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new internationalist
issue 258 - August 1994



Carpet Kids
Pressure of poverty runs industry in Nepal

Each winter in Nepal there is a month of festivities. It is the most important time of the year in both religious and family terms. Though it is still the tourist season Kathmandu closes down as city-dwellers rush home to their villages with gifts.

Last year, for the first time in his life, Chandra Syangtang was one of those who did not make it home for the festival. He spent it working in a Kathmandu carpet factory. At 18 years of age he no longer counts as one of Nepal's 150,000 carpet children though he has laboured in the industry for four years.

A year earlier the factory owner asked Chandra to recruit some new workers during his visit home for the festival. Chandra found a young boy in his village and took him back to Kathmandu. Soon after arriving in the factory the boy fell ill and the owner had to pay out $100 in medical expenses. When he recovered the boy ran away and the furious owner told Chandra he would have to work unpaid until the boy's medical debt had been cleared. As he earned just $10 a month he had to work through the festival.

Chandra's father, Kawe, says he sent Chandra, his other son Ghan and his daughter Yangi to Kathmandu because he couldn't feed them. Even though Kawe is wealthy in Nepali terms because he owns irrigated land on the river plain, his total debts amounted to $12,000, six times his yearly income. He says the food he grows is sufficient to feed his family for just six months of the year.

Children, some as young as five, make up half the workforce in Nepal's 2,000 carpet factories. Like Chandra, 97 per cent come from poor rural families who have never had enough to eat and who have always relied on their children to survive.

The Nepali carpet industry employs 10 times more children than the more publicized Indian industry. The average age is 13 but 12,000 are younger than 10. They work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, squashed shoulder to shoulder on wooden planks, breathing air laden with cotton dust. Half suffer from malnutrition and others are affected by silicosis, early arthritis and eye strain.

But while the Indian Government says publicly that it wants to stamp out child labour, the Nepali Government refuses to recognize it as a problem. According to Bijay Sainju from Child Workers in Nepal, an organization working principally with carpet children, 'When we try to talk to the Prime Minister about child labour he says "we've eradicated it". The reality is that the export market is controlled by a few big guys who have close links to the Government.'

Rebecca Dodd/ActionAid

Cleaning up keshari
Millions of farming families will be saved from the risk of becoming severely disabled as a result of research by Indian scientists into a protein-rich but toxic pulse. High consumption of the drought-resistant keshari dal (Lathyrus sativus) can affect the part of the brain that controls the movement of the lower limbs, leading to pronounced spine and nerve abnormalities. It is eaten in India (where annual production runs at more than a million tons despite a ban on its cultivation), Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Ethiopia. Scientists at the National Institute of Nutrition in Hyderabad have produced low-toxin varieties of the crop to be distributed to farmers this year. The new varieties have white flowers, in contrast with the blue flowers of the toxic variety, to help illiterate farmers tell them apart.

Sudhirendar Sharma/Panos Features

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Death by mail order: Prisoners on Death Row in California are sent this form
in the ordinary mail asking them to select the method of their own execution.



Paradise postponed
Free-for-all leads to destruction in Albania

Marlen's land among the tree-stumps: 'If I close my eyes I will remember the sun going down on the branches of the trees'.

Albania is emerging from the trauma of communist isolation into a new world, with dire consequences for the country's beautiful and mountainous environment. Avenues of trees used to line the main highways. Now mile after mile of stumps testify to the desperation of town folk, who have to rely on wood for fuel during long winter power cuts.

At Vallbona, far in the north, where glistening snow-capped peaks mark the Montenegro border, Marlen guides us up the valley to his land. He is proud of the two hectares he inherited. He can at last call it his own after the restitution of land returned it to private hands.

He gestures towards the hillside, now covered in silvery, charred tree stumps: 'If I close my eyes I will remember the sun going down on the branches of the trees and the flowers and the spring grass'.

Back in Vallbona a valley herder, Genty, tells tales of wolves taking the animals. 'Fourteen of the neighbours' animals got taken two months ago,' he says. Bears also roam the valley and occasionally take animals but are generally shy. Genty knows of four in this valley alone, though with much of their habitat gone they don't hang around.

People in Vallbona can't afford guns, but there are some who can and who exploit the precarious position of animals in the country. In a main street in the capital, Tirana, a souvenir shop is selling a brown bear skin. Just $300 and its yours. The thronged market is full of fox furs.

A temporary ban on hunting was imposed in January after protests by Protection & Preservation of the Natural Environment Albania (PPNEA). Professor Leke Gilknuri, who heads the group, explains that things were getting out of control. Italian hunters have been coming over on organized tours, bringing bait, decoys and rifles. He receives reports from port customs officials that coaches are returning to Italy packed with game, particularly ducks.

Government policy is confused. The Environment Committee is worried about the effects of erosion and logging on wildlife. However, without ministerial status the committee's advice is often over-ridden by more powerful influences. Maksim Deliana, Director of Industry at the Chamber of Commerce, regards timber production as one of the few potential growth areas for the Albanian economy in the near future.

'People's view of the world has shrunk to a daily search for food,' says Marlen. Genty laughs at Marlen's idealistic suggestion of replanting the mountainside for future generations. For Genty and his family, recently freed by the receding snow, the struggle for survival is now.

Rod Harbinson

Eye for intelligence
They look and taste revolting but are selling out in shops across Japan. Tuna eyeballs, about the size of grapefruit, sell at 500 yen ($5) a three-pack. The craze comes after widely-publicized studies on animals in Britain and Japan suggesting a substance (docosahexaenoic acid or DHA) found in the eyeballs may help improve brain performance. Even though results haven't been proven in humans a clever marketing strategy has created a demand for the eyeballs as brain food. As for the food industry - they've been having a field day with DHA for the past two years. The stuff is added to, and used as a selling point for, canned tuna, processed seafood, soy bean paste, soy sauce, baby formula, carbonated drinks, confectionery and even dog food.

Far Eastern Economic Review, Vol 157 No 21

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Shoot the dictatorship
Since 1988 Burma has been controlled by a military junta - SLORC - which has waged war against minority groups and protesters, used forced labour to build transport networks and kept Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest. Now it is presenting a more welcoming image of itself in order to woo tourist dollars. A Burma support group based in Japan believes travellers can still foil the junta's aims by exposing the realities of life under dictatorship. They are sponsoring a photo contest with cash prizes for the best photographs taken by travellers that expose SLORC's whitewash for the lie it is. The entry deadline is 1 December.

For further details contact:
Burmese Relief Center - Japan, 266-27 Ozuku-cho, Kashihara-Shi, Nara-ken 634, Japan.
Tel: (07442) 2 8236. Fax: (07442) 4 6254.

Just Nicked, a shop opened by police in Chatham in Kent, UK, to display unclaimed stolen property was facing closure after being burgled.

The Independent, 16 May 1994



Smash and grab
Migrants threatened by land seizures

No-one came out to greet me when I arrived in the village of Kokuro. This seemed strange. I had been invited to spend a fortnight with the villagers and was told they eagerly awaited my visit. Only when I stepped among the huts did I realize what was wrong: the ground was littered with the heads of the inhabitants.

The people of Kokuro were nomads of the Turkana tribe, who live in the arid savannahs in the far north-west of Kenya. They are among the last of the world's truly migratory people. Like the other East African nomads - peoples such as the Maasai, Samburu and Barabaig - they are in serious trouble. If the killings and the theft of their land do not stop, their migrations could come to an end within a year.

In southern Kenya and northern Tanzania the main problem is the annexation of the nomads' land. Here the Maasai's best pastures have been taken by both land grabbers and conservationists. Parks and reserves have enclosed nearly all their important dry-season grazing lands, so the Maasai are unable to move their herds of cattle and goats when the rains cease. As a result they are forced to overgraze their remaining territory, and the parks and reserves are becoming islands of biodiversity in a sea of degradation. Conservation has become one of the major causes of environmental destruction in East Africa.

The Government has long been trying to privatize the Maasai's land. Its disastrously flawed legislation has allowed both corrupt Maasai elders and wealthy people from outside the community to seize vast chunks for themselves, leaving tens of thousands of people landless. Most of them have ended up in the cities, living in unimaginably desperate conditions without the faintest prospect of finding a job.

The situation of the nomads of northern Kenya is, if anything, worse. The village of Kokuro is one of scores surrounded during the night by cattle raiders. Astonishingly, these bandits, who have killed perhaps ten thousand of the Turkana in the last three years, are being armed by their governments.

The Government of Sudan has been giving submachine guns and rocket launchers to the people of the Toposa tribe in the hope that they will use them to attack local rebels. But the Toposa are far more interested in settling old scores with the Turkana and stealing their cattle. The Kenyan Government has been arming the Pokot tribe for the express purpose of cattle raiding: ministers and army chiefs are coordinating the raids, trucking the stolen cattle down to Nairobi.

The Pokot and the Toposa have driven the Tukana out of their best grazing lands and into the desert. There their cattle die and the Turkana are forced to migrate in search of food relief: hundreds have died trying to cross the terrible Suguta Valley, where there are no water points for ten days.

Yet the situation is not entirely hopeless. In some places the nomads have found ways of coping with these disasters. The Kenyan Government is sensitive to international opinion: pressure from foreign governments and people could make an enormous difference.

George Monbiot

No Man's Land: an investigative journey through Kenya and Tanzania by George Monbiot was published in June by Macmillan, London.


‘A bad thing has been turned into a good thing. ’

Chinese President Jiang Zemin, saying the 1989 Tiananmen massacre
has led to stability and faster economic reform.

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New Internationalist issue 258 magazine cover This article is from the August 1994 issue of New Internationalist.
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