New Internationalist 359 August 2003
Much as Northern corporations outsource their manufacturing in the sweatshops of the South, rising infertility rates in the rich world, particularly the US, are leading couples to ‘shop’ for a child in poorer countries. Korea, Vietnam, Russia, China and India are among the favoured destinations.
A series of scandals uncovered in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh over the past six years is finally laying bare the criminal network that has been built up around the traffic in girl babies. Private adoption agencies in the state capital, Hyderabad, networked with foreign placement agencies to set up a baby-trafficking system which made a mockery of India’s existing rules for intercountry adoption.
Babies were harvested from the Lambadas – a nomadic community found all over India with fair, Caucasian features. This community, living in a vicious cycle of poverty and hunger, has had its cultural and economic life destroyed. Lambada traditions have given way to the mainstream Indian phenomenon of dowry-payments, which involves the bride’s family being forced to pay considerable amounts to negotiate a wedding. As a result in conditions of extreme poverty it can be easier to sell a girl than to raise her.
Private adoption agencies’ touts hunted for vulnerable, expectant families who already had one or two daughters. The mother herself had little negotiating power. For as little as 150-500 rupees ($3-$10), the new-born girls were taken to adoption agencies by touts who were paid about 6,000 rupees ($120) per baby. Mothers who went to reclaim their babies were turned away.
According to national regulations, Indian adopters have preference. In reality these laws are bypassed, as most Indians cannot hope to pay the going global rate ($22,000-$25,000 per child). Papers are forged and guidelines violated as babies are matched rapidly with a foreign parent. Western placement agencies collect payment far in excess of the actual adoption costs then route a portion of this to the Indian adoption agency which uses the money to ‘smooth things over’. Lawyers also take their cut.
The repeated scandals over baby-trafficking have embarrassed the Andhra Pradesh Government. As a result many of the adoption agencies have been closed down and traffickers have been arrested and charged. Child-rights activists in Andhra Pradesh have appeared in court to substantiate the charges of trafficking. In the protracted litigation that has ensued, permission for foreign adopters has been refused by the Family Court (the court that awards guardianship), the High Court of Andhra Pradesh and the Supreme Court of India. Public outcry has also led to a loose organization of Indian adopters who otherwise never stood to adopt a child.
While Andhra Pradesh has finally put a stop to new intercountry adoption cases, this practice continues in much of the rest of India. The Central Adoption Resource Agency, a monitoring body recognized by the Indian Government despite largely comprising the adoption agencies themselves, continues to grant permission to process foreign adoptions – including to Tender Loving Care, one of the agencies accused in Andrha Pradesh.
Many children from the Andhra Pradesh scandals have now gone to Indian homes. But one child, four-year-old Haseena, continues to be institutionalized because of the refusal of US citizen Sharon van Epps to let go – despite the fact that Indian parents have been waiting to adopt the child since 2002. Van Epps has lost her case in the Family Court, High Court and Supreme Court but continues to stay in India to put pressure on the Andhra Pradesh authorities to give her the child. The US Consulate in India and officials of the World Bank are understood to have leant on the State Government which is noted for its reliance on foreign aid. On 7 June 2003 the Government refused to hand over the child to the Indian parents and appears to be caving in to please the foreign lobby.
This case proves the point that intercountry adoption today is a solution more for families needing children than for children needing families.
US conservatives take aim at NGOs
That was the message delivered by a series of speakers at an all-day conference, ‘Nongovernmental Organizations: The Growing Power of an Unelected Few,’ in June 2003 sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a Washington thinktank that has been particularly influential with the Bush Administration.
‘NGOs have created their own rules and regulations and demanded that governments and corporations abide by those rules,’ according to AEI and the conference co-sponsor, the rightist Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) of Australia. ‘Politicians and corporate leaders are often forced to respond to the NGO media machine, and the resources of taxpayers and shareholders are used in support of ends they did not sanction.’
‘The extraordinary growth of advocacy NGOs in liberal democracies has the potential to undermine the sovereignty of constitutional democracies, as well as the effectiveness of credible NGOs,’ they warned.
To shed more light on NGOs, AEI announced the launch of a new website, NGOWatch.org, that will provide information about their operations, funding sources and political agendas.
‘This is inherently a project that is tilted to the Left,’ according to Cornell University professor Jeremy Rabkin, who argued that NGOs are using the multilateral system to try to regulate corporations and governments.
International NGOs are pursuing a ‘liberal internationalist’ vision that ‘wants to constrain the United States’ according to American University professor Kenneth Anderson.
IPA executive director Mike Nahan charged that international NGOs supported secession movements in East Timor and Aceh, Indonesia; put Papua New Guinea ‘on the road to bankruptcy’ by forcing out the mining industry; and were ‘destroying civil society in many of these countries’.
Jim Lobe, OneWorld US
African sexual-health programmes ‘misguided’
Currently, anti-aids education in Africa focuses on ‘heterosexual transmission’, usually taken to mean vaginal sex. According to Brody and Potterat, the fact that health warnings have avoided mentioning anal sex – despite its ‘substantially greater’ risk of HIV transmission – may have contributed to the aids epidemic. Their research suggests that both men and women in Africa have receptive anal intercourse, often believing it to be ‘safe’ since it is not featured in public health-education programmes.
Anthropological reports of African male homosexuality date back to the early 17th century. Referring to male homosexual behaviour in Angola, Falk observed in 1923: ‘While the act is permitted, speaking about it is considered disgusting.’
In sample studies, 42 per cent of South African truck drivers, 35 per cent of young Zimbabweans, and 41-75 per cent of South African prostitutes reported engaging in heterosexual anal intercourse.
Rectal diseases similar to those found in American homosexual men have been reported in studies of African men.
Receptive anal intercourse was reported by 98.7 per cent of street boys in Tanzania, who said they weren’t at risk from aids because they thought you could only get it if you had sex with a woman.
Although unsafe medical practices probably caused most of the spread of HIV in Africa, anal intercourse accounts for perhaps the majority of the remainder. Brody warns: ‘No-one is warned about the dangers of anal intercourse and people are dying as a result.’
British arms in Aceh
British Foreign Office Minister Mike O’Brien said: ‘Senior members of the Indonesian Government and military have repeatedly promised that British-supplied equipment would not be used offensively or in violation of human rights anywhere in Indonesia.’ But General Endrairtono Sutarto, Indonesia’s military chief, responded by saying: ‘I am going to use what I have. After all, I have paid already.’
CAAT news, July 2003
Five Muslim nations, in a rare alliance with the Vatican, succeeded in thwarting a crucial United Nations vote on Sexual Orientation and Human Rights – the first of its kind in the world body’s 60-year-old history – at the UN Human Rights Commission 59th session in Geneva in May. However, campaigners felt they had nevertheless made a crucial step forward in getting such issues on the table at the UN.
The resolution proposed by Brazil expressed ‘deep concern’ at the occurrence of human-rights violations in the world on the grounds of sexual orientation. It called upon all states to ‘promote and protect the human rights of all persons regardless of their sexual orientation’.
The proposal of Najjat Al-Hajjaji, the Libyan Chair of the UN Human Rights Commission, to defer the vote until next year was passed by 24 votes to 17. Gay lobbyists accused Al-Hajjaji of acting in cahoots with the Muslim bloc, who successfully manipulated procedural delays to put the issue on the international backburner for at least a year. Military-dominated Pakistan played the lead role among the Muslim nations in opposing the resolution on the grounds that it was a ‘direct insult to all the 1.2 billion Muslims in the world’.
‘Pakistan’s ambassador played a nasty role. He was totally non-serious throughout the whole debate and kept poking fun at gays,’ said Jan Doerfel of the Geneva-based International Research Centre for Social Minorities.
Pakistan was joined by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya and Malaysia – all nations with egregrious human-rights records – in delaying the vote by proposing one amendment each to take out crucial words.
Behind the scenes, the Vatican was busy trying to rally the predominantly Catholic Latin American nations against the resolution. ‘They pressurized Mexico and Guatemala the most,’ said Doerfel, who added that in spite of the unholy alliance between the Vatican and the Muslim bloc a monumental step towards global GLBT – gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender – emancipation had been taken at the UN.
Faisal Alam, founder of world’s first openly gay Muslim organization, the Washington DC-based Al Fatiha, said that in order to gain Muslim concessions for the ‘war on terror’, the US had bartered away the rights of the GLBT community by leading the fence-sitting.
British gay human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was outspoken: ‘The behaviour of key Western nations was absolutely shameful. It shows that in 2003 we still cannot depend on leading democratic nations to support the human rights of queers. How many more years will we have to wait until the UN recognizes that gay rights are human rights?’ He lamented the fact that Britain vetoed attempts to include ‘gender identity’, which would have protected transgendered people, in the wording of the resolution.
A major shift in world foreign policy following military interventions in East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq means that Australia is now willing to lead a 'coalition of the willing' to the Solomon Islands in the Pacific. Australia and New Zealand/Aotearoa have committed approximately 200 police officers and 2,000 army and support personnel in response to a request by the present Solomon Islands Government for help to restore law and order.
At a meeting in June, foreign ministers and leaders from the 16 member states of the Pacific Island Forum approved the unprecedented intervention. While more than half have offered to provide some support to the mission, other countries such as Vanuatu worry that it is simply colonialism.
This is not the first time that Australia has been asked to intervene in the Solomon Islands. Three years ago (then) Prime Minister Ulufa'alu of the Solomon Islands requested that Australia send a detachment of police to help restore peace to the country. Disputes between ethnic groups from Malaita and Guadalcanal over land and migration had escalated into armed conflict. Not wanting to interfere, Australia declined. In June 2000 Malaitan militants and sections of the police force broke open the police armouries, took over the capital Honiara and deposed the Ulufa'alu Government. Despite a peace agreement signed in Townsville in November 2000, the country has never recovered. Three gun amnesties have been only partially successful, with estimates of between 500 and 700 guns and high-powered weapons still in the hands of militants. The Government is now paralysed and significant foreign investment has departed the fragile economy.
Many people in the country - tired of four years of conflict and hardship in which an estimated 250 people have been killed - welcome the intervention.
However, the mission marks another dramatic shift away from a general policy of non-intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations. Australia now argues that it can't afford to have a failed state such as the Solomons on its doorstep, saying that possible gunrunning, drug smuggling, militias and corruption all provide a breeding ground for terrorism. Media depictions of Solomon Islanders in balaclavas toting guns reinforce this ' War on Terror' rhetoric. Indeed, Australian Prime Minister John Howard has flagged a likely future for Australia in leading interventions like this one - outside the auspices of the United Nations - in other Pacific nations which are ' experiencing economic collapse, corruption and lawlessness'.
Chris Chevalier, who lived in the Solomons for 10 years and now works as Pacific Project Officer for Union Aid Abroad, is critical of this characterization of the terrorism threat and the failed state. ' The failed state is now part of the discourse of foreign policy to justify intervention and blame the victim. The Solomon Islands is a collection of islands and small societies. The post-colonial models of government imposed by the developed world don't work and have unravelled.'
Restoring services, rebuilding the economy and community development are urgently needed. Chris Chevalier asks whether the Solomons' neighbours are willing to commit the type and level of assistance required. 'We need to be talking about a Marshall Plan here to revive the collapsed economy. Tens of millions will now be spent on military and police intervention. It's probably too big and has possibly come too late. Intelligent aid would have prevented this and much more effective aid will be needed in future for community development, strengthening civil society, and rebuilding the economy.'
Thalif Deen / IPS
Zaki Yahya/Institute for War and Peace Reporting
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