Illegitimate causes for concern
THE illegitimate children of servicemen are one of the saddest legacies of America’s Asian wars of the last 30 years. Amerasian children in Vietnam are despised, discriminated against and often very badly treated. In South Korea they are scarcely acceptable at all and are treated like abandoned dogs.
Pearl S. Buck was an American who spent much of her life in China and was ashamed of the heritage that her country had left. In 1964 she set up a foundation to help Amerasian children and today it works in half a dozen Asian countries where there are, or have been, US bases.
The biggest programme is in Thailand which is where American soldiers during the Vietnam war went for their off-duty pleasures. Apart from the colour prejudice the children there also face social prejudice because their mothers are assumed to have been prostitutes. Programme director Mike Nebeker Smith estimates that there are around 5,000 Amerasian children in Thailand of whom 2,000 are now in the care of the Pearl S. Buck Foundation.
The greatest number were born during the Vietnam conflict and those children are now about to enter the job market. This is where they begin to meet difficulties much tougher than the teasing they will have had from their schoolmates. ‘It’s not so bad for the girls,’ says Smith. ‘Often Amerasian girls are regarded as being cute and attractive. A lot of them are in show business, but the boys have more problems.’ Of these it is the children of black Americans who have the greatest difficulties. Thai society equates fair skin with beauty and dark-skinned children are not assimilated easily.
Employers are reluctant to take them on. ‘It’s not me,’ they say, ‘it’s my other employees, they might not like him.’ The voice of racial prejudice the world over. Some of the girls might well drift into prostitution and the boys into the fringes of the vice and drugs worlds.
If the Foundation can unearth clues to the identity of the father it will make efforts to trace him to see if he is willing to take responsibility for the child. And the Foundation may also help to arrange adoption in the USA.
But most of the children are passionately attached to their home country and are not interested in going to America. The Foundation helps them to get the documentation they need and looks at the possibilities of finding them a job. Children with a foreign or no known father may, for example, not automatically be considered as citizens even if they were born in Thailand.
Typical cases are three children whose mother works as a housekeeper for $40 a month. The eldest, a 16 year old boy, is illiterate and suffers from violent mood changes and sudden rages. His 10 and 12 year old sisters, though, are quiet and hard-working.
They all know their American father deserted them years before. ‘He brought us all trouble when he left,’ the boy says angrily. ‘Sometimes when I think about our father,’ the 12-year-old adds wistfully, ‘I sit and cry.’
Frena Bloomfield, Gemini
Is it true that the Nestlé Boycott is over? On January 27, the London Guardian carried a story with the optimistic title ‘Nestlé satisfies boycott group’. Does this mean that the boycotters are so well satisfied with Nestlé’s recent record on marketing artificial babymilk that they feel they can stop their six-year vigil?
Not a bit of it. The reality is that the International Nestlé Boycott Committee issued Nestlé with a double-or-quits challenge a few weeks before Christmas - and the challenge had a pressing deadline. The next’ International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) conference was to take place early in February, in Mexico. If Nestlé agreed to make four crucial changes to their marketing policy, the boycott committee would recommend to the conference that the boycott be suspended for six months. The action groups would continue to monitor Nestlé’s marketing tactics during this trial period. If Nestlé passed the test, then the boycott would be called off.
And what if Nestlé refused to make the changes? Then the boycott would be intensified.
Nestlé leaped for the bait. On January 26, after three weeks of hard negotiation, Nestlé Vice-President Carl Angst signed an agreement which conceded all four points: 1. Free supplies of artificial babymilk would be given to babies only on medical grounds. 2. There would be a strong ‘health hazard’ warning on the package label. 3. Nestlé would improve the information available both to mothers and to doctors, emphasising breastfeeding and fully explaining the hazards of artificial feeding. 4. There would be no more personal gifts to doctors.
Of course, any action group that wished independently to carry on the boycott would be free to do so: the boycott committee can only recommend, not ratify, the agreement. INFACT, the US action group, has already endorsed the recommendation.
What of the other babymilk companies? They’ve escaped the limelight so far. Not any more. They will be the second focus of the conference in Mexico, upon which we will report in our next issue.
ALARIA cases in India in 1961 plummeted to 50,000 from an estimated 100 million 10 years earlier. The story was repeated worldwide with optimism and scientists were forecasting the end to this common but crippling disease.
Today, the celebrations seem terribly premature. There are an estimated 150 million new malaria cases each year and as many as 800 million people may be suffering from the disease.
The disease is caused by single-celled parasites transmitted to humans by the female anopheles mosquito. The mosquito acquires the parasite after biting an infected person. Attempts to eradicate the disease have focused on trying to break the transmission cycle.
Two new drugs that offer some hope of eliminating the parasites in malaria victims are mefloquine and an ancient Chinese remedy called ginghaosu. But research efforts must go on if these drugs are to be tested and developed quickly. In addition, the development of a vaccine (which creates an immunity to the disease) is under way. Although scientists report some successes with injections of killed malaria parasites or genetically engineered bacteria, a long-lasting vaccine from a single innoculation is still far away. In both cases, vast sums of money will be needed to complete research.
Another recently proposed program would involve releasing millions of irradiated, sterile mosquitoes into high-malaria areas. This would result in a second generation of ‘sterile insects. But the costs are high since billions of sterile mosquitoes would have to be produced and released over large areas of Africa and Asia.
The cost of such protection from malaria would be two dollars per person per year. In many countries such as India, Pakistan and Ethiopia, this would be more than the per capita health spending for all health services.
Andrew Williams, IDRC
Too many, too close
THE chances of a baby dying increase Maccording to the number of children that a mother already has - according to the United Nations Fund for Population Activities. Another important factor is how close together the births come.
Even in rich countries like the United Kingdom the fourth or fifth child in a family has a 25 per cent greater chance of dying in infancy than the first-born. Why this should be is not completely understood but it could well be connected with low birth-weight which is common in later children. Still the numbers in the UK are quite small - only 16 per thousand.
In poor countries there are many more children at risk. In Chile, for example, the number of deaths per live birth jumps from 38 for the first-born to 70 for the fourth or fifth child. In this case it is clear that competition for food makes things difficult.
The space between the births is also important. In 29 poor countries assessed by the World Fertility Survey it has been shown that if a birth comes before the previous child’s second birthday then the new arrival is nearly twice as likely to die than if there had been a longer interval.
The food from its mother’s breast is probably the key factor here. Without time to recover from the first birth a mother has little chance to replace the store of nutrients in her body. According to the World Health Organisation infants breastfed for less than six months are much more likely to die in the second six months than those who have been breastfed for longer.
ALL cultivated species of plants are erive from wild relatives known as cultivars. Scientists are worried that the extinction of these wild species - probably at a rate of one a day - may pose a grave threat to world food supplies.
The conservation of the gene pools of wild species is essential to maintaining genetic diversity as scientists are increasingly turning to cultivars to improve cultivated crops. The genetic resources available in the jungles and pampas of South America and the marshes of Asia have helped plant breeders make modem hybrids stronger and more disease-resistant.
Almost all the commonly cultivated crops such as rice, wheat, barley, sorghum, maize, coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, and rubber have been boosted with genes from their wild relatives growing in different parts of the world. Yet sources of such varieties are disappearing now as tropical rain forests give way to agriculture and lumber industries.
When a crop is domesticated, its genetic base narrows and it becomes more vulnerable to pests and diseases.
Grains in the USA have been protected by crossbreeding with wild varieties. A germ plasm from a wild wheat in Turkey saved American wheat fields from the stripe rust that caused much damage in the 1960s and the European potato has received a boost from Mexico.
About two-thirds of the world’s wild genetic resources are found in the Third World. This could well become a conflict between the South and the North. At the Third International Congress of National Parks held last year, some delegates insisted that developing countries benefit as much from their genetic resources as developed countries do. It is not just research institutes and universities that have been making use of the gene pool. Multinational corporations with monopolistic seed patents are big beneficiaries.
Some countries are, however, prepared to take a firm stand on the issue. No germ plasm is allowed to leave Ethiopia, for example, as it is viewed as a natural resource.
Indonesia has suggested there should be a one per cent tax on commercial sales of seeds in the USA which could net $100 million for developing countries.
Such calls for a fair return on genetic resources are bound to become a source of debate between North and South as the developed countries look increasingly to wild species to improve their cultivated crops.
Mallika Wanigasundara, IDRC
Wild Peruvian tomatoes (left) have strengthened the Western product (right).
ONE woman and 29 men were paraded recently in front of a 100,000 crowd in Beijing’s Workers Stadium. The mayor delivered a speech on public order and listed their crimes - rape and murder. Then he pronounced sentence and they were taken away to be shot with a single bullet through the back of the neck. Now their pictures are publicly displayed as a deterrent to others.
China’s crime rate is one of the lowest in the world. And it is falling: the number of crimes reported to the authorities dropped 16 per cent in 1982. But the government is still not satisfied with progress - hence the current spate of executions.
One thing that particularly concerns the government is that there has been no decrease in major crimes such as murder, robbery and rape. And the official paper the People’s Daily has drawn attention to the rise in violent crime in the cities. Gangs of disaffected youths have left the countryside to live illegally in the more prosperous cities and have been responsible for a sharp increase in muggings and armed fights. Beijing residents are increasingly reluctant to be out at night especially in the network of small, dark alleyways.
Hence the current crackdown and the establishment of a People’s Armed Police Force and the new Ministry of State Security. Strict controls have been placed on knives and only members of the armed forces and policemen now have the right to possess them as weapons. Geologists or hunters who need them for work must obtain police permission. Sharp tools may only be used in workshops and not taken away.
China’s former policy was to execute only violent criminals but the death penalty can now be imposed on a whole range of crimes from organising a secret society to running a prostitution ring. Further executions are taking place every day; recent ones have included opium smugglers, rapists and four robbers said to belong to Hong Kong Black Society organisations.
Economic crimes are also capital offence now. One accountant was recently executed for running gambling dens and embezzling $70,000. Crimes like tax evasion, fraud, smuggling and the bribing of state employees are running at a level higher than at any time since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, according to a report recently presented to parliament. Some Chinese officials see such crimes as a consequence of foreign influence brought in by China’s new open door policy.
Jane Marshall, Gemini