were punished by having their underwear burnt and not being allowed any for their next menstrual cycle.

Dr Borrey found most women prisoners were jailed for violent reactions to husbands in polygamous families. She appealed for female prisoners to be punished within the community rather than being jailed.

David Robie / Gemini

Women’s refuge
Women tend to have a particularly nasty time in countries that live by oppressive rules. So Canada’s Immigration and Refugee Board has issued regulations that are supposed to help people who fear violence resulting from forced marriages, sterilization, bride-burning or other customs that place women ‘in a more vulnerable position than men’. The push for reform came to a head when Nada, a woman from Saudi Arabia who had been beaten and stoned for trying to drive a car (illegal for Saudi women) and appearing in public without a veil was denied refugee status – a decision later reversed by the Minister for Immigration. Radical women’s groups argue that the non-binding new guidelines should be made law.

The Economist Vol 326 No 7803

Keeping up
More than 100 million Chinese still earn less than $40 a year. But the five per cent of China’s 1.3 billion population that are wealthy as a result of economic liberalization number 65 million – a market larger than Thailand or Malaysia. Foreign firms are targeting this group, known as baofa-hu, or ‘households exploding with wealth’. The Swiss firm Rado sold 10,000 of its top-of-the-range watches in China last year. Benetton sweaters, Adidas sneakers, and Gucci handbags are big sellers. As for swanky cars – a German Audi or Mercedes-Benz for $50,000 is the ultimate status symbol .

World Press Review, Vol 40 No 4, 1993

 

INDIA

Honest bombshell
Anthropologist unearths awkward facts

All Indian anthropologist Dr Kumar Suresh Singh and his team wanted to do was ‘to record the life of our people as truthfully, as honestly as we can’.

So they set about producing a tremendous 46,000-page document called The Life of the People of India which covers every rite, every custom, every habit and every single community in the country. More than 500 sociologists and 3,000 researchers were involved in the eight-year-long study of 4,000 communities.

But in doing so Dr Singh has unwittingly assembled what is being described in the Indian press as ‘a bomb’. This, the country’s most comprehensive survey, manages to expose the taboos and stereotypes of every community.

Now Dr Singh is agonizing. How does he inform Sikhs that the practice they vehemently oppose – smoking – actually flourishes in the majority of their communities? How does he tell supposedly anti-alcohol Muslims that they shelter drinkers? Or cow-worshipping Hindus that many of them actually eat beef? How does he break the news that whole populations of Rajputs, known to the world as upholders of Sati, actually believe in widow remarriage. ‘In an atmosphere surcharged with religious snobbery and casteist chauvinism,’ says India Today, ‘every scholarly observation is seen as an attack on somebody and the retorts are bound to be swift and predictable.’

‘After all these years I wonder whether the effort was worthwhile,’ says Singh.

But perhaps the most illuminating discovery – in the wake of the Ayodhya temple riots and Bombay bombings – is the difference he found between the Hindu and Muslim communities. To study religious difference Singh listed 776 traits to see how they compared across the religious divide. When he came to Muslims and Hindus he jumped out of his chair: ‘Between Hindus and Muslims, the traits matched to the extent of 97 per cent...’

Information from India Today, 15 April 1993

Green shoots
A project to reforest mountain slopes around the city of Cuzco (now Qosqo) in Peru with native Andean trees has been a huge success. The project, ‘A Million Trees for Qosqo... A Million Trees for Life!’ is a joint venture of the city council and the ‘Inca’ association. The first season of planting began with the rains of September 1990. Within six months 1.2 million trees were planted in and around Qosqo, more than half of them native Andean species. The ultimate goal of the project is to plant 100 million trees. The involvement of the city council permitted the massive mobilization of local inhabitants, with as many as 5,000 people planting up to 25,000 trees in a single day. Eight new forests have been created in the outskirts of Qosqo and many birds and flowering plants are now returning to these areas after a long absence.

Mazan Times, Vol 4 No 4, 1993

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