Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net News and Views from the Global South Thu, 05 May 2016 21:32:24 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.10 Farmers Hold Keys to Ending Poverty, Hunger, FAO Sayshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/farmers-hold-keys-to-ending-poverty-hunger-fao-says/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 14:50:02 +0000 Friday Phiri http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144989 Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, WFO President, seated with Secretary General Marco Marzano de Marinis. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, WFO President, seated with Secretary General Marco Marzano de Marinis. Credit: Friday Phiri/IPS

By Friday Phiri
LIVINGSTONE, Zambia, May 5 2016 (IPS)

With recent data showing that 793 million people still go to bed hungry, ending hunger and poverty in 15 years is the next development challenge that world leaders have set for themselves.

As part of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), these two have been made a special priority because of their impact on the world’s ability to achieve the rest.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) understands the enormity of the challenge ahead, and the importance of the producers of food – the farmers – to meet the set target.

“As you know, the international community has committed to end worldwide hunger and poverty in 15 years, with the endorsement of the 2030 Agenda. FAO is fully engaged to help address this challenge. But we know that this is only possible with solid partnerships, especially with non-state actors,” said FAO Director General José Graziano Da Silva during the World Farmers’ Organisation General Assembly, which opened here Wednesday, May 4.“Sustainable development for all is possible." -- Ambassador Amira Gornass of Sudan

In his video conference message to delegates, Da Silva highlighted the strategic role of farmers not only in producing food but also in the preservation of the environment, considering the impact of climate change on agriculture – singled out by scientists as the most vulnerable sector.

“Farmers are responsible for providing the food we all need but also helping preserve and sustain our natural resources,” he said.

The FAO chief called for solid support for farmers and said that they “should be placed at the core of any strategy for increased responsible investments in agriculture,” stressing the importance of the Principles for Responsible Investment in Agriculture and Food Systems.

Developed by the Inter-Agency Working Group (IAWG) composed of FAO, UNCTAD, IFAD and the World Bank, the guidelines draw attention to rights and livelihoods of rural populations and the need for socially and environmentally sustainable agricultural investments.

They cover all types of investment in agriculture, including between principal investors and contract farmers. The Principles are based on detailed research on the nature, extent and impacts of private sector investment and best practices in law and policy. They are intended to distil the lessons learned and provide a framework for national regulations, international investment agreements, global corporate social responsibility initiatives, and individual investor contracts.

Delegates at the WFO have been called upon to use the guidelines as important tools that can be applied as they push for farmer-centred ‘Partnerships for Growth’, the overarching theme for the 2016 General Assembly.

“I am proud to say that FAO and WFO have a concrete and strategic partnership to achieve food and nutrition security and sustainable agriculture worldwide. With other partners, we have improved statistics to understand the economic and social role of farmers’ organisations in sustainable development,” said the FAO chief.

Closely related to responsible investment in agriculture is the role of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests (VGGT), endorsed by the Committee on World Food Security in 2012, to serve as a reference to improve the governance of land tenure with the overarching goal of achieving food security for all and supporting the progressive realisation of the right to adequate food.

This was on the realisation that land tenure still represents one of the major challenges that farmers face, especially in developing countries. In particular, many small-scale farmers, especially women, work on land that they don’t own, exacerbating their poverty and lack of political power.

Given Lubinda, Zambia’s minister of agriculture, says that since “Africa is the home of small-scale farmers who create wealth and feed the world,” access to land, ownership and control, and modern technology, markets and financial resources are essential elements to enable them improve agricultural efficiency and productivity.

Adding impetus to the land and food security nexus as a key element in the achievement of the SDGs, the chair of the United Nations Committee on World Food Security (CFS), Ambassador Amira Gornass of Sudan, agreed that, “Farmers are the backbone of any efforts for food and nutrition security.”

“Sustainable development for all is possible,” she stressed, through partnerships with all actors of the food value chain to make sure that by 2030 “We end hunger and no one is left behind.”

And in keeping with the major theme of the meeting, WFO President Evelyn Nguleka says the role played by agriculture and farmers in tackling many of the goals set by the new agenda is fundamental, as it encompasses several of the proposed targets.

“The global economy is based on the assets of efficiency and profitability. Farmers, likewise all other categories of entrepreneurs, deserve to see their work duly compensated by an appropriate income and their products effectively absorbed by the market. Farmers are ready to invest their days in the field, while looking for new solutions to increase the profitability of their farms,” she said.

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Seeking a New Farming Revolutionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=seeking-a-new-farming-revolution http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/05/seeking-a-new-farming-revolution/#comments Thu, 05 May 2016 13:20:49 +0000 Kitty Stapp http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144975 Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

Processing baby vegetables at Sidemane Farm in Swaziland. An EU grant helped local farmers to buy equipment and get training in business management and marketing. Credit: Mantoe Phakathi/IPS

By Kitty Stapp
May 5 2016 (IPS)

As the World Farmers’ Organization meets for its annual conference in Zambia to promote policies that strengthen this critical sector, IPS looks at how farmers across the globe are tackling the interconnected challenges of climate change, market fluctuations, water and land management, and energy access.

 

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Women working in their vegetable gardens at the Capanda Agroindustrial Pole in Angola. Although almost half of the agricultural workers in sub-Saharan Africa are women, productivity on their farms is significantly lower per hectare compared to men because they tend to be locked out of land ownership, access to credit and productive farm inputs like fertilizers, pesticides and farming tools, support from extension services, and access to markets and other factors essential to their productivity. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

 

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts - and plates - of local farmers. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Gadam sorghum was introduced to semi-arid regions of eastern Kenya as a way for farmers to improve their food security and earn some income from marginal land. The hardy, high-yielding sorghum variety has not only thrived in harsh conditions, it has won a place in the hearts – and plates – of local farmers.
Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

Organically grown baby spinach, like this for sale in Johannesburg, South Africa, fetches a higher price for farmers in the market. Credit: Johan Eybers/IPS

 

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

Mbuya Erica Chirimanyemba in her maize field in Guruve, Zimbabwe. Conservation agriculture techniques have turned her fortunes around. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

 

For 12 years now, the women around Tsangano in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have put together their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tons at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

For 12 years now, the women of the Tsangano cooperative in Malawi’s southern district of Ntcheu have pooled their tomato harvest, selling some 20 tonnes at the outdoor markets that abound in Lilongwe, the capital. Now they aim to diversify from selling to processing vegetables, since they could earn more if they canned the tomatoes and made jam and juice. Credit: Claire Ngozo/IPS

 

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

Zero hunger is the goal, but this is all the production of corn and pulses for this household. Credit: TERI University

 

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

Forests still support a major part of household income in rural communities, like this one in Odisha, India. Credit: TERI University

 

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

Kenyan farmer Isaac Ochieng Okwanyi has had his most successful harvest ever after using lime to improve the quality of his soil. Credit: Isaiah Esipisu/IPS

 

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

Presenting a solution to both climate and energy needs, solar-based irrigation systems can transform fields in semi-arid areas. Credit: TERI University

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In sight but out of mindhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/in-sight-but-out-of-mind/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=in-sight-but-out-of-mind http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/in-sight-but-out-of-mind/#comments Thu, 28 Apr 2016 11:02:53 +0000 Upashana Salam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144868 By Upashana Salam
Apr 28 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

This year Bangladesh exceeded all expectations, achieving a GDP rate of over 7 percent. With higher growth, the issue of labour rights is also gaining prominence in our national discourse, with more and more emphasis being given on workplace safety and wellbeing. Those amongst us who are educated are becoming more and more aware of our rights in our workplace, as we unhesitatingly demand for better pay, better facilities, a better life, really. And why shouldn’t we? This is our right as promised by our Constitution and by our state. But there still remains a large portion of our workforce, over 80 percent to be precise, who are not warranted recognition by any of our state apparatuses. When we talk proudly of progress and development, we tend to take for granted that only those who fall under a formalised structure deserve acknowledgement and thereby can demand their rights under the law. We choose to ignore more than half of Bangladesh’s population who, despite their indispensible contribution, are regarded as expendable, replaceable, and thus, undeserving of formal rights or protection.

world_day_for_safety_In Asia, the informal economy accounts for 78.2 percent of total employment. It’s ironic that in a world which still depends on informal employment to run their economies, those working in this sector continue to be treated as necessary but unacknowledged and invisible clogs of society. There is a not-so-subtle disdain for those who make our beds or build our homes; we choose to ignore that as human beings they too might have the same concerns and needs as the rest of us. Most people enter the informal economy because they have no other means to sustain themselves, with no education, skills or capital to participate in the formal workforce. But this does not mean that the risks associated with their work is only theirs to accept; the employment of workers in the informal economy, including housemaids, agricultural labourers, construction workers, day labourers, fishermen, vegetable vendors, etc, might be self-managed but the services they provide is universal.

While those working in the informal economy are not even recognised as ‘workers’ in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006, the Informal Sector Survey 2010 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics asserted that the informal sector was the major source of employment in the country, amounting for 89 percent of the total jobs. As self-managed employment is socially unrecognised as work, it becomes easier for workers to be exploited. Thus, you hear of the brutal murder of 13-year-old Rakib Hawladar, whose former employer killed him in an inexplicably violent manner when he switched jobs. You regularly read stories of construction workers falling to their deaths, due to the lack of safety gears or adequate protection. How many times have you looked up a building to see a person dangling from a scaffolding, with nothing but a rope as a measure of safety? Every time I look up at them, I am overpowered by a sense of dread, and am forced to look away after a few minutes when I start feeling dizzy; but these people continue doing their work in the only way they know how to – with confidence galore and little attention to the risk that they are putting themselves in.

Accidents and deaths on site go largely unreported; in the rare occasions that the death of a worker is reported, there is no follow-up from the police, government, media or their own families who, in their struggle to make ends meet with one less earning member, are unwilling to demand compensation that they will not get or go to the court where their voices will be muffled.

A report published by the Asian Development Bank stated that unlike employees working under a formalised structure, workers with irregular employment don’t have any specified working hours, as they often have to work an average of 54 hours a week “with non-commensurate compensation.” Workplace safety is practically unheard of in the informal economy, and there’s no question of holidays, sick days or downtime. Brick kiln and construction workers have scarce drinking water and no toilet facilities to speak of. With wages being disbursed on a daily basis and no bargaining power with employers, they rarely take days off even when they suffer from ailments resulting from having to work long hours in intense heat. Let’s not talk about education or training opportunities, which cannot even be regarded as luxuries in a sector that is not officially recognised by the law.

Given the dearth of official data, it is difficult to even ascertain the particular health problems faced by people working in the informal economy. However, according to a report titled ‘Health Vulnerabilities of Informal workers’ by the Rockefeller Foundation, there is increased risks of malnutrition, physical and psychological disorder, respiratory trouble, heart attack, etc, due to the nature of their work, where they are forced to endure excessive labour, and an unhealthy work environment. More than a million workers who work in the brick kilns of the country, which produce over 12 million bricks a year, often suffer from skin diseases and are susceptible to bronchial infections. As per the report, workers often take drugs “to boost their physical and mental energy” when their body no longer supports their need to earn a livelihood. Rickshaw pullers, for example, are addicted to various drugs as these help them deal with the intense temperament of their work.

Article 15 of Bangladesh’s Constitution ensures guaranteed employment, work with reasonable wage, recreation and leisure for all workers, while Article 20 argues that employment should be a right for every citizen, insisting that workers should be “treated with justice.” Moreover, Article 10 prohibits social exploitation of any worker. However, in this case, there seems to be a clear divide in the treatment of those who are considered “actual workers” and the unrecognised millions who simple cannot be brought under a structure, thereby making it impossible to ensure them the same rights reserved for everyone else. Equality, once more, becomes a tool to bandy around when talking about the achievements of our country and its legal apparatus.

In fact, the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy 2015, one of the few measures taken to prevent the exploitation of a segment of the workers of the informal economy, is still to be implemented, even though a draft of the policy has already been approved by the cabinet.

There is an urgent need to change our perception toward informal workers, which can help bring a shift in the way they are treated in law and policy. We need to introduce a feasible wage structure, which runs parallel with their working hours and is in sync with their work environment. Moreover, experts have also stressed the need for a pension/insurance scheme, something that has already been undertaken by the Government of Delhi in September 2013 for the informal workers of India. As suggested by lawyer Kawsar Mahmood in a piece he wrote for the Dhaka Law Review, this will offer security for workers in the informal economy during their sickness or after they retire from work. “On registration, workers will be saving a portion of their income per month or per annum in a provident fund where the government will equally contribute,” he writes.

As human beings, we have the right to demand better pay, better working conditions and fair treatment from our employers. It’ll be a shame if this right continues to be reserved for some of us, while the majority are left stumbling, persisting through life as nameless, faceless beings.

The writer is a member of the editorial team, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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When Only Men Make the Newshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/when-only-men-make-the-news/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-only-men-make-the-news http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/when-only-men-make-the-news/#comments Wed, 20 Apr 2016 16:10:10 +0000 Sushmita Preetha http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144730 men_news_

By Sushmita S. Preetha
Apr 20 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

On the onset, it seems women are everywhere in the media. You switch on the TV, there is inevitably an attractive woman luring you into buying a product. On the radio, there is the ‘young new thing’ vivaciously flirting with her male co-host while shuffling through songs; and in print, the entertainment pages would simply not sell without a titillating image of a female celebrity and a scoop on her latest rendezvous. But take a closer look, beyond the objectified and stereotypical images of women, being manufactured and mass consumed ad nauseam, and where are the women, really? Take a look at the news media, for instance. Where are the women in the newsrooms, in the bylines on the front and back pages, in the column spaces of our opinion pages, in the talk shows, not simply as hosts, but as commentators on so-called hard issues such as politics and foreign affairs? Where are the women in our news (discounting the PM and her alter-ego), except as wailing victims of violence, natural disasters and such and as muses of our male photographers during cultural festivals?

A recent report by the Gender Media Monitoring Project 2015 – a project initiated since 1995 to analyse news media in 71 countries – presents some alarming, but not altogether shocking, statistics on representation of women in news media in Bangladesh. Analysing the content of 12 newspapers (8 national, 4 local), 8 TV channels, three radio channels, and two online platforms, the Project found that the presence of women in radio-TV-newspapers have actually decreased compared to the last decade. In sharp contradiction to our loud proclamations of women’s equality and progress, women are mentioned as little as one-fifth of the time in news. The number of bylines by women has remained stuck at 8 percent over the last five years. Women reporters in radio constitute only one-third of all reporters, while the condition of women reporters in TV is even worse. Since 2010, the number of TV women reporters has increased by only 1 percent, but overall, they still constitute less than one-fifth of reporters. The only instance where women overshadow men is at hosting shows; in two-thirds of the cases, the hosts are women.

These statistics are downright embarrassing for us who work in news media. At a day and age when women are making their mark in all sectors, no matter how challenging, why is it that journalism remains, still, a male-dominated profession? Why, even today, do the newsrooms remain hostile to female reporters, comfortable to designate “soft” bits to women, such as social welfare, women’s issues or at best health or education, while “hard” bits, such as politics, remain the prerogative of men? Women, in the logic of patriarchy, make sense in the supplements, but not in news and business which are “manly” serious affairs. Opinions, too, are apparently a “male” thing, with an overwhelming majority of commentators, whether in print or electronic media, being old, privileged and male.

Yes, it’s true that journalism in a country like Bangladesh can pose added security risks to women, when they go out to collect information at random places at random hours of the day, or meet and interview unknown sources; it’s also true that the ungodly working hours are not what many women with families can negotiate with ease, in a society where women, even if and when they work outside, are expected to take care of the household and children single-handedly. But rather than enable its women colleagues to face these challenges, for instance, by providing safe transport support and flexible work hours, media houses seem content with the status quo. Even if and when they make these adjustments, such as allowing women to leave early, there is the obvious implication that women just aren’t as adept at the job as their male counterparts (how many times have we heard, “This job is just too demanding for women!”), as if the only marker of efficiency is one’s ability to stay late in the office (even if staying in the office means smoking cigarettes and discussing the ongoing IPL match). On the other hand, the “protective” regime of the office can be equally stifling, such as when bosses think that women shouldn’t be given challenging tasks with the supposedly good intention of protecting them from harm.

While the NGO, banking and public sectors have made considerable progress in instituting gender-friendly policies, our media houses seem to be stuck in the days of horse shoe tables, copy boys and typewriters. It is unfortunate that most media houses, which should lead by example, do not have a gender policy or strict guidelines on how to institute gender equality within the organisation. Most of them don’t even have a sexual harassment policy, or a designated committee to oversee complaints, despite a HC ruling making it mandatory for print and electronic media houses to have a committee in their respective organisations as per Article 9 of the guideline.

Given that it is men in the management positions, it is hardly a surprise that there is severe resistance to the idea of gender sensitivity trainings, even though as members of the media community, we hold tremendous power over the masses to disseminate and reproduce gender stereotypes and harmful discourses about women and children through what we write (or don’t write). So forget that many reporters, subeditors and even editors don’t realise that there’s something severely problematic in using the word “dishonoured” when referring to rape or in revealing the name and details of the survivors; they fail to see that by circulating the seemingly harmless image of a “violated” and “victimised” woman hiding her face in fear while strong male hands grip her, they are reproducing the idea of women as helpless and weak; they do not comprehend that they reinscribe gender inequality when they only interview male sources or experts, or when they decide a story with a gender dimension is just not “news-y” enough to make a lead story. Within the organisations, these esteemed male colleagues do not seem to understand that it is inappropriate to make crude jokes about women, objectifying them, that unwarranted sexual attention is “sexual harassment” not flattery, that they take up way too much space during meetings when their voice rings the loudest and for the longest, silencing others who may not feel quite as comfortable to challenge the hierarchical power structure of a media house, and that it’s institutionalised sexism when you pay the male staff more than the female staff even when they do the same amount of work.

If the media is really to change the world for the better, and play a progressive role in transforming how women are perceived in society, then we must begin by changing our institutions from within. And this task of gender sensitisation should not fall on the women alone, but on the editor, management, board of directors and department heads, who must assess the ways in which their institutions sustain inequality and play a proactive role to recruit more women, promote qualified women to important positions, and ensure a respectable workplace for all. Pretending we’re all equal while retaining the same old patriarchal mindsets and structures simply won’t do if we want women to also make the news.

The writer is a journalist and activist.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Maquilas Help Drive Industrialisation in Paraguayhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/maquilas-help-drive-industrialisation-in-paraguay/#comments Sat, 16 Apr 2016 01:59:21 +0000 Mario Osava http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144645 Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin, the garment plant built by Brazilian company Riachuelo near the airport in Asunción, under Paraguay’s maquila law, which offers tax exemptions and other incentives for export-oriented production. In the foreground a garment worker in training (“entrenamiento”). Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ASUNCION, Apr 16 2016 (IPS)

“There were cases of people who stopped coming to work after receiving their first wages and then came back a few days later to ask if there was more work,” because they were used to casual work in the informal economy, said Ivonne Ginard.

Ginard, a human resources manager in the textile firm Texcin, was in charge of hiring the plant’s 353 employees and helping them make the transition from informal labour to working in a factory with set schedules, uniforms, safety measures and medical certificates to justify absences.

Texcin, a garment factory near the Asunción airport, is emblematic of the incipient industrialisation process in Paraguay, which is still an agriculture-based economy, where soy and beef are the main exports and informal employment is predominant in the cities.

The plant is a joint venture between members of the Paraguayan business community and Riachuelo, one of the biggest clothing brands in Brazil, where it has 285 stores and two industrial plants. Riachuelo decided to take advantage of the incentives provided by the law on maquila export plants, in effect in Paraguay since 2000, to produce clothing in this neighbouring South American country instead of importing from Asia.

The aim is to increase the number of workers twofold by the end of 2016 and to continue to expand, since the company has the space to build a new plant.

“Paraguay offers abundant, young, easily trained workers, cheap energy, and tax incentives for maquilas and duty-free zones, which make it possible to import raw materials tariff-free,” said Andrés Guynn, one of the Paraguayan partners, who heads Texcin.

“Our production is competitive with costs similar to those of Asia, with a big advantage in terms of time: it takes 90 days for products to be shipped from China to Brazil, while ours get to (the Brazilian city of) São Paulo in 72 hours, by truck,” he said.

“Under the maquila regime, 108 companies set up shop in Paraguay, 62 of them in the last two years, and 80 percent of them come from Brazil,” the director of the maquila sector in the Ministry of Industry and Trade, Ernesto Paredes, told IPS.

Maquila or maquiladora plants are built by foreign corporations, generally in free trade zones. They import materials and equipment duty-free for assembly or manufacturing for re-export, and enjoy other tax breaks and incentives, as well as more flexible labour conditions.

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin human resources manager Ivonne Ginard (right), next to the woman who trains the garment workers, Rosa Prieto. “Texcin changed my life,” said Prieto, who was a self-employed seamstress in the informal sector of the economy for 15 years, before she was hired by the company in January 2015. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The maquiladora industry is dynamic, but it does not accept trade union freedom, it does not allow unions to be organised in its factories, which violates constitutional rights,” the president of the Confederation of the Working Class (CCT) labour federation, Julio López, told IPS.

Auto parts factories are predominant in the industry, in terms of both revenue and jobs generated by maquiladoras in Paraguay, Paredes said. He said the sector uses the “just-in-time” delivery system developed by Japan’s auto industry, which is an inventory strategy employed to boost efficiency and reduce waste by receiving goods only as they are needed in the production process, which cuts inventory costs.

The Japanese company Yasaki and Germany’s Leoni have recently set up plants in Paraguay, employing thousands of people, nearly all of them women, in the production of electrical car cables.

And Paraguay now has its first car assembly plant. A national company, Reimplex, began to assemble J2 cars for Chinese auto maker JAC Motors on the outskirts of Asunción on Mar. 28.

Clothing factories also employ large numbers of women.

In addition, the plastics industry is expanding fast in the eastern department of Alto Paraná, on the border with Brazil, Paredes said.

Cheap local labour, which he said is “low-cost not so much because of the wages paid, but due to the low social charges” and low taxes, are especially attractive for Brazilian companies. To that is added the cost of electricity, which is 63 percent cheaper than in Brazil, according to the head of the maquila sector.

One limitation is transport and energy infrastructure. “Roads, ports, highways, real estate – all of this is lacking, although Paraguay has been investing heavily in airports, hotels, and office buildings,” he said.

One solution would be to widen the two-lane highway between Asunción and Ciudad del Este, the country’s two main economic hubs. However, the plan is not to expand the existing road, but “to build a second highway exclusively for trucks and trade,” as well as a second bridge to Brazil, said Paredes.

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Texcin’s textile warehouse seen behind a sign announcing the expansion of the plant which was built by Brazilian company Riachuelo with partners in Paraguay on the outskirts of Asunción. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Investment is also needed in another route for the transportation of heavy loads, the Paraguay-Paraná waterway, used to export soy.

“Better signalisation would double its capacity and speed up river traffic,” Gustavo Rojas, a researcher at the Center for Economic Analysis and Dissemination in Paraguay (CADEP), told IPS.

This land-locked country of 6.8 million people has the world’s third-largest river barge fleet, as well as shipyards that build them, which favours an increase in river traffic, Paredes said.

Electricity is, potentially, Paraguay’s biggest comparative advantage, since the country owns half of the energy from two huge hydropower dams: Itaipú, shared with Brazil, and Yacyretá, on the border with Argentina, with the capacity to produce 14,000 and 3,200 MW, respectively.

But it only began to use part of that energy when a power line from Itaipú to Villa Hayes, near Asunción, was completed in October 2013. The power line was financed by a Brazilian fund aimed at narrowing the development gap between countries in the Southern Common Market (Mercosur) trade bloc, made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Without an adequate distribution network, however, the new energy supply did not eliminate problems like the February blackout that left 300,000 homes without power in Greater Asunción.

Achieving a more secure energy supply “is a question of time,” said Guynn, who tried to place his company near the new power line.

The problem is that the national power utility, ANDE, does not have investment capacity, and “distribution is not secure and steady,” said Fernando Masi, founding director of CADEP, which carries out research on public policies and provides graduate studies in economy.

But the broad availability of energy is a new element drawing industries to Paraguay, since the other advantages, such as low labour costs and tax incentives, already existed before.

Cheap energy also tempted the British-Australian multinational metals and mining corporation Rio Tinto, which studied the possibility of producing aluminum in Paraguay, even if it had to ship in the raw material, bauxite, from far away, because electric power is the main cost of the aluminum industry.

But a major public campaign, which collected more than 100,000 signatures, managed to block the project, “which would consume more energy than all of the national industries combined,” while requiring subsidies and employing a relatively small number of people, Mercedes Canese, an engineer who was deputy minister of industry during the government of Fernando Lugo (2008-2012), told IPS.

However, another engineer, Francisco Scorza, who studied the case, said the Rio Tinto project became unviable because “China began to produce very cheap aluminum, at 1,200 dollars a ton, 40 percent less expensive than here, and Paraguay can’t afford to subsidise energy.”

CADEP’s Masi said attracting small and medium-sized industries is better for development and employment, but the maquila sector has limits. The auto parts industry, for example, is limited to producing wiring, “because there is no bilateral agreement with Brazil on the car industry,” he said.

Brazil demands that Paraguay stop imports of used automobiles, “a very high cost for Paraguay to pay,” as it has a large fleet of used Japanese vehicles known as the “Vía Chile” cars because they come into Paraguay through that neighbouring country.

The maquila industry only exported 284 million dollars worth of goods in 2015 – very little in comparison to Paraguay’s overall industrial exports of 3.0 to 3.5 billion dollars, said Masi.

Industrialisation in Paraguay “has taken off, but not at the fast pace that was expected,” he said, adding that improving energy and logistics infrastructure could help.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Not So Smart Ideahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/not-so-smart-idea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=not-so-smart-idea http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/not-so-smart-idea/#comments Thu, 14 Apr 2016 05:59:20 +0000 Manipadma Jena http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144615 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/not-so-smart-idea/feed/ 0 Land Tenure Still a Challenge for Women in Latin Americahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/04/land-tenure-still-a-challenge-for-women-in-latin-america/#comments Wed, 13 Apr 2016 17:51:58 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144608 Blanca Molina holds up organic peas picked in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, in the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

Blanca Molina holds up organic peas picked in one of the four greenhouses she built with her own hands on her small family farm in Villa Simpson, in the Aysén region in the Patagonian wilderness in southern Chile. Credit: Marianela Jarroud /IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Apr 13 2016 (IPS)

Rural women in Latin America continue to face serious obstacles to land tenure, which leave them vulnerable, despite their growing importance in food production and food security.

“Women are the most vulnerable group of people with respect to the question of land tenure,” Soledad Parada, a gender adviser in the regional office of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), in the Chilean capital, told IPS.

She added that “in general, the activities carried out to improve the land tenure situation have failed to take women into account.”

As a result, “women have access to land through inheritance or because they were granted it by an agrarian reform programme, but they are always at a disadvantage,” she said.

Like in other developing regions, family agriculture is the main supplier of food in Latin America, and women produce roughly half of what the region’s 600 million people eat.

An estimated 58 million women live in the countryside in this region. But “the immense majority of land, in the case of individual farmers, is in the hands of men,” said Parada.

“Only between eight and 30 percent of land is in the hands of women,” she said, which means that only this proportion of women “are farmers in the economic sense.”

The country with the largest percentage of land owned by women is Chile (30 percent), closely followed by Panama, Ecuador and Haiti. At the other extreme is Belize (eight percent), with just slightly larger proportions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador and Argentina.

Another FAO study, conducted in only a handful of countries in the region in 2012, reported that women accounted for 32 percent of owners of land in Mexico, 27 percent in Paraguay, 20 percent in Nicaragua and 14 percent in Honduras.

Furthermore, women tend to have smaller farms with lower quality soil, and have less access to credit, technical assistance and training.

“Of people who work in technical assistance, 98 percent do not even think of visiting women,” land tenure expert Sergio Gómez, a FAO consultant, told IPS.

Moreover, he said, “All formal procedures require the man’s signature, otherwise the visit doesn’t count, because the property is in his name.”

The gender gap in land ownership is historically linked to factors such as male preference in inheritance, male privilege in marriage, and male bias in state land redistribution programmes and in peasant and indigenous communities.

To this is added the gender bias in the land market.

Aura Canache, in front of one of her sheep enclosures on her small farm, less than one hectare in size, located 130 km from Caracas, in the Barlovento farming region in the coastal area of northern Venezuela. She has had difficulty accessing credit to help run her farm. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

Aura Canache, in front of one of her sheep enclosures on her small farm, less than one hectare in size, located 130 km from Caracas, in the Barlovento farming region in the coastal area of northern Venezuela. She has had difficulty accessing credit to help run her farm. Credit: Estrella Gutiérrez/IPS

Because of all of these handicaps, women “have been explicitly left out” of land ownership, Parada said.

There are other inequalities as well. In Mexico, for example, women in rural areas work 89 hours a week on average, compared to just 58 hours for men. A similar gap can be found throughout the region.

Nevertheless, nearly 40 percent of rural women have no incomes of their own, while only 14 percent of men are in that situation.

Some progress has been made in recent years, as the region has experienced a significant increase in the proportion of farms in the hands of women. Parada said that in the last few decades, many countries in the region, such as Nicaragua, reformed their laws to ensure more equal access to land for women.

“In other countries advances have been seen in terms of legislation, such as setting a condition that in the case of a married couple, both members are in charge of the land, and the authorisation of either one is needed to carry out any transaction,” Parada said.

But much more still needs to be done, largely because the effective right to land not only depends on legislation, but also on the social recognition of this right – and inequality still persists in this respect.

“All of this has tremendous consequences,” Parada said.

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar pick improved beans grown on her three-hectare farm in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

The hard-working hands of Ivania Siliézar pick improved beans grown on her three-hectare farm in the eastern Salvadoran department of San Miguel. Thanks to these native seeds, her output has doubled. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

“The fact that land is mainly in the names of men, especially in the case of family farms and small-scale agriculture, represents an enormous barrier for women to access other kinds of benefits,” she said.

Alicia Muñoz, the head of the Chilean National Association of Rural and Indigenous Women (Anamuri), told IPS that achieving the right to land “has been one of our longest and biggest struggles.”

“We are fighting for women’s work to be recognised, because it is women who are the leaders in the countryside, in small-scale family agriculture. Access to land tenure has always been a demand of peasant women,” she said.

Muñoz said it is a “cultural issue” faced by countries in the region which so far has no solution.

Despite all of the efforts to close the gender gap in different countries of Latin America, “in agriculture, the men speak for the women,” he said.

Against this backdrop, gender equality is one of the main “implementation principles” of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the Context of National Food Security, approved in 2012 by the Committee on World Food Security (CFS) to facilitate dialogue and negotiations.

The guidelines adopted by the intergovernmental CFS, which is described as the foremost inclusive international and intergovernmental platform for all stakeholders to work together to ensure food security and nutrition for all, say states must ensure that women and girls have equal tenure rights and access to land, independently of their marital status.

The document also urges states to “consider the particular obstacles faced by women and girls with regard to tenure rights and take measures to ensure that legal and policy frameworks provide adequate protection for women and that laws that recognize women’s tenure rights are enforced and implemented.”

The CFS stresses the need to guarantee women’s participation in all decision-making processes, as well as equal access to land, water and other natural resources.

But in order to achieve this, the presence of women in negotiations must be fomented “by the authorities or by whoever agrees to implement the guidelines. And the FAO has a role to play in this,” Parada said.

Muñoz agreed, saying that “both governments and the FAO have to promote women’s participation, otherwise everything will stay the same.”

“We love land and nature, we are very reliable and responsible,” the Chilean activist said. “It is women who know about family farming, who carry the farms on their shoulders. It’s time we were recognised.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Streamlining opportunities to migratehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/streamlining-opportunities-to-migrate/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=streamlining-opportunities-to-migrate http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/streamlining-opportunities-to-migrate/#comments Wed, 30 Mar 2016 12:48:05 +0000 Bjorn Lomborg http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144410 By Bjørn Lomborg
Mar 30 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In Bangladesh, remittances from people living and working abroad added up to nearly Tk. 1.2 trillion last year—more than four times the nearly Tk. 250 billion that foreign aid agencies spent in the country.

Almost 5 percent of the total working age population is now migrant workers, and every year, roughly half a million more people leave the country to work overseas. Bangladesh Bank estimates that they send the equivalent of 7.4 percent of GDP back to family and friends, from 2001-2015; this totalled to Tk. 9.6 trillion.

Despite these remittances from overseas migrants, Bangladeshis reap fewer benefits from migration than they could. The informal process of migration is overly costly and has become riddled with expensive middlemen.

How can low-skilled migrant workers, the major contributor of remittance inflows to Bangladesh, boost their earnings and access better opportunities overseas? Bangladesh Priorities can offer solutions to this and many other challenges. The project, a partnership between the Copenhagen Consensus Centre and BRAC, has commissioned dozens of top economists from the country, region, and world to study how Bangladesh can do the most good for every taka spent on her development efforts.

New research suggests strategies that can make migration cheaper and make migrants more productive. The researchers – Wasel bin Shadat, Lecturer of Econometrics at the University of Manchester, and Kazi Mahmudur Rahman, Assistant Professor of Development Studies at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh – examined various proposals. The most promising was to formalise the migration process with existing union digital centres or UDCs.

The average cost to migrate ranges from about Tk. 168,900 to 216,600 – equal to three years of income for many Bangladeshis. It often takes two years of working abroad for migrants to recover these costs. One reason the costs are so large is that multiple layers of middlemen force migrant workers to pay inordinate fees for visas and other expenses. They take advantage of the fact that most lower-skilled migrants have very little information about either the process of migrating or the country they are moving to.

Using UDCs to formalise the process, however, could yield tremendous benefits. There is already much interest in formal migration – in 2013, after the national government signed an agreement with Malaysia to formalise the process through a government-to-government (G2G) arrangement, nearly 1.4 million people registered online through UDCs. The G2G process has been extended to G2G plus, engaging the private sectors of both countries, and the present research examined the role that UDCs could play in connecting millions of less-skilled migrant workers with the formal migration process.

More than 4,500 UDCs currently operate across the country, providing public and private services to millions of Bangladeshis. Adding migration services would be inexpensive and straightforward, given the experience UDCs have in providing such services. You would simply have to add a migration “department” – a few more desks and workers – to UDCs to bring formal migration services closer to the people who need them most, especially in rural areas.

At a UDC migration desk, which could be funded either by government subsidy or revenue earnings of UDC entrepreneurs, aspiring overseas workers would get services that range from basic forms and photo identification to employment information and visa processing to printing and internet services. And conveniently, UDCs can collect fees on behalf of the government.

The experts estimate that it would require Tk. 172,800 of initial investment to set up a migration department in each UDC, and annual operating costs would be Tk. 44,500. The total cost across Bangladesh’s 4,500 UDCs would be Tk. 785 million upfront, plus Tk. 203 million per year in operating costs.

But the benefits would be substantial. Services offered by UDCs would allow a conservative estimate of 50,000 people – about 11 people per UDC – to migrate to Malaysia in the first year of operations, with 5,000-10,000 additional workers in subsequent years. As a result, the cost for one person to migrate would fall to Tk. 36,500 – a savings of up to 83 percent. More than three quarters of the remaining migration cost would be for air fare. Thanks to the elimination of middlemen and their exorbitant fees, visa costs would fall from over Tk. 117,000 to just Tk. 1,092 – the actual cost of the visa.

With the most optimistic aspirations, each taka spent toward formalising international migration through UDCs could produce Tk. 40 worth of benefits. It is also clear, however, that the current process with Malaysia has delivered less than originally hoped. Currently, it looks likely that each taka has done much less good. That is why the researchers expect that realistically, improving the process to streamline international migration through the UDCs could generate Tk. 22 of good for every taka spent.

Using UDCs could help get more people to migrate, but you could also focus on increasing the skill levels of the people who migrate. Migrants from Bangladesh predominantly work in positions such as labourers, cooks, or security guards. From 2005-2012, for example, about three-quarters of migrant workers to Saudi Arabia were “less-skilled,” and only 4 percent were in the so-called “semi-skilled” category. Lower-skilled workers not only earn less but also have less bargaining power with employers.

Helping migrants move up the skill ladder would equip them with knowledge and qualifications to gain access to better jobs. Training could allow them to work as painters or carpenters, for example, or perhaps even become supervisors or nurses with enough education. Spending on training programmes for migrant workers would do an estimated Tk. 3 of benefits per taka spent.

What do you think is the best way for Bangladesh to realise her development goals? Join the conversation at https://copenhagen.fbapp.io/overseasmigrationpriorities, where you can also read about other exciting opportunities for Bangladesh. We want to know what you think as we continue to search for how the country can prosper most.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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The List of Shamehttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/the-list-of-shame/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-list-of-shame http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/the-list-of-shame/#comments Sat, 19 Mar 2016 16:27:27 +0000 Rubana Huq http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144251 Photo: Star

Photo: Star

By Rubana Huq
Mar 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

He stood there at the reception, with a sling bag filled with documents. He worked for a courier company. He was 10 years old. He was handsome. And he had the brightest eyes I had ever seen before.

His name was Al-Amin. He had a mother who lived in the village, who did nothing, and yet received Tk. 1,000 from her 10-year old son every month without fail. Al-Amin earned Tk. 2,000 from his employers, sent half of his salary to his mother and kept the rest for himself in order to get through the month.

He had studied only up to class three and had totally given up on the thought of going back to school. But he wanted to if given a chance. So when given the option to go back to school and have his mother employed at a garment factory, he bounced back. My next thoughts centered around the social rules of “compliance”. As readymade garment manufacturers, we are not supposed to have “any” trace of child labour linked to the supply chain. If that child were to continue delivering the parcels to our office, I would have to be transparent about it and share it with all concerned. My meeting with Al-Amin, therefore, ended on that note of concern.

A week later, Al-Amin returned with his mother, quite fit and young, who, quite surprisingly, expressed her inability to work in a garment factory. I was shocked and dug a little deeper. She refused to budge and insisted that it would be “difficult” for her to work at this stage of her life.

Here was a mother who was willing to allow her ten-year old to work and earn for her. Having left with no other alternative arrangement, Al-Amin was offered to be enrolled in a free school, meant for workers’ children, and receive a monthly amount of Tk. 2,000 and live and eat at a safe place. I was relieved. After all, saving even one Al-Amin would ease my conscience for the day.

Unfortunately, my relief did not last for long, as my daughter informed me yesterday that she had spotted Al-Amin delivering the parcels last afternoon. My heart sank. Not again! But then this is the reality. Al-Amin must have gone to school in the morning, seized the opportunity to do an afternoon job, earn a little and then returned to his designated safe haven at night.

Now, how do we make sure that we won’t employ a child? How do we make sure that the same child will go to school? How do we make sure that a few of us spot a few Al-Amins every now and then? How do we make sure that our children remain safe out in the streets? How do we make sure that our children don’t go hungry?

1,730 children faced abuse in Bangladesh in the last two years. RAB reports 35 children being killed in August 2014, along with 25 being killed over the two months of September and October of the same year. 968 kids were tortured and killed over a period of three and a half years between late 2011 and mid 2015. According to Ain-o-Salish-Kendra (ASK), 126 children were killed in 2012, 128 in 2013, 127 in 2014, and 69 till July 2015. In between July and August the same year, 13 had been brutally killed, and last but not the least, there was a 61 percent increase in the murder of kids in 2015.

The cycle of violence is on the rise. Starting from July 8, 2015, when Rajan was murdered with the video circulating in the whole of the social media sphere to the August 3, 2015 incident of Rakib in Khulna being tortured to death with a compressor machine pumping air through his back; Nazim being mercilessly beaten up in Khilkhet with a metal rod being inserted to his back in Dhaka on April 13, 2015; Abdullah from Keraniganj being abducted and killed in February 2016, with Solaiman having the same being done to him in Gazipur; two children being poisoned to death in Pabna by their own mother; the Banasri kids being killed by their own mother, Mahfuza Malek, on February 29, 2016; the list just sits there, gets longer, stretches to a point of shame beyond tolerance, and pleads with us to immediately react, resist and protest the brutalities.

The extent of brutality stretches from the 64 bruise marks on the fourteen year old Rajan’s body, to the body of an unidentified kid being dumped in a suitcase bearing burnt marks left near Dhaka Medical College recently, from Rabiul Awal, an 11-year old’s eyes being gauged in Barguna while being accused of stealing fish, from Zahid Hassan (15) and Imon Ali(13) being tortured for apparently having stolen cell phones in Rajshahi on February 12, 2016 to many others who go unreported and unlisted.

Cruelty has no bars. The acts of many of these tortures are videoed and shared on Facebook. Almost 13 million Facebook users have access to these tales of brutality in Bangladesh. According to the report of World Justice Project, Bangladesh ranks 93 out of the 102 countries being surveyed – only Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia rank worse than Bangladesh – in terms of justice. The Children Act 2013 has no definite law relating to the murder of children. But fortunately, death penalties and life imprisonments are now being awarded to such culprits.

My fear is that with so many tales of brutality, we may find it increasingly difficult to read the newspapers, watch the news and maybe we may all just helplessly look away. Before we reach that level, let’s arrest the desensitisation…If there’s a child being employed by your neighbour, report it; if there’s a child walking in your sector, stop it; if there’s a child you spot being harassed or tortured, confront the abuser; if there’s a child who’s gone hungry, spare a meal. Every little kid walking on the street is ours. Their rights equal the rights of our own children. After all, the bar of conscience needs to be raised to a considerable level in this country.

The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Dhaka’s Risky Streets with Kids Driving Buses, Human Hauliershttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/dhakas-risky-streets-with-kids-driving-buses-human-hauliers-2/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=dhakas-risky-streets-with-kids-driving-buses-human-hauliers-2 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/dhakas-risky-streets-with-kids-driving-buses-human-hauliers-2/#comments Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:37:57 +0000 Zahed Khan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144225 By Zahed Khan
Mar 17 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In any country, one has to be an adult to qualify as a driver. But in Bangladesh, one does not have to obey that law to become a driver – and that literally means it is “allowed”.

Monir is 16. He has been driving a human haulier for six months. Underage, he naturally does not have a license. But who cares? You can spot him in the Mohammadpur and Mirpur route. Monir says many of his buddies are also in this same profession.

The Daily Star have also spotted even younger drivers driving minibuses — even on the VIP road right under the nose of the law enforcers.

In most cases, underage drivers are seen driving human hauliers. Drivers say this is because qualified drivers with genuine licenses are not interested to drive these smaller vehicles for prestige issues.

Also, vehicle owners can exploit young and eager-to-please drivers better when it comes to payment.

The most common defence of people who deploy these kids for such risky jobs is that they were very poor and these jobs were providing them with a livelihood.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Outsourcing Jobs, Insourcing Labour & Increasing Profitshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/outsourcing-jobs-insourcing-labour-increasing-profits/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=outsourcing-jobs-insourcing-labour-increasing-profits http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/outsourcing-jobs-insourcing-labour-increasing-profits/#comments Mon, 14 Mar 2016 20:19:06 +0000 Joseph Chamie http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144177 Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.]]>

Joseph Chamie is an independent consulting demographer and a former Director of the United Nations Population Division.

By Joseph Chamie
NEW YORK, Mar 14 2016 (IPS)

For decades “outsourcing” jobs from wealthy developed countries to low-wage developing countries has been a major strategy of many corporations, industries and businesses to increase profits by reducing labor costs and operating expenses.

For work and services that cannot be sent overseas, companies, organizations and private enterprises – often supported by government policies and programs – turn to “insourcing” immigrant labor, again aimed at increasing profits by stabilizing or reducing domestic labor costs.

Comprehensive international data on offshore outsourcing are not readily available. With relatively few exceptions, most government data systems are not designed to correlate domestic employment gains and losses with those overseas. In addition, companies are understandably reluctant to highlight their overseas outsourcing practices or publicize the numbers of jobs that have been transferred abroad.

Over the past decade data from the United States Department of Commerce show that U.S. multinational corporations – the big brand-name companies that employ a fifth of all American workers – reduced their work forces by approximately 3 million jobs while increasing employment overseas.

About three quarters of those jobs were in manufacturing. Also, between the period from1998 to 2008 manufacturing plants declined sharply, contracting by more than 51,000 plants, or about 13 percent.

In 11 European Union countries for which data are available, about 83,000 jobs were outsourced overseas between 2009 and 2012 in enterprises with 100 or more employees. France topped the list of jobs lost (more than 19,000) followed by the Netherlands (nearly 19,000) and Denmark (nearly 14,000). Again, most of the job losses were in manufacturing.

Important locations for American and European firms to outsource their jobs are China and India. Since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, it is estimated that some three million U.S. jobs have been outsourced to China.

In Bulgaria, Finland, France, Ireland and Norway, no less than one-fifth of enterprises outsourcing core functions abroad do so to China. With regard to support functions, EU countries, especially France, Ireland and Finland, are more likely to outsource those jobs to India than to China.

Business representatives, policy makers and governmental officials often stress the benefits of outsourcing, notably lower prices for consumers, and maintain that better jobs will be available to displaced workers.

However, few are able to specify those better jobs, spell out precisely who is receiving the rewards from the claimed benefits and cope with wage stagnation and growing inequality. Moreover, many displaced workers remain unemployed for lengthy periods of time and those who do find jobs are often obliged to take major cuts in pay.

The national security implications of offshore outsourcing have also been generally overlooked or discounted. Many developed country businesses have moved the production of their advanced technology products overseas, especially to Asia, while maintaining a domestic sales force to market the goods. A related concern is the risk of losing sensitive data and loss of confidentiality with regard to production and clients.

Many jobs do not lend themselves to be outsourced overseas, such as agriculture, dairy, landscaping, construction, trucking, hotel/motel room cleaning, retail jobs, care giving, food service, etc. For those jobs, according to economic theory, as domestic labor markets tighten, employers will offer higher wages to attract workers to their enterprises.

Fully cognizant of this economic dynamic, businesses generally seek to avoid a tightening domestic labor market. By urging and lobbying governments to “insource” increased numbers of immigrants, business enterprises aim to maintain or increase profit margins by stabilizing or lowering domestic labor costs.

For example, over the past quarter century, including during the recession years, the percent of the immigrant population among the G8 countries has by and large increased (Figure 1).

Source:  United Nations Population Division.

Source: United Nations Population Division.

Several recent instances of insourcing lower-cost foreign labor that have received media attention in the U.S. are Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida and Southern California Edison. American workers at those firms reported that they lost their jobs to foreign guest workers on H-1B visas and had to train their replacements as a condition for their severance package and eligibility for unemployment insurance.

In addition to calling for increased numbers of immigrant workers, many businesses, especially small and medium-sized firms, tolerate the employment of workers unlawfully resident in the country. Many of those enterprises maintain that without those unauthorized workers they would struggle to meet labor shortages, especially as most citizens and documented foreign workers eschew those low-wage jobs.

In the United States, for example, although the unauthorized migrant workers represent 5 percent of the labor force, they are concentrated in a small number of occupations, notably farming, fishing and forestry (26 percent of the workforce), domestic workers (23 percent), clothing manufacture (20 percent), building and grounds (17 percent) and construction and mining (14 percent).

In addition, in the construction sector the unauthorized migrants hold about one-third of all jobs in drywall installation, and approximately one quarter of jobs in roofing and painting.

Companies who hire unauthorized workers can refuse to pay them minimum wages, fail to comply with safety standards and dodge paying taxes and employee benefits. Those practices in turn drive down wages, create dangerous working conditions, shirk tax obligations and engender unfair competition for law-abiding businesses.

While outsourcing jobs and insourcing immigrant labor may indeed increase profits and be beneficial by lowering labor costs and operating expenses, the general public and especially native workers find these practices to be onerous. Opinion polls find that large majorities of the public believe there should be greater restriction of immigration and increased efforts to keep jobs from relocating overseas.

In contrast, few governments view immigration levels as too high and are doing comparatively little to address public concerns and the fallout resulting from offshore outsourcing of jobs and insourcing of immigrant labor. The consequences of those immigration policies, laissez-faire responses to job losses and flat or falling real wages are reflected in loss of public trust, growing xenophobia, vigilantism, violence and political extremism as well as the strengthening of radical factions in many countries.

Continued neglect of the negative consequences of sending jobs overseas and importing immigrant labor can be expected to exacerbate already troubling social and economic conditions in many countries around the world.

For social amity, economic wellbeing, political stability and national security, governments and businesses should broaden their focus beyond simply increased profits and associated benefits for some and begin working together to meaningfully address the critical consequences of outsourcing jobs overseas and insourcing immigrant labor.

(End)

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Clean Clothes – Fashion Free of Slave Labour in Argentinahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/clean-clothes-fashion-free-of-slave-labour-in-argentina/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 22:45:46 +0000 Fabiana Frayssinet http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144149 Fidel Daza and Susana Chiura (behind) in the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative in Buenos Aires, where the two Bolivian immigrants work after being freed from slave labour in garment industry sweatshops. The cooperative forms part of the Clean Clothes network fighting for decent working conditions, which already includes 20 brand names in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

Fidel Daza and Susana Chiura (behind) in the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative in Buenos Aires, where the two Bolivian immigrants work after being freed from slave labour in garment industry sweatshops. The cooperative forms part of the Clean Clothes network fighting for decent working conditions, which already includes 20 brand names in Argentina. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Mar 10 2016 (IPS)

In Argentina, there are now 20 brand names that guarantee that their garments are produced by workers in decent working conditions, thanks to the Clean Clothes network, aimed at eradicating slave labour in the garment industry, which illegally employs some 30,000 people in sweatshops around the country.

The members of the 20 de Diciembre Cooperative stop for lunch, and leave work on time after a seven-hour workday, to go and pick up their children at school.

These rights are supposedly guaranteed by local laws. But they are not respected in around 3,000 sweatshops in Greater Buenos Aires, which account for 80 percent of the local garment industry’s output, according to statistics from the La Alameda Foundation, which was behind the creation of the cooperative.“We started to receive a lot of phone calls from people who were indignant about what had happened, and concerned because we denounced many brand names of clothing for using sweatshops, and people asked us: so what are we supposed to wear?” -- Tamara Rosenberg

“They only gave us one plate of food, which we had to share with our kids. And the food wasn’t good,” Susana Chiura, a member of the cooperative who came to Argentina from Bolivia seven years ago, told IPS.

Like many other South American immigrants in Argentina, many of whom are from Bolivia, Chiura was brought in by the owner of a textile workshop, who in this case was from Peru.

“He promised me a good job, and housing,” she said. “But when we got here we found it wasn’t true. They didn’t let us out; we could only go out on Saturday afternoon. Even if we just wanted to go to the supermarket, he would take us there and bring us back to the house.”

She shared a tiny room with poor ventilation with her oldest son. She earned five times less than the minimum wage required by law, working from 6:00 in the morning to midnight. And the cost of the trip from Bolivia, meals and lodging were docked from her pay.

Another Bolivian member of the cooperative, Fidel Daza, said: “I worked from 7:00 to 21:00, with just one half-hour break. There were entire families working even longer hours, because they needed the money to be able to eat.”

“Now I have more time to play with my kids. Before, they’d be sleeping when I left in the morning and they’d already be asleep when I got home,” he told IPS.

According to La Alameda, workers like Chiura or Daza are the last link in a chain that starts out with large, medium and small clothing companies which, due to omission, complicity or ignorance, use sweatshops to manufacture the garments they sell.

Verónica Virasoro, the owner of Vero Vira, a women’s clothing store, said “I wanted to see the workshop, but I was told they probably wouldn’t let me in. That smelled fishy to me: when there’s a locked door, something is being hidden behind it.”

Her firm is one of the cooperative’s clients and forms part of the Clean Clothes network, which also groups garment factories and consumers.

She said many designers turn to sweatshops to cut costs or because they don’t really understand what’s going on.

“Besides, they are not all clandestine sweatshops that use slave labour,” she said. “There are also family workshops that have a dynamic of charging less, but to do that they work extremely long hours, and sleep in the factory. And they’re not aware that accidents can be caused by bad installations.”

This Buenos Aires sweatshop was destroyed in April 2015 by a fire that claimed the lives of two Bolivian boys who were living there. The Clean Clothes network emerged in response to the indignation caused by the tragedy in this country, where 30,000 people work in sweatshops. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

This Buenos Aires sweatshop was destroyed in April 2015 by a fire that claimed the lives of two Bolivian boys who were living there. The Clean Clothes network emerged in response to the indignation caused by the tragedy in this country, where 30,000 people work in sweatshops. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

The Ropa Limpia or Clean Clothes network emerged in 2015, with a successful fashion show held to demonstrate that it is possible to produce clothing without slave and child labour.

On Apr. 27, 2015, two Bolivian children died in a sweatshop fire.

“We started to receive a lot of phone calls from people who were indignant about what had happened, and concerned because we denounced many brand names of clothing for using sweatshops, and people asked us: so what are we supposed to wear?” said Tamara Rosenberg, the head of the cooperative.

“That’s when the idea came up to suggest to our customers that it is possible to produce in decent working conditions…it’s not the same thing to show that there’s a cooperative as to show that there are a number of designers who respect people’s rights, and charge appropriate prices.”

The very same clothing produced in sweatshops, which is sold at low prices in the city’s street markets, is sometimes sold by famous brand names at a higher mark-up.

The Argentine network was inspired by the global Clean Clothes Campaign, whose aim is to improve working conditions in the global garment and sportswear industries.

“The idea is to approach the sweatshops to raise awareness about the risks of not having their installations in proper working order, or of having children in the workshop, because the dust in the air hurts their respiratory system,” said Virasoro.

The members of the network also give advice to designers “who want to do things in a responsible manner,” she said.

“It’s not easy because they’re scared they’ll be reported,” she added. “The problem is that even though it’s not a clandestine workshop or a sweatshop using slave labour, they might not pay all their taxes, or their installations might not all be in order.”

Daza said: “You know you’re being mistreated, but the owner of the workshop tells you, ‘look, if you go, we have 10 others who want to work’. Since it’s hard to find a job, you bow your head and keep working.”

Others are worried about reporting the situation because the police themselves often “tell the owner, who fires (the whistle-blower),” he said.

Laura Méndez, who owns the Clara A brand name, decided to produce her accessories in the cooperative, after seeing “how they all worked crowded into a place with no exit” in a footwear factory, as well as other irregularities.

“The most important thing for me is to show clients that clothing can be produced in an ethical manner,” she told IPS. “I want the products to have a social impact.”

The 20 de Diciembre Cooperative employs 12 workers.

“In a sweatshop, people work 16 hours and earn 5,000 or 6,000 pesos (312 to 375 dollars) a month,” said Rosenberg. Here, most of the members of the cooperative work seven hours, earning 7,000 to 8,000 pesos a month (437 to 500 dollars), which is even higher than the wage agreed on with the industry.”

María Reina’s story is dramatic, like those of many of her fellow workers. Six years ago, when she was travelling from Bolivia to Argentina, where she had been hired to work in a garment workshop, the bus rolled and in the accident her boyfriend and brother-in-law were killed, and she lost a leg.

“When I got out of the hospital they took me to the workshop,” she told IPS. “I was in a wheelchair and they told me I had to work. I said I couldn’t, that I had to heal, that I was ordered to rest. They didn’t understand, and finally they threw me out on the street.”

She is now undergoing rehabilitation. And she has learned that South American immigrants like her have labour rights, and have the right to an identity card and to free healthcare and education.

“La Alameda has long been denouncing these practices by the sweatshops, which are also linked to other criminal activity,” said Rosenberg.

“We’re even talking about organised crime because many of the brand names that outsource work to sweatshops have ties to other crimes like money laundering, drug trafficking, car smuggling, or ‘narco-brothels’,” she said.

The challenge is to pass laws that guarantee inspections of the garment industry and the legal registration of private workshops.

“One of our working groups is focused on finding workshops that, while they might not have the best conditions for production, they at least offer good conditions or are interested in improving them,” she said. “We don’t want them to close down; what we want is to offer them options, such as joining together, in an adequate space.”

One alternative is the Polo Textil Barracas, which employs former sweatshop workers and uses machinery that in many cases had been confiscated.

But they dream about going further. For example, creating a label that identifies the origin of the clothing, and a slave labour-free system of sales – to guarantee, in Rosenberg’s words, that the clothes we use “aren’t stained with blood.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Increasing Women’s Access to Skills and Jobshttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/increasing-womens-access-to-skills-and-jobs/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=increasing-womens-access-to-skills-and-jobs http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/03/increasing-womens-access-to-skills-and-jobs/#comments Thu, 10 Mar 2016 15:17:32 +0000 Srinivas Reddy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144146 With training, nothing is too ‘technical’ for women. Photo: Courtesy

With training, nothing is too ‘technical’ for women. Photo: Courtesy

By Srinivas Reddy
Mar 10 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

“My daughter and I were a burden on my parents,” says 20-year-old Moushumi Akter Mou from Mirpur.

Married off at the age of 14, Mou could not complete her schooling. After her daughter was born, her husband remarried, leaving her feeling vulnerable and hopeless. “I felt that if I had a job, my life might be worthwhile.”

These words are unfortunately common among young women in Bangladesh who, for no fault of their own, are often made to feel worthless and are unable to earn a living for themselves, thus denying them economic and social independence.

Around the world, women face challenges in joining the labour force. In Bangladesh, this is especially a challenge due to the double burden of patriarchy and poverty. One symptom of this problem is the low female participation rate in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, particularly in formal institutions. Women’s participation in TVET in Bangladesh ranges from 9 to 13 percent in public institutions and 33 percent in private institutions. Only around one in five instructors in technical institutes is a woman.

Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP) Bangladesh, a leading vocational training institute, conducted a study recently to identify barriers preventing young women from accessing technical vocational training. The study identified multiple obstacles. Of the girls surveyed, 25 percent highlighted the lack of family support as the biggest barrier, followed by 21 percent who identified society’s lack of acceptance. Also cited were concerns about safety at the workplace, insecurity travelling to and from work and the distance from training centres to home. Once enrolled, some girls dropped out. Of these, early marriage was the most common reason, accounting for more than half of the dropouts. Others cited health and family reasons. The study respondents were from urban locations. In rural locations, the factors may be even stronger.

Over the past decade the Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated a strong commitment to bringing women into the labour force. In March 2012, a National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) for Bangladesh, the development of which was supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was approved. This policy recognises the low participation rates of women in skills development, and states that special efforts are necessary to correct this gender imbalance, particularly in the formal training system. It also proposes several measures such as promoting women’s inclusion in “non-traditional” courses for better employment opportunities; social marketing and awareness raising; separate washrooms for women; and recruitment of female instructors wherever possible.

Subsequently, a National Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality has been formulated with ILO support. This has the explicit aim of increasing female participation in TVET through a comprehensive and holistic mix of social, economic, institutional and systemic transformational measures.

A strategic framework and objectives have been outlined with a clear set of priorities and targets. Objectives include increasing female enrolment by at least 25 percent, transforming mind sets and attitudes to eliminate negative perception towards “non-traditional skills” for women and establishing a gender responsive environment with appropriate support systems. ILO is working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to ensure integration of the gender strategy in their annual plan, budget, and monitoring system and training institutions.

In addition to supporting the Government of Bangladesh in promoting gender equality in the skills system and TVET institutions, ILO’s skills programme which in recent years has been funded by Canada and the European Union, is supporting hundreds of women like Mou in non-traditional occupations. These include carpentry, furniture making, hospitality (e.g. baker, chef, etc.) and food processing. Pilot initiatives in male dominated occupations and sectors help demonstrate ways in which the skills system can be made more gender equal.

As a result of the systemic changes taking place, Mou took up the challenge to learn a non-traditional trade in high demand. She is now a qualified refrigeration and air conditioning technician after having accessed training at UCEP Mirpur Technical School.

“My family members and others encouraged me to go for it. I took those remarks seriously and came to the refrigeration and AC technician trade to make a difference,” she says.

In order to increase girls’ participation in technical and vocational training programmes, efforts need to involve families, society, training providers, employers and government. Ambitious policies and action plans that succeed in transforming gender norms and relationships in society are required to bring about gender equality in the workplace, to create opportunities for more women like Mou.

The writer is Country Director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Mexico’s Chinampas – Wetlands Turned into Gardens – Fight Extinctionhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/#comments Sat, 27 Feb 2016 19:25:46 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=144016 http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/mexicos-chinampas-wetlands-turned-into-gardens-fight-extinction/feed/ 0 A Question of Honour for a Nigerian Migranthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/a-question-of-honour-for-a-nigerian-migrant/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=a-question-of-honour-for-a-nigerian-migrant http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/a-question-of-honour-for-a-nigerian-migrant/#comments Thu, 25 Feb 2016 14:31:34 +0000 Francesco Farne http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143991 Migrants at Lampedusa island, Italy. The Island is the first land migrants' boats reach on their journey from Africa.  Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

Migrants at Lampedusa island, Italy. The Island is the first land migrants' boats reach on their journey from Africa. Credit: Ilaria Vechi/IPS

By Francesco Farnè
Rome, Feb 25 2016 (IPS)

“In 2005 I left my home town in Eastern Nigeria by boat, landing in Athens, Greece along with my fellow companions – members of a football team. I decided to push my luck and moved to Italy in search of what I believed to be better opportunities to start a new life and get a decent job. Unfortunately, this may have just been an illusion.”

When James arrived in Italy, he was a 25 year old student. Faced with the harsh economic and political instability, he fled his home in the hopes of building a better life elsewhere, leaving behind his parents, seven brothers and three sisters, and a host of family members and friends.

Now 35, James’ sacrifice to leave so much behind is a testament to the difficult choices that most migrants and refugees have to make when venturing overseas. Such circumstances are made all the more tragic when faced with the limited prospects and a deep feeling of rejection and lack of acceptance migrants frequently encounter on their arrival in their host countries.

Initially surviving by selling socks on the streets, James also helped people carry shopping bags full of food to their vehicles in front of a supermarket for six years- a frequent sight around Italian super markets. Earning tips as wage, he lived in a very small apartment in the northern suburbs just outside Rome. He had to move four times always sharing a small space with at least seven other migrants or refugees.

“The second place I moved into actually had three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a living room, which may sound cosy and quite comfortable, right? What if I tell you that there were fifteen of us living there and that a couch was my bed?” asked James.

“I do not want to complain”, he added, “the Nigerian community here is very inclusive and helpful. Additionally, people from other African countries I had the chance to meet and share rooms with during these years proved to be true friends. At least I’ve never felt alone.”

During his time in Italy, James also relied on financial help from his brother who lives in another country in Africa he did not want to disclose. “I know it may sound strange, migrants are known to send remittances home to help their families, but in my case it was the contrary. I am not proud of this.” While confident that he would be able to repay his brother one day, James pointed out that many others are having to endure similar difficult circumstances.

In 2013, eight years on from his arrival, James found a job at a grocery shop. While grateful for a better salary and greater independence, James states that the casual nature of his employment and his wage of €35 for a ten hour day are still a major cause for concern and in violation of labour rights on minimum wage, working hours and social protection.

“I am well aware this is a violation of workers’ rights, but I am forced to accept these conditions.” Still living with the painful memories of his earlier circumstances, James fears being forced to sell socks again in front of supermarkets.

After obtaining his “permesso di soggiorno” (residence permit), James is hoping to register at a public employment agency. However, he remains wary and somewhat disillusioned. He stated that many friends have had little luck when trying to find employment through this process. Whatever the difficulties, he says he cannot give up now.

When asked why he stayed in Italy for all these years despite the hardships he has had to endure isolated and far from his family and friends, James states that his choice to stay is a complex one.

“The truth is I do not want people in my home community, my family and friends to make fun of me and consider me a failure. Now that I have my residence permit, I feel like I have a chance to make it, get a decent job and go back home with something in my hands”, he concluded. This reasoning behind his decision to remain in Italy however is linked to the ongoing socio- political turmoil and human rights abuses in Nigeria.

The current state of affairs in Nigeria have recently been highlighted by Amnesty International in the 2014/15 report: The state of the world’s human rights, which stated: “[C]rimes under international law and serious human rights violations and abuses were committed by both sides in the conflict between the Nigerian military and the armed group Boko Haram […]. Torture and other ill-treatment by the police and security forces was widespread. Freedom of expression was restricted. The death penalty continued to be applied.”

According to 2015 estimates by the Italian Italian Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), arrivals from Nigeria to Italy have dramatically increased in the last two years, with 11.000 new arrivals in 2014 (+13% compared to 2013). 63.5% of them are asylum seekers and refugees.

The European Union, as well as the international community must do more to ensure international peace and security, manage international migration and tackle the root causes of the mass exodus of peoples from the war torn regions of the world.

There are numerous issues facing host countries and the governments must be held accountable and address the issues that are at the centre of migration to Europe. They include the horrors of human trafficking, including bringing those responsible to justice.

National governments must do more to inform new migrants on what to expect once they arrive in Europe, in addition to effectively addressing the current humanitarian crisis faced by hundreds of thousands of refugees.

Additionally, both the media and national governments must put an end to scare-mongering tactics and xenophobic tirades, and instead, begin to promote campaigns that are focused on integration and empathy.

Governments must put forward and pass legislation that ensures that laws regarding employment regulations, equal pay, access to education and healthcare, to legal recourse are available to all those who have settled in their host countries. It is not a luxury for the migrants but a legitimate claim.

(End)

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El Salvador Pension Reform Could Take Women into Accounthttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/el-salvador-pension-reform-could-take-women-into-account/#comments Wed, 17 Feb 2016 14:17:21 +0000 Edgardo Ayala http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143911 María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, makes a living selling fruit at a street stand in San Salvador. She forms part of El Salvador’s informal economy, where workers are not covered by the pension system and women are a majority. Credit: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

By Edgardo Ayala
SAN SALVADOR, Feb 17 2016 (IPS)

El Salvador is debating reforms of the country’s privatised pension system, which could introduce changes so that it will no longer discriminate against women.

“The pension system has a male-centred, patriarchal focus that fails to take into account the specific differences that women face in the world,” said Marta Zaldaña, secretary general of the Federation of Independent Associations and Unions of El Salvador (FEASIES).

The head of FEASIES, which groups more than 20 trade unions, told IPS that one example of the sexist treatment received by women is the 115,000 domestic workers who are completely outside the system, with no right to a pension or even the minimum wage, or any other kind of protection or regulation.

People working in the informal sector of the economy, 65 percent of whom are women, do not pay into the system and will have no right to a retirement pension, economist Julia Evelin Martínez, a researcher at the José Simeón Cañas Central American University School of Economy, told IPS.“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women.” -- Julia Evelin Martínez

The system was designed “based on the labour experiences and lives of men,” she said.

María Elena Rodríguez, 54, a street vendor who sells fruit at a stand on a San Salvador street, said the outlook for her old age is grim.

“I don’t have any coverage, I pray that the lord will give me the strength to work until I’m 65, and then I’ll ask my children to put me in an old-age home, because I don’t have any pension, I have nothing,” Rodríguez told IPS as she sold papaya slices to passersby.

She has three children, but says she doesn’t “want to be a burden for anyone,” adding that after a life of hard work, she should have the right to an old age without worries.

Lawmakers did not create rules enabling people in the informal sector of the economy to be covered by the system, which only applies to formally employed wage-earners.

With contributions by their employers, those covered by the system pay 13 percent of their wages into individual accounts managed by the pension fund administrators (AFPs), which take a 2.2 percent commission and invest the money.

Since late 2015, the government, the business community, academics and social organisations have been discussing what to do with the pension system which, since it was privatised in 1998, has neither expanded coverage nor improved pensions, as promised.

According to official figures, as of November 2015, 2.7 million people were enrolled in the pension savings system (SAP), in this country of 6.3 million people with an economically active population (EAP) of 2.8 million.

But 65.7 percent of the EAP works in the informal sector, while only 24.7 percent actually pays into the system, despite the fact that nearly everyone is formally enrolled, because at some point they registered and their names are still in the system.

That means only one out of four people in the EAP will have coverage when they retire, and many of these will draw very small pensions.

The debate is currently focused on how to improve returns in the pension funds, which were worth a total of 7.3 billion dollars in November. If the returns increase, pensions will grow.

Around 58 percent of that total is invested in pension investment certificates issued by the state, with low interest rates between 1.4 and three percent. Legally, El Salvador’s AFPs cannot invest in the international stock market, where the returns are higher, although the risks are too.

The government of left-wing President Salvador Sánchez Cerén wants to go even further, proposing a reform to create a mixed system that would include the private pension fund administrators – an idea that is opposed by the business community and the right-wing opposition.

Little information about the proposed reform has come out. But the government is reportedly proposing that workers who earn less than 484 dollars a month would be covered by a public system, and the rest by a mixed one.

In this debate, “we want to incorporate a gender perspective in the pensions system,” said Zaldaña, who also belongs to a group fighting for decent jobs for women, the CEDM.

The government acknowledges that women face unequal conditions. They retire at the age of 55, compared to 60 for men, which means they pay less into their accounts, and thus receive lower pensions when they retire.

To that is added the fact that they earn 15 percent less than men on average, even though on average women have more years of formal schooling, according to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Human Development Report 2015.

The lower their wages, the less they pay into their individual accounts, under the current system.

“The problem is that culturally the population still has no awareness about the inequality in wages,” a public employee in a government office, Johana Peña, told IPS.

Roberto Lorenzana, the president’s secretary on technical questions, said in remarks to the government online news outlet Transparencia Activa that the gender imbalance is “a problem that we need to address” in any future reform.

He said the government’s position on this has points in common with that of the Salvadoran Association of Pension Fund Administrators (ASAFONDOS), which represents the country’s two AFPs.

However, it is unclear as to what changes are proposed to move in that direction, and Lorenzana and René Novellino, executive director of ASAFONDOS, did not respond to requests from IPS for an interview to discuss the issue.

Martínez, the researcher, believes the debate should look at the foundations of a system that is unfair to women – a problem that she said is not only seen in private systems.

“The reform should be an opportunity to redesign the pension system from the very foundations, in order for it to offer equal benefits to men and women,” she said.

The economist pointed out, for example, that women with formal jobs stop paying into the system during their four months of maternity leave. If they have an average of three children, they will have stopped paying towards their retirement for an entire year.

That time lost is added to the five years that they do not pay into the system as they retire earlier than men.

“This creates a distortion, a gap, a discontinuity, which is reflected in their labour history,” said Martínez.

Zaldaña, the head of FEASIES, said these gap periods should be counted as time worked, and the state should contribute the funds to make up for that lost time. This proposal has been presented to Lorenzana, she said.

A similar reform was implemented in July 2009 in Chile, where the government offers a bonus per child to each female worker.

The economist Martínez is pleased that the trade union movement is pushing for these changes, while she lamented that women’s rights groups in El Salvador have not taken up the battle.

Meanwhile, Rodríguez said, without slowing down in her sales of fruit to her customers, that she scrapes by “with the few cents that I make from my fruit stand, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m old.”

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Gulf migration at an inflexion pointhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/gulf-migration-at-an-inflexion-point/#comments Mon, 15 Feb 2016 06:39:50 +0000 N Chandra Mohan http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143879 By N Chandra Mohan
NEW DELHI, Feb 15 2016 (IPS)

The steep fall in global oil prices has hit Gulf economies severely. Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain are expected to run huge budget deficits as shrinking revenues from selling cheaper oil cannot fund their mounting expenditures. As they tighten their belts, the brunt of adjustment will be felt by migrants, who constitute the bulk of the labour force. Reforms include cutting fuel, power, water, education subsidies and a value-added tax (VAT). This will affect migrants and reports indicate family members are returning home.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

As oil prices are likely to remain depressed — as global markets “drown in oversupply”, to borrow an expression of the International Energy Agency — the Gulf economies are looking to a future beyond oil. Saudi Arabia, for instance, is looking to diversify into mining and subsidy reforms. In an interview to The Economist, Muhammad bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s deputy crown prince and defence minister stated “there were unutilised assets: expanding religious tourism, like increasing the numbers of tourists and pilgrims to Mecca and Medina will give more value to state-owned lands in both cities”.

Other Gulf economies are thinking on similar lines. Among other options, UAE is investing big time into the India growth story. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of the UAE armed forces, Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nayan made a three day- visit to India in February and inked many agreements including investing in the country’s infrastructure, energy and aviation. India intends to tap investments of nearly $75 billion from the sovereign wealth fund of this Gulf economy, besides intensifying greater cooperation on the security front.

However, the crash in oil prices is not the only challenge confronting the Gulf. At an IISS Bahrain Bay Forum meeting last November, Bahrain’s minister for industry, commerce and tourism, Zayed Al Zayani stated that economic disorder and lack of opportunity are contributing to instability in the region. He emphasised the need for “unprecedented” economic reform across the Gulf in the wake of the lower oil revenues. These policies include the generation of millions of jobs for the youth in these economies that continue to depend heavily on expatriate labour from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Philippines.

All of this is not good news for expatriate workers in the Gulf. The steep increase in fuel and utility charges will hit their living standards. For instance, Qatar doubled these charges in September 2015. Saudi Arabia and Oman cut subsidies in December 2015. Saudi Arabia is thinking of a VAT by end-2016. In Bahrain, the expatriate workers also face the gradual loss of subsidies. These reforms in question also include replacing expatriate with local workers — Saudi Arabia, for instance, might soon start with the 10 million jobs being occupied by non-Saudi employees.

For such reasons, migration to the Gulf is at an inflexion point. In an earlier period, when oil prices were high and rising, these economies had booming revenues to build airports, highways and ports. Since the 1970s, those who constructed such infrastructure are the 16-odd million migrants from South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka. As this oil-financed construction boom is over, there is less need for unskilled expatriates. As noted earlier, the Gulf economies now have the compulsion to employ their own young and increasingly educated work force.

There is thus a troubling shadow over the sustainability of private transfers or remittances to South Asian economies. In Nepal, remittances from all sources constitute 30 per cent of GDP. The consequence of return migration thus is bound to be serious for the Himalayan kingdom’s external profile. In Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, remittances are equally important amounting to 9.4 per cent of GDP and 8.6 per cent of GDP respectively according to the World Bank. In India, the share is less at 3.4 per cent of GDP but the problem will be serious in states like Kerala that is the ground zero for Gulf emigration.

Research has established that remittances augment savings and investments of recipient households and help in poverty reduction. If such inflows reduce over the near-term, they would worsen these distributional outcomes. While remittances contribute to better economic performance, they are also a source of output shocks when they turn volatile – see a discussion paper on the effect of remittances for 24 Asia/ Pacific economies by Katsushi S Imai, Raghav Gaiha, Abdilahi Ali and Nidhi Kaicker for the Asia-Pacific Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development.

In this context, Kerala’s experience is relevant since it vitally depends on private transfers, which amount to one-thirds of its net state domestic product. The Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies (CDS) has been doing pioneering work on emigration and the impact of remittances on Kerala’s economy. CDS has, in fact, completed six large-scale surveys on migration — in 1998, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014. These surveys point to a decreasing trend in emigration from Kerala, bulk of which is to the Gulf economies. The era of large scale emigration is over.

If more South Asian expatriates return home, there is bound to be an adverse impact on the labour market. The rate of joblessness would spike upwards. With questions as to how long the good times will last on the remittances front, there is bound to be an adverse impact on South Asian economies. With less remittances inflows, they would register higher current account deficits, which is the broadest measure of the trade imbalance in goods and services with the rest of the world. Lower remittances, in turn, would lower per capita income, all of which contribute to social tensions. The challenge for policy is to cope with such inflows becoming less important in the region.

(End)

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Rise of Middle Class Undermined in East Europe & Central Asiahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/rise-of-middle-class-undermined-in-east-europe-central-asia/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 11:36:41 +0000 Thalif Deen http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143860 By Thalif Deen
UNITED NATIONS, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

The UN’s post-2015 development agenda, which was adopted by world leaders at a summit meeting last September, includes a highly ambitious goal: the eradication of extreme poverty by the year 2030.

The decline in poverty, as reflected in the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which ended last December, had one positive fallout: the rise of a new middle class graduating largely from the ranks of the poor.

But a new study by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) points out that the decline in poverty and the rise of the middle class are being undermined by several factors, including falling commodity prices and shrinking remittances – specifically in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

The middle class in the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia swelled from about 33 million people in 2001 to 90 million in 2013, according to the latest available figures.

“In many ways, the story in this region is different from what is happening in other parts of the world. The share of people living on $10 and $50 dollars per day has actually increased in most of these countries”,(as against a poverty line of less than 1.25 dollar a day), said Cihan Sultanoğlu, the Director of UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Over that same period, the number of people in the region living in poverty fell from at least 46 million in 2001 to about 5.0 million in 2013.

“But the region’s advances are under threat and the focus needs to be on improving its prospects for sustainable development”, she added.

With collapsing commodity prices, shrinking remittances and slow economic growth in Europe, the Russian Federation and much of the rest of the region, income-and-employment generating opportunities are disappearing, she said.

Sultanoglu told IPS: “The question really is: what impact inequality can have in reducing poverty. In this region, low or falling inequalities are central to prospects for poverty reduction, inclusive growth, and sustainable development.”

Addressing the UN Commission for Social Development (CSD) early this week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said: “Experience has shown that thriving economy is not enough to eradicate poverty and promote shared prosperity. Economies must be put at the service of people, through effective integrated social policies.”

“The widening gap between the rich and poor is marginalizing and alienating the most vulnerable in society,” he warned.

Ben Slay, Chief Economist, UNDP Eastern Europe and Central Asia, told IPS: “The middle class is unlikely to grow much in 2016 or 2017 because of the difficult overall growth environment.”

The UNDP study points out that the share of workers in vulnerable employment in Albania, Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Kyrgyz Republic, and Tajikistan is already estimated at close to 50 percent, while many different groups are excluded.

Vinicius Pinheiro, Director of the UN Office of the International Labour Organization (ILO) told the CSD Monday that the number of unemployed people had increased in 2015 by more than 0.7 million, reaching 197.1 million globally: a one million increase over 2014 and more than 27 million before the pre-crisis levels.

According to UNDP, inequalities and exclusion are at the heart of the newly-inaugurated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

And the UN’s 193 member states have committed themselves to eradicating poverty, fighting inequalities, building peaceful, inclusive, and resilient societies, and securing the future of the planet and the well-being of future generations.

Almost 1.5 billion people live in poverty according to UNDP’s Multidimensional Poverty Index, and almost 800 million are vulnerable to slipping back into poverty. Eighty per cent of the world’s elderly lack basic social protection, making them a particularly vulnerable group.

“The challenge is not just to lift people out of poverty – it is to ensure that their escape is permanent,” says UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

That is difficult, if there is no social protection, and where societies are vulnerable to relapses into conflict and to huge setbacks from natural disasters, she added.

“As dynamic emerging economies and stable societies move ahead, increasingly we will see extreme poverty co-located with zones of conflict and high disaster risk exposure, and where there is poor governance and little rule of law.”

It will therefore be idle rhetoric to talk about poverty eradication, said Clark, if the context in which it exists isn’t addressed.

“At UNDP, we look forward to the post-2015 global agenda taking on this challenges. We equally look forward to playing our full part in building the more inclusive, peaceful, and resilient societies which can advance human development.”

The battle against poverty is also being thwarted by military conflicts and the growing humanitarian crises.

The secretary-general told the CSD: “We are living in a world of turmoil and trouble.” He said there may be fewer wars between countries, but there is more insecurity.

“Inequality remains too high, affecting poverty reduction efforts and social cohesion in both developed and developing countries.”

He said too many people continue to face exclusion and are unable to realize their full potential. Too few economies have attained inclusive and sustainable growth and are unable to promote true social progress.

“People are frustrated. They are working harder and falling behind. Too often, instead of decisions, they see deadlock. And they wonder: are leaders even listening?”, Ban asked.

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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The New Normal in Fatahttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-new-normal-in-fata http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/the-new-normal-in-fata/#comments Thu, 11 Feb 2016 07:16:26 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143858 Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Displaced people leave for their homes in Fata after a successful military operation. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 11 2016 (IPS)

A military operation by Pakistan’s army has been proving fatal for Taliban militants who held sway over vast swathes of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for over a decade. They crossed over the border from Afghanistan and took refuge in Fata after their government was toppled by US-led forces towards the end of 2001. After a few years, when they got a toe-hold in the region, they extended their wings to all seven districts of Fata. Not any more.

During those fateful years, schools were targetted as the militants are opposed to education. “Taliban destroyed more than 750 schools, mostly for girls, in Fata and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa between to 2005 to 2012,” Jaffar Ahmed, an official of Fata’s education department said. Fortunately, there was no incident of bombing of schools by the Taliban because the army campaign forced them to empty out of Fata. They have now lost the capability to operate freely due to the military offensive launched in early 2015.

Pakistan army launched operations against militants after the attack on the Army Public School in December 2014, killing 150 mostly pupils, This campaign was part of the National Action Plan approved by all political parties, which has now cleared 95 per cent of Fata of insurgents. Brigadier (retired) Mahmood Shah, former secretary security Fata, told IPS about the benefits of military action: “Taliban’s ruthlessness forced people to leave for safety. Now, the displaced have started returning to their ancestral areas.”

About 3 million had taken temporary refuge in adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one of the Pakistan’s four provinces, out of which 500,000 people have returned as normalcy has returned to Fata. “We sighed with relief from the end of Taliban’s ruthlessness. We are overwhelmed by government’s announcement about our return,” said Muhammad Shabbir, a resident of Khyber Agency, one of Fata’s districts. “We left our native home when local Taliban destroyed schools and banned oral polio vaccine, he explained, adding that “Taliban are opposed to polio drops due to which they disallowed vaccinators in Fata. Likewise, they considered education against Islam and banned it.” He now hopes that children will get into schools very soon. Kids have also started receiving vaccination which was earlier completely banned by the Taliban.

On Feb. 5, shopkeepers resumed business activities in Bara Bazaar in Khyber Agency after seven long years. The bazaar was shut due to increasing militancy, which forced the people to stay away from businesses and take refuge somewhere else. “We have cleared the area of militants and have made elaborate arrangement for the security of the bazaar,” political agent Shahab Ali Shah informed IPS. Everyone entering the bazaar is thoroughly searched at the entry and exit points to ensure that militants don’t carry out acts of terrorism, he added. The bazaar would open at 8 am and close at 6pm. The government has installed closed-circuit television cameras at six points to monitor the people’s movements and ensure security, he added.

Shopkeepers are overwhelmed by the resumption of work. “We have suffered heavy economic losses due to terrorism and want complete peace. All the traders have given an undertaking to the government that the shopkeepers wouldn’t give donations to militants,” Abdul Jabbar, a trade leader said. We have also requested the government to give us soft loans to resume our businesses, he said. We desperately need financial assistance to be able to repair our damaged shops and start our businesses afresh, he said. “About 70 per cent of shops in the bazaar are in bad conditions for which we demand assistance to rebuild them,” he stated.

The government has also started repair work and reconstruction of the Taliban-damaged schools. “The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has rebuilt 200 of the total 250 schools destroyed by Taliban,” Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. We have allocated $10m for rebuilding schools in the province, he said. “Committees at the community level have been set-up to safeguard the schools,” he said. About 15,000 watchmen have been trained in security-related matters to cope with the situation, he said.

According to Director Education Fata, Muhammad Nadeem, “about 40,000 students have missed their studies and efforts were being made to enable those who remained out of schools to get back. “There would be no summer vacation in schools opened after military action so students could catch up with studies,” he elaborated. Students aren’t only back in schools but they are also playing different kinds of sports. “We appeal to the army to continue the campaign till the Taliban militants are eliminated so that durable peace is established,” felt Jawad Shah, a student of grade 10 at a school in the North Waziristan Agency, which was hitherto the headquarters of the Taliban in Fata.

(End)

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Kidneys Going Cheap in Poor Estate Communityhttp://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community http://www.ipsnews.net/2016/02/kidneys-going-cheap-in-poor-estate-community/#comments Wed, 10 Feb 2016 07:27:27 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=143845 By Amantha Perera
TALAWAKELE, Sri Lanka, Feb 10 2016 (IPS)

One and half years ago, Johnson, a 20- something youth, hailing from Sri Lanka’s tea plantations, received an unusual request. The caller, someone Johnson knew casually, made an offer for his kidney. “It was for a half a million rupees (around US $3,500),” he said.

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar at the Talawakele railway station who gets regular requests for his kidney but has so far refused. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Johnson thought for a while and agreed. Mired in poverty and without a permanent job, half million was something he could only dream about till then. Soon he admitted himself into a private hospital in the capital city, Colombo, about 170 km from his native Talawakele. Neither did Johnson know anyone there nor was he familiar with the sprawling urban maze.

After several tests, his kidney was deemed compatible with a 41 year-old man from the north of Sri Lanka, the only detail Johnson knew of the man who now has his kidney. From the time he got admitted, Johnson was well taken care of by his initial caller, a middle man. To those who were curious, he was advised to tell them that he was a relative of the kidney patient. No one asked, Johnson said later.

Johnson stayed in the hospital for several days after the operation. When he returned home, he was provided a vehicle. But the benevolence ended there. For days Johnson went to the bank and checked his account. No monies had been credited. Nervous, he called the middle man; the number returned a message that said it had been disconnected.

He visited the man’s residence, only to be told that he had moved out and was now overseas. “I did not receive a cent for my kidney,” a desperate Johnson told IPS. He suspects that the middle man did in fact get the cash, but decamped with it.

Johnson’s story may be unusual in other segments of Sri Lanka society that are richer and savvier. But among the estate community in the central hills, selling a kidney has now become a frequent tale of woe.

Mahendran, a 53 year-old father of four, is also a victim of the same racket. He received a request for his organ while working as a helper at a rich household. It was the same modus operandi: a middle man, known a little but not that much, approached Mahendran, made the play for the kidney and got his consent.

Both thereafter travelled to Colombo, where Mahendran like Johnson was a fish out of water. At the hospital he was asked to pretend to be a relative of the patient. Mahendran also got played out after he had parted with his kidney. “I was promised Rs 150,000 ($1,050) and paid Rs 10,000 ($70).”

Mahendran told IPS that he initially balked at selling his organs, but finally gave way because of abject poverty. “I have four children to look after, that was why I did it,” he said.

Now with one kidney, he can’t work hard and earn as much as he used to. Two of his eldest kids, two boys have now dropped out of school.

Both men said that poverty was the main factor behind their decision. Sri Lanka’s plantations, where the island’s popular tea is grown, has been mired in poverty. According to the Government’s Census and Statistics Department, over 15 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, in some areas the rate is close to 30 per cent.

However, there are no statistics on the large-scale trafficking racket. Officers at the Talawakele Police station say that they have heard about the sale of the kidneys but no complaints have been lodged.

There could be several reasons for the lack of police complaints. Both Mahendran and Johnson told IPS that they have now become the butt-end of village jokes. Another is that according to Sri Lanka’s Penal Code anyone who sells an organ faces a jail term of seven years.

Clearly, this issue warrants closer investigation. Prabash Karunanayake, a doctor at the Lindula hospital in Talawakele has had to regularly admonish villagers who have sought advice on parting with a kidney. “In recent days I have had to warn at least three persons on the dangers they court by doing this,” he added.

Another one who has had to deal with such offers is Rajendaran, a 24 year-old beggar, who lives and begs at the Talawakele railway station. He said that several people have made offers for his kidney which he says have now become routine. “I have refused all of them so far. I don’t want to make a complaint because these are dangerous people.”

Kanapathi Kanagaraja, a member of the Central Provincial Council, feels that before the sale of kidneys acquires larger proportions, the government should take decisive action to stem it. “We will take this up at provincial level, but it warrants national level attention.”

Prathiba Mahanama, the former head of the national Human Rights Commission said that till national level programmes are launched, the most effective deterrent is public awareness. That is a view that Karunanayake, the area doctor, also agrees on. “Right now because people don’t know the medical dangers, the sale of kidneys is purely a financial transaction. People are unscrupulously making such offers because they know that at the right price, a kidney can be bought.”

(End)

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