Inter Press Service » Labour http://www.ipsnews.net Journalism and Communication for Global Change Thu, 31 Jul 2014 15:44:30 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 China’s ‘Left-Behind Girls’ Learn Self-Protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/chinas-left-behind-girls-learn-self-protection/#comments Wed, 30 Jul 2014 22:15:58 +0000 IPS Correspondents http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135833 By IPS Correspondents
UNITED NATIONS, Jul 30 2014 (IPS)

A normally quiet second-grade student, Yuan Yuan* suffers from a mild mental disorder that impacts her ability to learn and communicate. Her father, also mentally disabled, left her several years ago to find work in the city and his family hasn’t heard from him since. Unable to support the family, her mother also left and never returned.

Yuan Yuan’s paternal grandparents have been caring for her since. But they are not always there.

“I am scared of that man… he laughed at me and touched me. I don’t like him,” eight-year-old Yuan Yuan admitted during a visit from Zhang Xinyu, a programme officer with the Beijing Cultural Development Centre for Rural Women (BCDC), after a local Women’s Federation referred her complaint that a 70-year-old neighbour had sexually assaulted her.

In Yuan Yuan’s case, BCDC paid for her medical treatment and worked together with the local Women’s Federation to ensure they could respond and prevent any further attempts of the neighbour to access the child.

Yuan Yuan is among more than 2,500 girls being helped by a programme funded by the United Nations Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, which is managed by UN Women on behalf of the U.N. system

The programme has brought together teachers, guardians, local police officers and health-care providers to protect China’s “left-behind girls”.

China’s rapid economic growth, driven by manufacturing industries on the eastern side of the country, combined with high unemployment and low wages in the central and western regions have driven China’s incredible internal migration of an estimated two million people moving from the rural countryside to its industrial cities.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade.
In many cases, parents are compelled to migrate to the cities without their children because of the hukou (household registration) system, which stipulates that children access public schooling only in their home town or village.

According to a 2012 report by the All-China Women’s Federation, the number of left-behind children totals over 61 million, with the number of girls totaling over 28 million.

Close to 33 per cent of all left-behind children are raised by their grandparents, while 10.7 per cent are raised by other villagers or relatives, and at least 3.4 per cent are forced to fend for themselves.

In addition to funds, the UN Trust Fund, UN Women provides technical assistance to BCDC on reducing the risk of sexual violence against rural children, with a particular focus on girls whose parents have migrated to the cities. The programme seeks to increase girls’ sexual knowledge and self-protection; ensure that both guardians and the community are willing and able to provide the guidance needed to reduce their vulnerability to sexual abuse; and to alter the social environment that promotes sexual violence and empower women and girls.

“To protect ourselves and learn how to say NO to strangers is very important,” says Xiao Mei, a student in the 7th grade. She says she was very proud that she could share a training manual and her learned self-protection skills with her siblings. “My older sister said to me that she was very shy and never had this information in the past.”

By the end of 2013, 500 local teachers, 5,000 students and 2,200 guardians had participated in training programmes on awareness and prevention of child sexual abuse and 210 ‘backbones’ – women and men leaders active in the community – had participated in trainings on the dangers of child sexual abuse.

The programme implemented by BCDC has set up six resource centres (three community-based and three in schools) to protect children and prevent sexual violence.

In villages, they establish managerial groups and in schools, teachers organise activities around the themes of left-behind girls’ safety, such as reading activities, lectures and performances to raise awareness of prevention of child sexual abuse.

Furthermore, with the funding from the UN Trust Fund, technical support from UN Women and national experts, a series of handbooks on girls’ safety education, covering everything from knowledge about sex and sexual abuse to gender-based violence, were produced and disseminated.

Shen Xiaoyan, a primary school teacher in Suizhou, a city in central China, recalls a remark by a colleague when she was preparing a presentation for a student sexual safety training in 2013: “These things [sexual education materials] appear so normal to me [now]. Why did I feel embarrassed about them only a few years ago?”

The programme has changed attitudes and removed barriers of silence, with several stakeholders reporting cases of sexual abuse.

“After training and project activities, local residents and government officials have become willing to seek out all possible resources to help victims of child sexual abuse,” said the BCDC’s Xinyu.

“In the past, this kind of information was considered secret, deterring victims and family from revealing it to other people.”

In a testament to the growing attention to the plight of left-behind children and the sexual abuse against left-behind girls, proposals influenced by the programme were submitted in 2012 by the Women’s Federation to the People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Suizhou.

In 2013, the Educational Department in Suizhou issued a policy document requiring the strengthening of safety education for students in all primary and middle schools.

(END)

*Name changed to protect her identity.

Beijing20Logoen png

This article is published under an agreement with UN Women. For more information, check out the In Focus editorial package on The Girl Child on the new Beijing+20 campaign website.

 

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Human Development – Latin America Less Than Halfway There http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-latin-america-less-than-halfway-there/#comments Mon, 28 Jul 2014 21:13:56 +0000 Emilio Godoy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135798 Leobardo Gómez tries to eke out a living playing the harmonica on the streets of Mexico City, because injuries caused by a workplace accident have kept him from returning to construction work. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

Leobardo Gómez tries to eke out a living playing the harmonica on the streets of Mexico City, because injuries caused by a workplace accident have kept him from returning to construction work. Credit: Emilio Godoy/IPS

By Emilio Godoy
MEXICO CITY, Jul 28 2014 (IPS)

Construction worker Leobardo Gómez has been out of work for nine months since he slipped and fell to the street on a construction site in the Mexican capital in October.

“I broke two ribs and I still can’t work,” the 44-year-old, who came to Mexico City from the southern state of Puebla, told IPS. “The doctor told me I have to rest, and my social security coverage has run out. My body is still in pain.”

Gómez, who has worked from a very young age, said that while he is recovering, he goes around to cafés and restaurants playing the ten songs he knows on the harmonica, for spare change.

For people like Gómez, who fall through the cracks, Latin America and the Caribbean should push to achieve universal access to social services and policies to boost formal employment in order to make faster progress towards human development, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and experts recommend, while pointing to the improvement in human development indicators made in recent years.

In its 2014 Human Development Report “Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience”, published Jul. 24, the UNDP notes that Latin America is the developing region with the highest level of human development.

But it also warns that progress has slowed down in the last five years in comparison with the 2000-2008 period, and that vulnerabilities threaten to revert the progress made.

High and medium HDI

On the UNDP Human Development Index, Chile is the highest ranking Latin American country, listed 41st of the 187 countries studied – having moved one place up between 2012 and 2013.

In the category of high human development it is followed by Cuba (44, the same ranking as in 2012), Argentina (49, same ranking), Uruguay (50, two places up), Panama (65, two places up), Venezuela (67, one down), Costa Rica (68, one down), Mexico (71, one down), Brazil (79, one down), Peru (82, one up), Colombia (98, same ranking), Ecuador (98, same) and the Dominican Republic (102, same).

The ranking of the Latin American countries in the level of medium human development remained unchanged between 2012 and 2013: Paraguay (111), Bolivia (113), El Salvador (115), Guatemala (125), Honduras (129) and Nicaragua (132).

The only country that classified as having low human development was Haiti, which continued to rank 168 out of 187.

“Inequality is the main problem,” Emilia Reyes, an expert on inequality issues, told IPS. “Equality has an inherent link to the structure of the state, which has depended on the elites for so long, with the idea that there is an invisible hand that has actually never existed, and without any recognition that people have value.”

Reyes, in charge of policies and public budgets with a gender focus in the non-governmental organisation Gender Equity: Citizenship, Work and Family, said “It’s time for a structural reading of development that takes into account the social and environmental impacts of the concentration of wealth.

“In Latin America we don’t have a focus on sustainable development,” she added.

The Human Development Index scores range from 0 (the lowest) to 1 (the highest). The Index is a composite statistic of life expectancy, education levels and incomes. The HDI of Latin America as a whole increased from 0.73 in 2010 to 0.74 in 2013. Chile is in top place, with an HDI of 0.82, followed by Cuba and Argentina (0.81), with Haiti, Nicaragua and Honduras bringing up the rear.

School attendance and dropout rates remained basically the same between 2010 and 2013. But per capita income did grow: from 12,926 to 13,767 dollars.

The UNDP warns that Latin America’s progress in human development slowed down 25 percent since 2008. It also stresses that, despite experiencing the largest fall in inequality, this region remains the most unequal in terms of income.

Inequality declined in Latin America and the Caribbean, in part due to the expansion in education and public transfers to the poor, says the report.

The study states that inequality declined in 14 nations in the region between 1990 and 2012, while it grew in only four. In two others, there was no clear trend.

In 14 Latin American and Caribbean countries, nearly seven percent of the population experiences multidimensional poverty, while an additional 9.5 percent is at risk of falling into this kind of poverty, marked by multiple deprivations in education, health and living standards.

Liliana Rendón, a professor in the economy department of the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, said “progress and growth in the indicators should be treated cautiously, because it is only reflected in a small part of the population, which experienced an increase in wellbeing.”

Rendón pointed out that the rise in human development occurred concomitantly with growing income inequality in several countries. “The poor do not only suffer from an income deficit; poverty also includes shortcomings in healthcare, education and other problems. Income must translate into wellbeing, taking social, environmental and policy aspects into consideration,” she said.

Despite the strong growth in productivity, real wages in the world have remained stagnant. But in the region, they rose 15 percent between 2000 and 2011.

Vulnerable employment also declined in the region, from nearly 36 percent in 2010 to 31.5 percent in 2012, while the proportion of the workforce living on less than 1.25 dollars a day was also reduced in that period.

The UNDP recommends universal provision of basic social services, stronger social protection policies, and full employment, as a means to promote and secure progress in human development.

These elements would also reduce vulnerabilities, whose triggers include financial shocks, food price fluctuations, natural disasters and violent crime.

One of the novelties in the report is the inclusion of the Gender Inequality Index, where Latin America and the Caribbean is in first place among developing regions.

Argentina, Barbados and Uruguay are among the 16 countries in the world where female HDI values are equal to or higher than those for males.

“The state cannot generate economic, social and cultural development for just 49 percent of the population, males, because women face insurmountable barriers in access to those spheres. That means reducing discrimination, expanding opportunities and recognising obstacles to social protection,” Reyes said.

The UNDP also recommends the creation of a Latin American Monetary Fund to complement global funds and to build up reserves, help stabilise exchange rates, provide short-term funds to members and offer oversight.

The region already has a Latin American Reserve Fund (FLAR), created in 1976 and made up of Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, which have provided total capital of 2.37 billion dollars.

“Inequality hinders development, so public policies should focus on achieving a more equal society,” Rendón said. “Public policies should focus on more and better spending in the fight against poverty, with better redistributive effects.”

In her view, “This can be achieved with sustained economic growth that allows universal investment in health and education, and by guaranteeing the quality of such services.”

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U.S., Regional Leaders Convene over Migration Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-regional-leaders-convene-over-migration-crisis/#comments Fri, 25 Jul 2014 11:53:34 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135744 The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

The presidents of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador speak at the Organisation of American States on Jul. 24, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Juan Manuel Herrera/OAS

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 25 2014 (IPS)

As the presidents of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala prepare to meet with President Barack Obama Friday, more than 40 organisations issued a petition urging U.S. lawmakers to meet their “moral and legal obligations” by providing emergency aid to Central American children and families.

The petition, spearheaded by the Washington Office of Latin America (WOLA), an advocacy group here, insists that “more border security will not help,” and is instead calling for the U.S. to provide children and families with “all due [legal] protections” and “face the root causes of violence at the community level.”“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect.” -- Adam Isacson

In the last nine months, more than 50,000 unaccompanied children have crossed the U.S. southern border, and the wave shows no signs of abating. Many are now facing deportation.

Less than 24 hours after WOLA released their petition, a separate batch of legal groups accused the U.S. government of violating both international and domestic law, based on its inspection of the New Mexico-based Artesia Family Detention Facility.

After representatives from 22 organisations interviewed families detained at Artesia, the groups concluded that the U.S. government is violating both their moral responsibility to provide the refugees with physical and mental health support, as well as their legal obligation to guarantee them due process.

“Family detention is always an awful and damaging process, but the conditions at the Artesia Family Detention facility in New Mexico should make every American hang their head in shame,” the groups said in a statement.

“The Administration’s intent to deport everyone as quickly as possible for optics is sacrificing critical due process procedures and sending families – mothers, babies, and children – back despite clear concerns for their safety in violation of US and international law.”

Fixing the roots

While such humanitarian concerns surrounding the Central American migration crisis persist from a variety of sources, top officials from both the U.S. and Central America are considering both long-term and short-term intervention from the top-down.

As a pre-cursor for Friday’s meeting between U.S. President Obama and the Central American presidents, foreign ministers from the three respective nations – collectively known as the “Northern Triangle” – convened on Thursday at the Wilson Center, a think tank here, to discuss the crisis’ roots and debate its solutions.

While all three of the Northern Triangle’s representatives agreed that there was not one cause behind the current crisis, they collectively cited the drug smuggling network, the prevalence of organised crime, and lack of taxpayer dollars as their biggest problems.

As such, the three ministers advocated for “all-encompassing” reform, both to stop the short-term crisis at the border, and to provide economic and educational opportunities- such as universal secondary school coverage- for children and adults alike.

Call for legal protections

While Michelle Brané , director of migrant rights & justice at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), a New York-based advocacy group that participated in Artesia’s inspection, agrees with the Northern Triangle’s conclusion that such a “holistic response…addressing root causes” is necessary, her central issue is with U.S. justice system.

“The problem is that our court system is woefully under-funded,”Brané told IPS, hopefully adding that “we can create a due process system that works,” even if it takes years.

Clarifying that she is “not saying everyone should stay, [but rather] that everyone should have a fair shot at presenting their case,” Brané believes that providing attorneys to represent these migrants and using alternative detention centres, such as shelters and community support programs,  are both more humane and “cost-effective” solutions than the status quo.

Asked about the desired outcome of Friday’s presidential meeting, Brané informed IPS that she would like to see “[the U.S.] take a leadership role in protection, as opposed to a ‘close the borders’ stance and lack of respect for human rights law.”

“This is more than just something that requires them to stem the flow to stop up the borders,” Brané told IPS. ‘It really requires…strengthening protections systems, as opposed to interception.”

Adam Isacson, senior associate for regional security policy at WOLA, echoed Brané’s call for more protections.

“What we’d like to see [from Friday’s meeting] is a package of assistance to Central America that is focused entirely on the civilian side of what it takes to protect,” Isacson told IPS.

While his list of desired protections included “getting police to respect people”, “a much stronger justice system,” and “more emphasis on creating opportunities,” Isacson added that such requests be “combined with Central American presidents’ commitment to raise more taxes from their wealthiest.”

Isacson further agrees with WRC’s Brané in that there is a need for systematic reform of the U.S legal system, calling for “more capacity” and a reduction in the average trial’s wait time, which he believes can be up to two or three years.

Yet others, including the Virginia-based Negative Population Growth (NPG) nonprofits, have expressed different legal concerns.

“Asylum and refugee status is something for specific persecution, and it’s not intended to be a relief measure for general societal strife,” Dave Simcox, senior adviser of NPG, told IPS.

Simcox also told IPS that there is a distinction between being trafficked and being smuggled, and while “a few [migrants] will be able to make the case that they were taken against their will for exploitation,” he ultimately agrees with NPG President Don McCann, who argued in a statement that “granting refugee or temporary protected status on the current wave from Central America would be a disastrous precedent,” and that U.S leaders should instead apply “strong deterrent measures” by “supplementing border forces” with additional personnel and fencing.

But Isacson thinks “judges will get it right much more than border patrol agents on the spot will get it right,” and believes that that providing due process to such migrants is the best way for the U.S. to “enforce its own laws.”

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Social Protection Needed to Reduce Africa’s Inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/social-protection-needed-to-reduce-africas-inequalities/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 20:34:49 +0000 Monde Kingsley Nfor http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135730 David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

David, 14, transports gallons of palm oil for his father in Penja, in Cameroon’s Littoral region. Experts say there is a strong need for a people-centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient. Credit: Monde Kingsley Nfor/IPS

By Monde Kingsley Nfor
YAOUNDE, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

For the last 13 years, Michael Ndah, 37, has worked for three road construction companies in Cameroon, but it is only in the last two years that his current employer has managed to register him with the National Social Insurance Fund (CNPS). 

The CNPS is a pension system for workers in the private sector but they can only join if they are signed up by their employers. Benefits also include medical and surgical care and hospitalisation. But Ndah’s CNPS cover does not provide for his family’s health.

“When my wife goes to the hospital I cannot use my insurance card for treatment and they say I must first pay in cash,” he tells IPS.

The labour code provides that seven percent of a worker’s salary is given to CNPS each month, with the highest salary calculated by the system being 300,000 CFA (about 640 dollars) — even if the person earns above this.

It is a contributive system where 2.8 percent of the payments are covered by the employee, with the remaining contributions covered by the employer. But with 640 dollars being the maximum wage allowed by CNPS, overall pensions are low.

And it’s a huge concern for Ndah.

“I don’t know if, before my retirement, I would have contributed enough to be eligible for a monthly pension payment,” Ndah worries.

The number of working-age people who are members of the CNPS is also low. According to the United Nations, about 53.3 percent of the country’s 21.7 million people are of working age (16 to 64 years). But only about 10 percent of them are insured by the CNPS.

“All workers in the formal sector are supposed to be registered with the social insurance [CNPS] eight days after signing an employment contract but many employers do not implement this law,” John Yewoh Forchu, a general inspector at the Ministry of Labour and Social Security, tells IPS.

The high rate of unemployment here – about 30 percent – favours most employers who do not run organised work environments and are not ready to sign any form of contract with employees.

Warda Ndouvatama, a Yaounde-based civil administrator and expert on social security and protection, says that most employers falsely declare the number of workers employed by their organisations to avoid social insurance contributions.

He tells IPS that this phenomenon is not only common in Cameroon but in many African countries where more than 70 percent of the population work in the informal sector and do not have employment contracts.

“This has a big impact on the ability of people to cope with present and future eventualities,” Ndouvatama says.

While countries in Africa are enjoying higher levels of economic growth and well-being, the latest annual Human Development Report by the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) says that countries on the continent need to intensify their fight against deprivation.

The report states that by providing an additional and predictable layer of support, social protection programmes help households avoid selling off assets, taking children out of school or postponing necessary medical care, all detrimental to their long term well-being.

“One commonly held misconception is that only wealthy countries can afford social protection or universal basic services. As this report documents, the evidence is to the contrary. Except for societies undergoing violent strife and turmoil, most societies can — and many have — put in place basic services and social protection,” the report states.

Mutale Wakunuma, the Zambia country coordinator of the Africa Platform for Social Protection, agrees.

“We all know that there is overwhelming evidence of the role social protection plays in reducing extreme poverty and helping countries recover from crises, but we need these implemented in earnest by governments,” she tells IPS, pointing out that social protection programmes that help reduce poverty are few and far between.

“This failure to implement them in earnest is why the report observes that in spite of the progress, sub-Saharan Africa is the most unequal region in the world,” she adds.

Lisa Simrique Singh, senior economist at UNDP in Yaounde, says in terms of Cameroon and the global and national discussion post 2015, the focus is on “resilience and growth that leaves no-one behind.”

“There is thus a strong need overall for a people centred approach if growth in Cameroon is to be resilient,” she tells IPS.

“To this end there is need for a systemic approach which combines macro, sectoral and micro interventions in a meaningful way that responds to the real needs of the poor. And as a policy tool, there is a strong need for social protection to be mainstreamed into the overall growth agenda of the country.

“Social security currently exists but it is only one component of it since it covers and benefits only those in the formal sector, which account for around 10 percent of the population.”

Cameroon, however, is looking to reform the CNSP. Future changes will include increasing the monthly contribution from seven to 13 percent of a person’s salary, creating a security system for informal sectors and universal health coverage that guarantees access to medical treatment even when a patient has no money.

Officials at the fund also acknowledge that if nothing is done to get more people integrated in the fund by 2020, the social security system will be grounded. This is because very few formal sector workers and no informal workers benefit from social security and the existing social security does not cover many risks.

“The social insurance fund scheme of 1974 is old and major reforms have to be done because we have [a larger] ageing population than before the 1990s. In the 1990s, 10 workers were contributing for one retired person but today 10 workers contribute for six retired persons,” Forchu says.

He explained that the system in place is a social solidarity system where those working contribute to help those who are out of activity.

“Fewer people now contribute to retired people. The cost of living and prices has increased without a relative salary increase and workers’ pensions cannot really meet the standards of life today.”

*Additional reporting by Amy Fallon in Kampala, Uganda and Friday Phiri in Lusaka, Zambia.

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Human Development Report Finds South Asia’s Poor on a Knife’s Edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/human-development-report-finds-south-asias-poor-on-a-knifes-edge/#comments Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:58:30 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135728 Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Women sleep on a crowded train in Myanmar. Globally, some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO, Jul 24 2014 (IPS)

Millions still live in poverty and even those who have gained the security of the middle-income bracket could relapse into poverty due to sudden changes to their economic fortunes in South Asia, the latest annual Human Development Report by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) revealed.

“In South Asia 44.4 percent of the population, around 730 million people, live on 1.25−2.50 dollars a day,” said the report, released in Tokyo Thursday.

It went on to warn that despite the region’s gains, the threat of more of its citizens being pushed back into poverty was very real and that there were large disparities in income and living standards within nations.

“Many who recently joined the middle class could easily fall back into poverty with a sudden change in circumstances,” the report’s authors stressed.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded healthcare and education opportunities." -- UNDP Human Development Report 2014
Here in Sri Lanka, categorised as a lower middle-income country by the World Bank in 2011, overall poverty levels have come down in the last half-decade.

The Department of Statistics said that poverty levels had dropped from 8.9 percent in 2009 to 6.7 percent by this April. In some of the richest districts, the fall was sharper. The capital Colombo saw levels drop from 3.6 percent to 1.4 percent. Similar drops were recorded in the adjoining two districts of Gampaha and Kalutara.

However the poorest seemed to getting poorer. Poverty headcount in the poorest area of the nation, the southeastern district of Moneralaga, increased from 14.5 percent to 20.8 percent in the same time period.

The disparity could be larger if stricter measurements aren’t used, argued economist Muttukrishna Sarvananthan.

“There is a very low threshold for the status of employment,” he told IPS, referring to the ‘10 years and above’ age threshold used by the government to assess employment rates.

“Such a low threshold gives an artificially higher employment rate, which is deceptive,” he stressed.

The UNDP report said that in the absence of robust safeguards, millions ran the risk of being dragged back into poverty. “With limited social protection, financial crises can quickly lead to profound social crises,” the report forecast.

In Indonesia, for instance, the Asian Financial Crisis of the late 1990s saw poverty levels balloon from 11 percent to 37 percent. Even years later, the world’s poor are finding it hard to climb up the earnings ladder.

“The International Labour Organisation estimates that there were 50 million more working poor in 2011. Only 24 million of them climbed above the 1.25-dollars-a-day income poverty line over 2007–2011, compared with 134 million between 2000 and 2007.”

Globally some 1.2 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and 2.7 billion live on even less, the report noted, adding that while those numbers have been declining, many people only increased their income to a point barely above the poverty line so that “idiosyncratic or generalised shocks could easily push them back into poverty.”

This has huge implications, since roughly 12 percent of the world population lives in chronic hunger, while 1.2 billion of the world’s workers are still employed in the informal sector.

Sri Lanka, reflecting global trends, is also home to large numbers of poor people despite the island showing impressive growth rates.

Punchi Banda Jayasundera, the secretary to the treasury and the point man for the national economy, predicts a growth rate of 7.8 percent for this year.

“This year should not be an uncomfortable one for us,” he told IPS, but while this is true for the well off, it could not be further away from reality for hundreds of thousands who cannot make ends meet or afford a square meal every day.

While the report identified the poor as being most vulnerable in the face of sudden upheavals, other groups – like women, indigenous communities, minorities, the old, the displaced and the disabled – are also considered “high risk”, and often face overlapping issues of marginalisation and poverty.

The report also identified climate change as a major contributor to inequality and instability, warning that extreme heat and extreme precipitation events would likely increase in frequency.

By the end of this century, heavy rainfall and rising sea levels are likely to pose risks to some of the low-lying areas in South Asia, and also wreak havoc on its fast-expanding urban centres.

“Smallholder farmers in South Asia are particularly vulnerable – India alone has 93 million small farmers. These groups already face water scarcity. Some studies predict crop yields up to 30 percent lower over the next decades, even as population pressures continue to rise,” the report continued, urging policy-makers to seriously consider adaptation measures.

Sri Lanka is already talking about a 15-percent loss in its vital paddy harvest, while simultaneously experiencing galloping price hikes in vegetables due to lack of rainfall and extreme heat.

It has already had to invest over 400 million dollars to safeguard its economic and administrative nerve centre, Colombo, from flash floods.

“We are getting running lessons on how to adapt to fluctuating weather, and we better take note,” J D M K Chandarasiri, additional director at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research Institute in Colombo, told IPS.

Smart investments in childhood education and youth employment could act as a bulwark against shocks, the report suggested, since these long-term measures are crucial in interrupting the cycle of poverty.

The report also urged policy makers to look at development and economic growth through a holistic prism rather than continuing with piecemeal interventions, noting that many developed countries invested in education, health and public services before reaching a high income status.

“The most successful anti-poverty and human development initiatives to date have taken a multidimensional approach, combining income support and job creation with expanded health care and education opportunities and other interventions for community development,” the reported noted.

(END)

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India’s Cut-Rose Sector Pushes Past Barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-cut-rose-sector-pushes-past-barriers/#comments Fri, 18 Jul 2014 12:33:35 +0000 Keya Acharya http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135621 Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

Rose growers in Bangalore, India, rely on sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques. Credit: Keya Acharya/IPS

By Keya Acharya
BANGALORE, Jul 18 2014 (IPS)

Neat rows of pampered-looking rose plants, drip-irrigated and ‘misted’ by tiny sprinklers, grow inside temperature-controlled greenhouses with high domes opened periodically for fresh air, offering 10 million cut-rose stems for export each year.

The 25-hectare farm, located roughly 35 km outside the southern Indian city of Bangalore, belongs to Suvarna Florex, arguably India’s largest cut-rose exporter.

But though the plants are thriving, the industry is hassled by such thorny issues as the high royalty rates of its foreign-bred roses and steadily increasing input costs.

“This is a billion-dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders." -- Dr. Thilak Subbaiah, horticultural consultant
Occupying a niche in the flower market – hitherto dominated by traditional demand for loose flowers for cultural and religious occasions – the cut-rose industry in India is on the rise, registering a 17-20 percent increase last year alone, with growers exporting some 76.73 million tonnes, mainly roses, in 2012-2013.

Major export destinations are Europe, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Japan, Canada and Australia.

Until 2010, the Bangalore-based operation Karuturi commanded nearly 10 percent of the cut-rose market in Europe and expanded rapidly from rose farms in Kenya to agricultural crops in Ethiopia.

Tangled in a web of bankruptcy, violations of labour and taxation laws in Kenya and money troubles – among others – in Ethiopia, Karuturi faced a storm of criticism over its controversial acquisition on paper of 400,000 hectares of virgin lands in Ethiopia at a very inexpensive rate, beginning in 2010.

The move, which some called a ‘land grab’ and which resulted in the threat of displacement of thousands and the loss of livelihoods for many in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, quickly became synonymous with Karuturi’s notorious founder Sai Ramakrishna, whose reputation tainted India’s operations in Africa.

According to a disgruntled rose-grower and former chief of the forest services in the neighbouring state of Andhra Pradesh, R. D. Reddy, Ramakrishna is “a playboy in all respects; one who speculated in stocks with borrowed money and lost heavily, and now the whole industry in India is being blamed because of him.”

Dr. Manjunatha Reddy, a Dubai-based Indian industrialist with a rose farm located just five km away from Karuturi’s flower operations in the Holata region, near the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, says that the ‘takeover on paper’ in the Gambella region is symptomatic of Ramakrishna’s speculative Ponzi-like financial schemes.

“His misdeeds have really turned public sentiment against Indian industry in Africa,” he told IPS, adding that a bad commercial reputation goes viral in a continent where local communities rely heavily on the land for their livelihoods.

Reddy says other Indian enterprises like telecommunications and farming have also been tarnished with the same negative image cast by Karuturi’s actions on the ground.

“We now have difficulty even in raising funds for agri-business from venture capitalists and investment brokers,” Reddy asserted.

Karuturi’s head offices in Bangalore did not respond to IPS’ repeated requests for an interview.

A matter of royalties

Other growers, situated in the elevated Deccan plateau lands surrounding the southern cities of Bangalore and Pune, dismiss Karuturi’s reputation as ‘immaterial’, nothing more than an embarrassment for the sector.

What’s really bothering major players in the industry, according to Suvarna Florex Managing Director Sridhar Chowdary, are the “huge royalties we have to pay foreign breeders for rose varieties.”

An ‘introduced industry’ stemming from the demand for cut-flowers in the international market, India’s flower sector was initially heavily in debt due to huge capital expenses incurred from the purchase of foreign greenhouse infrastructure imported from the Netherlands, along with Dutch patents for its roses.

On average, each grower incurred costs of up to 20 million rupees (roughly 332,000 dollars) per hectare of rose farm. Now, 20 years later, the cost of setting up a farm with indigenous technology costs less than half that amount.

“This is a billion dollar industry, controlled by European [mainly Dutch and French] breeders,” horticultural consultant Dr. Thilak Subbaiah told IPS.

“There is no way we can compete,” he stressed, adding that problem is made worse by Indian horticultural institutes’ lack of attention to breeding research.

According to Anne Ramesh, president of the South India Floriculture Association and chairman of Suvarna Florex, royalty rates for Indian growers average between 0.85 and 1.25 euros per plant for each variety of rose.

“This is the same rate as Kenya, which grows 100 percent [of its flowers] for export, whilst we grow half that percentage at best, the rest being for the domestic market,” he told IPS. “We find it unfair to have the same rate of royalty imposed on us.”

Small steps in a growing industry

As late as 2007 the industry at large was still complaining about a marked lack of awareness on exporters’ needs and a dearth of any government assistance.

Cold-chain systems for transportation, facilitated international flights, phyto-sanitary inspections and the lack of any financial incentives for the industry were among the top concerns over half a decade ago.

Recents developments, however, have stemmed some of the criticisms directed at the administration.

A cold-chain flower-auction centre set up in Bangalore, capital of the state of Karnataka, is described by rose-growers as one of the best in the world market. This, coupled with speedy transportation and easy facilitation at Bangalore’s Kempegowda International Airport, is putting a smile on many exporters’ faces.

In addition, the government has made some important concessions that have greatly reduced the burden on local growers.

“The South India Floriculture Association approached the government with our financial constraints and we subsequently got a one-time waiver of 50 percent of our heavy loans [in 2004-2005] incurred due to imported infrastructure,” Ramesh said.

“Today we have greenhouse-technology pioneers, we have employment at the village-level and small farmers who can put up greenhouses because of state and central government incentives. We managed to progress because the government saw the industry as a way to rural development,” he stated.

In the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu alone, the rose industry employs 10,000 women and 3,000 men.

Rural farmers now cater mostly to the domestic market, says Satish Aswathappa, co-owner of Nandi Floriculture, based in Devanahalli, about 40 km outside Bangalore city.

“We are farmers ourselves, we deal directly with other rural farmers who give us their roses and we have a same-day system of grading and sending the roses by public bus to Hyderabad [capital of Andhra Pradesh],” he added.

Environmental concerns also influence the industry, whether domestic or export-oriented.

Chowdary says protective environmental measures are perceived by growers as “survival technologies.”

Walking IPS around Suvarna Florex’s huge farm, Chowdary demonstrated how rainwater is collected in aqeducts and then channeled into a central pond, reducing dependency on groundwater.

There are also checkdams, plastic sheeted ‘ponds’ where rainwater is held in troughs, recharge measures around groundwater pumps and wells, and vermicomposting of plant leafage for manuring.

With groundwater sources steadily depleting due to overusage by consumers and mismanagement by the government, the quality of groundwater has also suffered, he said, which could be disastrous for rose-growers since the plants thrive best when fed uncontaminated water.

Rose growers guzzle water at the rate of millions of litres per week for a farm covering 25 hectares. Sustainable rainwater harvesting techniques are crucial, since an hour’s rain provides enough water to sustain a 25-hectare plot for two days.

Still, input costs remain high, since the use of chemicals has increased in “application and in price”, according to Subbaiah. “We also pay more than government-stipulated wages plus incentives just to ensure the [workers] turn up,” he added

Organic compost has depleted too as lands and cattle around the cities disappear into urbanisation.

Despite these problems, a steadily increasing domestic market means the industry will likely be around for a while.

(END)

 

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India’s Great Invisible Workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=indias-great-invisible-workforce http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/indias-great-invisible-workforce/#comments Thu, 17 Jul 2014 20:58:10 +0000 Neeta Lal http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135610 Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

Millions of Indian women are confined to their homes performing domestic duties for which they receive no compensation. Credit: Malini Shankar/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jul 17 2014 (IPS)

According to census data released this month, a whopping 160 million women in India, 88 percent of who are of working age (15 to 59 years), are confined to their homes performing ‘household duties’ rather than gainfully employed in the formal job sector.

Dubbed India’s ‘great invisible workforce’, this demographic is primarily involved in rearing families within the four walls of their homes.

This asymmetry in the workforce, experts say, reflects illiberal economic policies as well as complex social dynamics, which scupper the chances of women in the world’s so-called ‘largest democracy’ to realise their full income-generating potential.

The odds are heavily stacked against women in this vast country of 1.2 billion. Though more women are going out to work, India primarily remains a nation of stay-at-home wives who play a pivotal role in keeping families together in a country with virtually no government-aided social security.

Small wonder, then, that India ranks an abysmal 101st in a 136-nation survey titled ‘The Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum in 2013, which tracks international progress in bridging the gender gap worldwide.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.” -- Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist
The index measures the “relative gaps between women and men” across countries in four key areas – health, education, economics and politics. With so many million women out of the workforce, India’s overall ranking reflects lopsided government policies that are failing to harness the full potential of a key demographic.

“The stay-at-home woman syndrome is a shocking loss to the country as well as to the women themselves,” says Aditi Parikh, a Mumbai-based demographer and sociologist.

“Policy makers should encourage women’s participation in powering the growth of Asia’s third largest economy, which can have a multiplier effect in eradicating poverty and illiteracy.”

Even though women achievers have earned admiration and respect in Indian society, gender-stereotyping results in most women facing a clash between work and family life, especially when they have to prioritise one over the other.

Despite a boom in the education sector, Indian women also remain less educated than men even though they make up nearly half the population.

The literacy rate for Indian women hovers at around 65 percent as per the 2011 census, compared to over 82 percent literacy among men.

This is an overwhelming reason for Indian women’s unemployment, say analysts.

Most Indian women comprise part of the country’s sprawling ‘informal’ sector‘, defined by the absence of decent working conditions as specified by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), lax labour laws and insufficient or insecure wages.

According to a 2011 ILO report, 83.8 percent of South Asian women are engaged in so-called ‘vulnerable employment’ that can in most cases be defined as casual labour or sporadic employment such as the manufacturing of garments and other handmade items produced within the worker’s own home.

Indian women workers represent a considerable share of this segment, which has expanded substantially over the last 20 years, researchers say.

While the percentage of women employed in the informal economy remains high, the number of Indian women engaged in formal, secure and recognised labour is still minimal. Only 14-15 percent of workers in the formal sector are women, a number that has remained stagnant for several years.

India also lags far behind the world’s average when it comes to female representation in management, with women occupying a miserable two to three percent of administrative and managerial positions nationwide.

According to Dr. Manasi Mishra, head of research at the Centre for Social Research (CSR), a New Delhi-based think tank, “Indian women usually tend to drop out at mid-career-level positions as they prioritise personal commitments and find it difficult to balance organisational demands, career aspirations and family commitments.”

Also, despite valiant efforts to build gender diversity in the workplace, corporate India still has less than five percent of women at top management and board levels. Only 50 percent of the women who graduate from business schools enter the workforce, says a CSR survey entitled ‘Women Managers In India – Challenges & Opportunities’.

The persistence of an invisible glass ceiling in the workplace and the prevalence of stereotyped gender roles also contribute to lower representation of women in higher-level positions, Mishra says.

“Society and organisations should work in synergy to prevent [women from dropping out] on the journey from education to employment,” she stressed.

Unfortunately, the problem is not specific to India. According to Ernst & Young’s 2013 Worldwide Index of Women as Public Sector Leaders, women make up about 48 percent of the overall public sector workforce, but represent less than 20 percent of public sector leadership across the G20 countries the consulting firm studied.

Diversity, according to the index, is crucial to delivering more effective governance and increased economic competitiveness.

Ernst & Young also found that the ratios of women in leadership roles vary widely. Over half of Germany’s public sector workforce is female (52 percent), but only 15 percent of women have leadership positions.

In Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, women make up 42 percent of the public sector workforce, but only three percent are leaders.

Russia, with the highest number of women represented across the public sector (71 percent), has just 13 percent female representation in leadership roles.

Here too, India languishes at the bottom of the pyramid with only 7.7 percent of its public sector leaders being female.

Experts say there is an urgent need for gender-sensitisation.

“The precondition for any effective social security policy aimed at women,” explains Amitabh Kumar, head of the media and communications division at CSR, “is the provision of economic security through ownership rights, and the securing of women’s right to resources such as land, housing, energy and technology.

“As long as the State takes no effective measures to ensure these very basic rights for women, we can’t expect even those social security policies aimed at women to have any effect.”

For the time being, it appears that India’s great invisible workforce will remain in the shadows until the government makes a determined effort to bring these women into the light.

(END)

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Uzbek Minorities Taking Advantage of New Russian Citizenship Rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/uzbek-minorities-taking-advantage-of-new-russian-citizenship-rules/#comments Tue, 15 Jul 2014 20:26:08 +0000 Murat Sadykov http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135583 A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

A baker stencils patterns into dough to make non, a traditional Central Asian round flatbread, in Bukhara in July 2013. Russian speakers from all former Soviet republics, including Uzbekistan, can now obtain citizenship in Russia, where 2.3 million Uzbek migrants are alreayd working, according to Russia’s Federal Migration Service. Credit: Dean C.K. Cox/EurasiaNet

By Murat Sadykov
TASHKENT, Jul 15 2014 (EurasiaNet)

Judging by the long line outside the Russian Embassy in Tashkent one recent afternoon, new Russian legislation offering citizenship to Russian-speakers is prompting lots of individuals in Uzbekistan to ponder emigration.

Some see a chance to escape economic woes; others, stymied by Uzbekistan’s own Byzantine bureaucracy, want to seize on an opportunity to obtain a proper passport.Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

Following Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea, Russian President Vladimir Putin offered citizenship basically to anyone hailing from the former Soviet Union, so long as they speak fluent Russian and renounce their current citizenship.

For migrant workers from Uzbekistan, Russian citizenship offers a solution to the status quo. Uzbekistan sends millions of migrants to Russia annually, who often work with semi-legal status.

According to Russia’s Federal Migration Service, there were 2.3 million Uzbek migrants in Russia as of March. (The real number is thought to be higher). A Russian passport can ease problems with police and employers.

Tashkent does not offer legal or other support to its citizens working in Russia. And though migrants’ remittances make up a sizable portion of the Uzbek economy – at least 16 percent according to Russian Central Bank data – Uzbek officials actively denigrate them.

Last year President Islam Karimov branded migrant workers “lazy” people who “disgrace” all Uzbeks. In May, Uzbekistan-based websites cited Uzbek consulates abroad as stating citizens permanently residing in foreign countries without consular registration could have their citizenship revoked.

The fact that Russia retains a generally positive image among Uzbek citizens is helping to spur interest in the citizenship programme. Many in Uzbekistan still watch Russian state television and are influenced by Kremlin propaganda.

A visit to the Russian consulate off Nukus Street in Tashkent one scorching afternoon recently vividly demonstrated just who is interested in Russian citizenship. Apart from a few Russian citizens trying to resolve consular issues, most people queuing in an alley outside the consular section were Uzbek citizens of various ethnic backgrounds, or stateless persons, many of them of Uzbek ethnicity.

“I want to get Russian citizenship to make it easier to work in Russia and live in Uzbekistan,” an ethnic Uzbek who moved from Tajikistan to Uzbekistan’s southern Kashkadarya Region in the early 2000s told EurasiaNet.org.

Since his arrival in Uzbekistan, he’s been living as a stateless person, making it difficult even to leave Uzbekistan, let alone obtain a Russian visa. (Russian visas are required for stateless persons, but not Uzbek citizens).

Indeed, many people in line were stateless people from other former Soviet republics who have been trying for years, and failing, to obtain Uzbek citizenship. Uzbekistan does not publish data on how many people it grants citizenship each year, but the number is thought to be in the single digits.

An ethnic Korean woman said she and her Tajik partner, who holds an Uzbek stateless person’s document, were queuing to obtain Russian citizenship to make it “easy” for him to live with her in Kazakhstan. She moved to Kazakhstan last year and intends to obtain a residence permit there. Living in Kazakhstan as a Russian citizen, in her opinion, is the best option for her partner.

Uzbekistan does not publish reliable figures on the country’s ethnic breakdown and has not conducted a census since 1989. According to figures published in the Ethnic Atlas of Uzbekistan in 2002, Uzbekistan was home to about two million members of ethnic minority groups in 2000, including 1.2 million ethnic Russians and sizeable numbers of Ukrainians, Koreans, Armenians, Tatars and others.

Many minorities are primarily Russian-speakers, and, thus, are prime candidates to apply for Russian citizenship.

One requirement that should be simple for many Uzbeks to prove – fluency in the Russian language – is difficult to demonstrate in Uzbekistan. Uzbekistan does not have an authorized center for language testing, thereby requiring Uzbek residents to travel to neighbouring countries in order to take the 3.5-hour-long language exam.

In the line outside the Russian Embassy, an ethnic Armenian who is an Uzbek citizen and received an engineering degree in Russia four years ago said he hopes to use his diploma to obtain Russian citizenship and eventually find a job in Russia.

The Kremlin may have devised the new scheme to help boost its population after a state program on voluntary settlement of ethnic Russians abroad failed to attract immigrants from the former Soviet Union. That programme has managed to attract fewer than 150,000 people since its inception in 2007, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service, despite state support offered to qualified migrants. The Russian government had hoped for 700,000 by 2012, according to the Kommersant daily.

The new legislation may prove more successful in attracting skilled immigrants, as the queues outside the Russian Embassy seem to testify: In June the Embassy was accepting appointments for no earlier than October.

Editor’s note:  Murat Sadykov is the pseudonym for a journalist specialising in Central Asian affairs. This story originally appeared on EurasiaNet.org.

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OPINION: Why Asia-Europe Relations Matter in the 21st Century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-why-asia-europe-relations-matter-in-the-21st-century/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 23:23:21 +0000 Shada Islam http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135562 By Shada Islam
BRUSSELS, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

Hopes are high that the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting – or ASEM summit – to be held in Milan on October 16-17 will confirm the credibility and relevance of Asia-Europe relations in the 21st century.

ASEM has certainly survived many storms and upheavals since it was initiated in Bangkok in 1996 and now, with ASEM’s 20th anniversary in 2016 approaching rapidly, the challenge is not only to guarantee ASEM’s survival but also to ensure that the Asia-Europe partnership flourishes and thrives.

Talk about renewal and revival is encouraging as Asians and Europeans seek to inject fresh dynamism into ASEM through changed formats and a stronger focus on content to bring it into the 21st century.

ASEM’s future hinges not only on whether governments are ready to pay as much attention to ASEM and devote as much time and energy to their partnership as they did in the early years but also on closer engagement between Asian and European business leaders, civil society representatives and enhanced people-to-people contacts.  An ASEM business summit and peoples’ forum will be held in parallel with the leaders’ meeting.

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Shada Islam. Courtesy of Twitter

Significantly, the theme of the Milan summit – “Responsible Partnership for Sustainable Growth and Security” – allows for a discussion not only of ongoing political strains and tensions in Asia and in Europe’s eastern neighbourhood, but also of crucial questions linked to food, water and energy security.

Engagement between the two regions has been increasing over the years, both within and outside ASEM. Five of the 51 (set to rise to 52 with Croatia joining in October) ASEM partners – China, Japan, India, South Korea and Russia – are the European Union’s strategic partners. Turkey and Kazakhstan have formally voiced interest in joining ASEM, although approval of their applications will take time.  There is now a stronger E.U.-Asian conversation on trade, business, security and culture.

Exports to Asia and investments in the region are pivotal in ensuring a sustainable European economic recovery while the European Union single market attracts goods, investments and people from across the globe, helping Asian governments to maintain growth and development.  European technology is in much demand across the region.

Not surprisingly, Asia-Europe economic interdependence has grown.  With total Asia-Europe trade in 2012 estimated at 1.37 trillion euros, Asia has become the European Union’s main trading partner, accounting for one-third of total trade.  More than one-quarter of European outward investments head for Asia while Asia’s emerging global champions are seeking out business deals in Europe.  The increased connectivity is reflected in the mutual Asia-Europe quest to negotiate free trade agreements and investment accords. For many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans, too, are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia.

ASEM’s connectivity credentials go beyond trade and economics.  In addition to the strategic partnerships mentioned above, Asia and Europe are linked through an array of cooperation accords. Discussions on climate change, pandemics, illegal immigration, maritime security, urbanisation and green growth, among others, are frequent between multiple government ministries and agencies in both regions, reflecting a growing recognition that 21st century challenges can only be tackled through improved global governance and, failing that, through “patchwork governance” involving cross-border and cross-regional alliances.

Discussions on security issues are an important part of the political pillar in ASEM, with leaders exchanging views on regional and global flashpoints.  Given current tensions over conflicting territorial claims in the East and South China Seas, this year’s debate should be particularly important.

Asian views of Europe’s security role are changing. Unease about the dangerous political and security fault lines that run across the region and the lack of a strong security architecture has prompted many in Asia to take a closer look at Europe’s experience in ensuring peace, easing tensions and handling conflicts.  As Asia grapples with historical animosities and unresolved conflicts, earlier scepticism about Europe’s security credentials are giving way to recognition of Europe’s “soft power” in peace-making and reconciliation, crisis management, conflict resolution and preventive diplomacy, human rights, the promotion of democracy and the rule of law.

In addition, for many in Asia, the European Union is the prime partner for dealing with non-traditional security dilemmas, including food, water and energy security as well as climate change. Europeans too are becoming more aware of the global implications of instability in Asia, not least as regards maritime security.

Meanwhile, over the years, ASEM meetings have become more formal, ritualistic and long drawn-out, with endless preparatory discussions and the negotiation of long texts by “senior officials” or bureaucrats. Instead of engaging in direct conversation, ministers and leaders read out well-prepared statements.  Having embarked on a search to bring back the informality and excitement of the first few ASEM meetings, Asian and European foreign ministers successfully tested out new working methods at their meeting in Delhi last November.

The new formula, to be tried out in Milan, includes the organisation of a “retreat” session during which leaders will be able to have a free-flowing discussion on regional and international issues with less structure and fewer people in the room.  Instead of spending endless hours negotiating texts, leaders will focus on a substantive discussion of issues.  The final statement will be drafted and issued in the name of the “chair” who will consult partners but will be responsible for the final wording.  There are indications that the chair’s statements and other documents issued at the end of ASEM meetings will be short, simple and to-the-point.

ASEM also needs a content update.  True, ASEM summits which are held every two years, deal with many worthy issues, including economic growth, regional and global tensions, climate change and the like. It is also true that Asian and European ministers meet even more frequently to discuss questions like education, labour reform, inter-faith relations and river management.

This is worthy and significant – but also too much.  ASEM needs a sharper focus on growth and jobs, combating extremism and tackling hard and soft security issues. Women in both Asia and Europe face many societal and economic challenges.  Freedom of expression is under attack in both regions.

ASEM partners also face the uphill task of securing stronger public understanding, awareness and support for the Asia-Europe partnership, especially in the run up to the 20th anniversary summit in 2016.

The 21st century requires countries and peoples – whether they are like-minded or not – to work together in order to ensure better global governance in a still-chaotic multipolar world.

As they grapple with their economic, political and security dilemmas – and despite their many disagreements – Asia and Europe are drawing closer together.  If ASEM reform is implemented as planned, 2016 could become an important milestone in a reinvigorated Asia-Europe partnership, a compelling necessity in the 21st century.

Shada Islam is responsible for policy oversight of Friends of Europe’s initiatives, activities and publications. She has special responsibility for the Asia Programme and for the Development Policy Forum. She is the former Europe correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review and has previously worked on Asian issues at the European Policy Centre. 

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From Tigers to Barbers: Tales of Sri Lanka’s Ex-Combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/from-tigers-to-barbers-tales-of-sri-lankas-ex-combatants/#comments Mon, 14 Jul 2014 17:56:12 +0000 Amantha Perera http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135538 Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Aloysius Patrickeil, once a member of the feared Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), now spends his time giving his loyal customers haircuts in a small town in Sri Lanka's Northern Province. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
KILINOCHCHI, Sri Lanka, Jul 14 2014 (IPS)

People are willing to wait a long time for a few minutes in the hands of Aloysius Patrickeil, a 32-year-old barber who is part-owner of a small shop close to the northern town of Kilinochchi, 320 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo.

Old men with bushy moustaches sit on chairs alongside youngsters sporting trendy haircuts and beards in the latest styles from Tamil movies, while mothers drag their kids into the long line for the barber’s coveted chair.

“He is the best in town,” Kalliman Mariyadas, a young man waiting his turn, says confidently.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people.” -- Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat
A few years ago, Patrickeil wasn’t such a famous man, nor did he wish to be one. Till 2009 he was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the armed separatist group that fought a 26-year-long civil war with successive Sri Lankan governments for independence for the country’s minority Tamil population.

Patrickeil, now the father of a one-and-a-half year-old infant, was part of the LTTE’s naval arm known as the Sea Tigers until a military offensive decimated the rebel group in 2009.

Today, he is wary of divulging details of his past career.

“There is no point – what happened, happened. I don’t want to go back there,” he tells IPS, while massaging the head of one of his middle-aged clients.

His main aim now is to make sure his enterprise keeps making money. “People will always want to get haircuts, so it is a good job selection,” he says with a smile.

A beloved member of the community, he loves to talk of his shop and his future plans, but not so much about his violent past and involvement in a conflict that claimed some 100,000 lives on both sides.

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

A man transports bananas in the northern town of Jaffna, the political and cultural hub of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, which has reaped at least some of the peace dividends. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

When the Sri Lankan government declared victory over the Tigers in May 2009, after a bloody battle in the former rebel-held areas in the north and east of the country, close to 12,000 LTTE cadres either surrendered or were apprehended by military forces, according to government data.

By June this year over 11,800 were released following rehabilitation programmes of varying length, leaving 132 in detention.

Patrickeil himself was in detention, and then underwent rehabilitation (including vocational training) until February 2013; like thousands of other former militants, he must now navigate the former war zone as a civilian.

“They want a better life, they want to live like ordinary people,” says Murugesu Kayodaran, rehabilitation officer for the Kilinochchi District Divisional Secretariat.

But after years of war, violence and no sense of what “ordinary” life means, he tells IPS, this seemingly simple task is harder than it first appears.

Of the released ex-Tigers, most are engaged in manual labour in the north, according to data provided by the Bureau of the Commissioner General of Rehabilitation. Other popular areas of employment include the fishing industry, the farming sector or the government’s civil defence department.

14652000325_ab5f725cb4_zCurrently, 11 percent of rehabilitated former LTTE fighters are listed as unemployed, more than two-and-a-half times the national unemployment rate.

Very few official programmes offer assistance. One government loan scheme provides individuals with up to 25,000 rupees (192 dollars), but so far only 1,773 who qualify for the programme have received the money, according to existing records.

An initiative undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) offers grants of 50,000 rupees (roughly 380 dollars), but since 2013 only 523 have received the modest sum.

“We try to help the most deserving cases after careful evaluation,” M S M Kamil, head of ICRC’s Economic Security Department, tells IPS. The lack of complimentary schemes, however, means that thousands are floundering without a steady income.

Kayodaran says that sustained long-term assistance is needed to foster careful reintegration of thousands of ex-combatants, many of whom still feel stigmatised.

“They feel they need financial independence to be able to feel normal like the others, but there are other underlying issues like depression, trauma and lack of family support that remain unaddressed,” he says.

A little help goes a long way

Just a few miles west of Patrickeil’s popular salon, 37-year-old Selliah Bavanan works alone in his tire repair shop in the small town of Mallavi. Also a former Tiger, he is evasive about his role in the group.

All he confides to IPS is that “the situation at the time demanded that we make the decision to join the group.”

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Selliah Bavanan, an ex-LTTE cadre, now runs a tire repair shop in the Northern Province, and avoids talking about his past. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Now he keeps a close eye on the road that links Kilinochchi, the main financial hub in the region, with the western parts of the district.

“My primary customers are the big vehicles,” he states, adding that there are many that take the route these days, ferrying material for the large-scale development work taking place in areas that were held by the Tigers until early 2009.

When he received the ICRC grant earlier this year, Bavanan made an astute decision – he invested the money in equipment for his humble enterprise and has seen a sharp spike in customers ever since.

“I make between 1,500 and 3,000 rupees (about 11-21 dollars) daily; it is good money,” he insists, while repairing a large, punctured tire.

Patrickeil received a similar grant and invested the money in mirrors, scissors and other accessories for the shop that was owned by a friend. “I pay half my daily income to the owner,” says Patrickeil who also makes about 3,000 rupees per day in a region where the monthly cost of living is some 25,000-30,000 rupees (190-230 dollars).

Life on this small income is not easy, with many ex-combatants in the region supporting extended families. One injured former LTTE cadre that IPS spoke with was supporting a family of three, plus a younger brother and two ageing parents.

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka's Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Those left disabled by the war, both civilians and ex-combatants, make up over 10 percent of the population of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province, but very little official assistance is directed at them. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Officials like ICRC’s Kamil say that rehabilitated former female combatants find job options even more restrictive than their male counterparts.

Psychological assistance programmes for those traumatised by years of war are just getting off the ground in the former conflict areas, but none of them are designed specifically for ex-combatants.

There is also no official data on how many former LTTE members were wounded, but government records suggest that at least 10 to 20 percent of the Northern Province’s population of some 1.1 million people are war-injured, a large number of which were combatants during the conflict.

They say their biggest challenge now is social acceptance and financial independence. While the immediate outlook is bleak, many harbour aspirations of improved circumstances in the years to come.

“First there was war, then there was peace; now we have poverty, and hopefully the next stop will be prosperity,” says Patrickeil’s customer Mariyadas, standing up for his turn with the Sea Tiger-turned-barber.

(END)

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Young Latin Americans Face Spiral of Unemployment, Poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/young-latin-americans-face-spiral-of-unemployment-poverty/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 18:33:29 +0000 Marianela Jarroud http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135484 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos work near the University of Costa Rica in San José. He is a hairdresser at a beauty salon and she distributes fruit for a small business run by this brother and sister. Credit: Diego Arguedas Ortiz/IPS

By Marianela Jarroud
SANTIAGO, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

In Latin America, young people are the main link in the chain of poverty leading from one generation to the next. Civil society groups, academics and young people themselves say it is imperative to strengthen the connection between education today and decent employment tomorrow.

“The region’s youth is a subject in its own right, with great symbolic power. It is probably the age group that generates the richest range of identities and cultural expressions,” Martin Hopenhayn, head of the social development division of the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), told IPS.“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country." -- María Fernanda Tejada

One in four Latin Americans is aged between 15 and 29, according to the Santiago-based ECLAC. This makes it a young continent, “but not for long,” Hopenhayn said.

The population aged 0-15 has fallen markedly in the region, so in 20 years’ time it will have an ageing society.

“That’s why it is very important to invest now in young people, because in 20 years’ time we are going to need the non-aged population to be much more productive,” Hopenhayn said.

But investment in youth is relatively low in Latin America, especially when public and private investment in post-secondary education is compared with emerging countries in southeast Asia, or with European countries.

“Young people are the main link in the intergenerational transmission of poverty,” Hopenhayn said. This transmission will determine whether young people currently becoming economically independent will re-experience “the income poverty and job insecurity of previous generations, that is, of their parents,” he said.

The key mechanism to interrupt this intergenerational transmission is to improve the connection between education today and employment tomorrow, he said.

Investing in youth

The United Nations highlights that the present generation of youth worldwide is the largest in history, totalling 1.8 billion young people, most of whom live in the developing countries of the South.

Consequently, UNFPA is seeking to build awareness about the urgent need to increase resources devoted to youth. Its theme for World Population Day, celebrated this Friday Jul. 11, is “investing in young people.”

“We must reduce the gap in educational attainments between poor and non-poor young people,” by focusing investment on education for lower-income sectors, he said.

According to ECLAC figures, only 28 percent of young people aged 20-24 from the poorest 20 percent of the population have completed their secondary education; while among the richest 20 percent, about 80 percent have completed secondary education.

“At present, completing secondary education is the minimum requirement for a young person moving into the world of work and a lifelong career to have real expectations of achieving well-being and social mobility, and overcoming poverty,” Hopenhayn said.

Ángel and Guadalupe Villalobos, a brother and sister who have set up a small fruit distribution business of their own near the University of Costa Rica, in San José, are well aware of this fact.

Ángel, 21, finished his studies as a hairdresser in December 2013 and began working in January 2014. When his 22-year-old sister and her partner separated, the brother and sister started to distribute fruit in local beauty salons.

“Perhaps the main barrier is that if you are experienced and older, it is difficult to get a job, and if you are young, in spite of all your energy, it’s also difficult, but here (in the salon) they have offered me good opportunities,” Ángel told IPS.

Neither of them has started university and Guadalupe has not finished secondary school. In Costa Rica, with its 4.8 million people, 22 percent of young people work in the informal economy, which Ángel and Guadalupe intend to leave.

In Mexico, 37 million people are aged 15-29, out of a total population of 118 million. Nearly 26 percent of this age group are neither studying nor working, and almost 45 percent of them live in poverty.

“I am worried about the lack of opportunities and the prospect of unemployment,” 18-year-old María Fernanda Tejada told IPS. In August she will start studying internatioal relations at the Autonomous University of Mexico, in the capital city.

“We have a great responsibility, because we are the future of this country,” added Tejada, who is the eldest of four children.

In Santiago, 19-year-old Daniel Hurtado is studying medicine, in spite of the social expectation that he would probably work “in a call centre, or as a supermarket packer, in construction or as a waiter,” his father Hugo, himself a waiter, told IPS.

A wage earner in Chile, which has a population of 17.6 million, earns an average of 500 dollars a month, and generally has no chance to send children to university, where medical studies cost between 900 and 1,200 dollars a month. “It’s a gruelling effort,” said the father. “But we are breaking through the barrier,” said the son.

In Hopenhayn’s view, intervening in education is the best means to break the intergenerational cycle of poverty, because it is a mass phenomenon that is socially recognised, and has a major impact on the world of work.

According to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty, which contravenes their human rights, enshrined in international treaties.

The study, published in 2012, says that the poverty and extreme poverty rates among young people aged 15-29 in the region are 30.3 percent and 10.1 percent, respectively. Together with under-15s, this group is the most vulnerable to poverty in the region.

Employment opportunities are limited for young people, who have an unemployment rate of 15 percent, while for those aged over 30, unemployment is only six percent.

Another factor is the high rate of informal employment in the region, which particularly affects young people.

“For instance, in Chile between 45 and 50 percent of workers are in informal employment, but in the 15-29 age group, 60 percent are informal workers,” sociologist Lucas Cifuentes, a researcher with the Work, Employment, Equity and Health programme at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences (FLACSO), told IPS.

He said, “undoubtedly employment is the lynchpin of social development,” and added that “it is impossible to overcome poverty without decent, dignified and protected work.”

In Hopenhayn’s view, recent years have brought about major institutional progress in youth policies, moderate progress in terms of investment in young people, and insufficient progress in investment in young people’s education.

While waiting for that to materialise, Latin American societies continue to seek their own alternative solutions to problems like inequality, and young people demand – in some countries, on the streets – investment to break the transmission of inequality in their generation.

With additional reporting from Emilio Godoy in Mexico City, and Diego Arguedas in San José.

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OPINION: Unleashing African Young People’s Potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-unleashing-african-young-peoples-potential/#comments Thu, 10 Jul 2014 17:24:30 +0000 Adebayo Fayoyin http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135478 This is part of a series of special stories on world population and challenges to the Sustainable Development Goals on the occasion of World Population Day on July 11.]]> Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

Girls attend school in South Africa. Healthy, educated young people can help break the cycle of poverty. Credit: UNFPA

By Adebayo Fayoyin
JOHANNESBURG, Jul 10 2014 (IPS)

An African proverb says “a child that we refuse to build today will end up selling the house that we may build tomorrow.”

The moral of this is clear. Unless we invest in our children and young people today, they might become a threat or a burden in the future.As the international community commemorates World Population Day on July 11, Africa’s growing youth population should be recognised as a ‘powerful force for change’ that requires greater investment today.

Judging by the current challenges confronting young people, the extent to which African countries are investing in the youth is unclear.

More young people

According to the Africa Regional Review for the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) the continent is experiencing substantial demographic shifts, which have seen about 21 million persons a year being added to the population since 1994.

Africa has the youngest population and will remain so for decades in a rapidly ageing world. By 2050 “the median age for Africa will increase to 25, while the average for the world as a whole will climb to about 38”.

The fertility rate on the continent is decreasing gradually and the new generation of young people will probably have fewer children than their parents. This demographic shift will also mean fewer elderly people and children to support than previous generations.

Undoubtedly, demography will greatly shape Africa’s position in the global markets for labour, trade and capital.

The phenomenon is what economists call a ‘demographic dividend’, which they argue is a one-time window of opportunity to create wealth and economic growth.

The future they want

But failure to invest in this demographic also comes with its own challenges.

Maternal mortality and HIV/AIDS are the two main causes of death among young women aged 15 to 24 years in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nearly everywhere, adolescents are inhibited from freely exercising their right to, for example, comprehensive sexuality education, contraceptives and sexual and reproductive health services.

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women's rights. Credit: UNFPA

Young men in South Sudan stand up for women’s rights. Credit: UNFPA

In many African counties, more than 40 per cent of young women aged 20 to 24 were married by age 18. Also in the countries with high child marriage rates – Niger, Mali, CAR, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Madagascar, Uganda, Senegal, Malawi, Cameroon and Libya – many girls are married off by age 15.

That is why investment in Africa’s youthful population from multiple angles, and primarily from the public and private sectors, is essential for realising the demographic dividend.

“Healthy, productive and fully engaged”

In his message for the World Population Day commemoration, UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim says “we know that healthy, educated, productive and fully engaged young people can help break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and are more resilient in the face of individual and societal challenges”

Africa’s largely youthful population makes up the next generation of workers, parents, and leaders and their challenges can no longer be ignored. Getting the best from the increased youth bulge in Africa can only be assured when appropriate health and development plans, policies and programmes are put in place and adequately implemented.

Adebayo Fayoyin is the Regional Communications Advisor for the UNFPA East and Southern Africa Regional Office.

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U.S. Groups Reject Anti-Gay Discrimination Bill over Religious Exemption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-groups-reject-anti-gay-discrimination-bill-over-religious-exemption/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 23:43:51 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135463 President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

Civil rights groups across the United States have withdrawn their support from a major legislative proposal that would outlaw workplace discrimination against sexual minorities, warning that recent legal developments could exempt companies on religious grounds.

Five major legal advocacy groups are arguing that the legislation, known as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), does not allow for total workplace protection. Rather, it “provides religiously affiliated organizations – including hospitals, nursing homes and universities – with a blank check to engage in workplace discrimination against LGBT people,” the groups note in a joint statement released Tuesday.“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.” -- Kate Kendell

Previously, the groups, which include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and prominent gay rights organisations, had supported ENDA. But their turnaround comes a week after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a contentious decision, known as Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, which allows private companies to withhold contraceptive coverage from their employees based on religious preferences.

“What we’ve seen in last week’s Supreme Court decision is a really concerted effort on the part of LGBT opponents to broadly endorse rights to discriminate,” Ian Thompson, a Washington representative of the ACLU, told IPS.

It is “unacceptable”, he noted, to “allow taxpayer-funded discrimination under the clause of religious exemption.”

It is significant to note that this religious exemption clause has always been included within ENDA. However, while the clause has long been a controversial component of the legislation, it is the provocative nature of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling that has encouraged legal advocacy groups to reject ENDA entirely.

Lucas Rivers, a prominent LGBT activist working in the U.S government, told IPS that “strong withdrawal [from ENDA] in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision is the right move, as the Supreme Court’s decision has opened up doors to employment discrimination, whether it be women and their rights or gays and their rights.”

Yet other organisations have been voicing opposition to ENDA for much longer.

“We have been disturbed by the exemption in ENDA for years, and that concern has been very public,” Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), an advocacy group, told IPS.

Kendell also notes that “[the NCLR] has received unanimous expressions of support from [the LGBT community]. Our community is bright – they get that the provision in ENDA would provide those who oppose our equality a license to discriminate.”

Kendell is careful to note that her organisation’s dispute is not with the legitimacy of religious belief.

“Our nation respects and accommodates a wide variety of religious faiths, a quality we fully embrace. But it is not acceptable for some to use religion as a bludgeon to do harm to others,” she says.

“[LGBT people] want to be judged in the same way any other employee is judged: Can we do the work? If we can, we should be free from discriminatory treatment that targets us because of who we are.”

Kendall says she’s uncertain about the future of ENDA, but expresses confidence that a stronger bill can eventually be drawn up.

“We don’t know what we can get unless we fight for it,” she says. “If we combine forces and lobby for better language, I have no doubt we can get a better bill.”

Urgent need

Still, some prominent groups do remain committed to ENDA.

The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBT rights group, stated on Wednesday that it will continue to support ENDA for a “very simple reason … it will guarantee millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all 50 states explicit, reliable protections from discrimination in the workplace.”

In regards to the bill’s religious exemption clause, the group says it is urging its allies in Congress to recognise that LGBT people “do not have the luxury of waiting for these protections,” while an “urgent need” for equality persists.

Meanwhile, some U.S. legislators have been looking for ways to directly counter the recent Supreme Court ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. New legislation, announced Wednesday, would seek to expressly forbid private companies from using religious exemption to deny employee contraception “or any other vital health service required by federal law”.

Although the new bill would have no direct impact on workplace discrimination for LGBT individuals, the proposal’s sponsors see it as a significant step towards separating religious preferences from employees’ fundamental rights.

“Particularly in light of the recent Hobby Lobby decision, we must be more careful than ever to ensure that religious liberty, a cherished American value intended to shield individuals from government interference, is not wielded as a sword against employees who may not share their employers’ religious beliefs,” Jerrold Nadler, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and one of the new bill’s co-sponsors, said Wednesday.

President Barack Obama is expected to issue an executive order on employment discrimination in coming weeks. As such, a similar fight is now brewing of that mandate’s details.

On Tuesday, a group of 100 progressive religious leaders urged the president to exclude any religious exemption from the order. Instead, the groups called on the president to remain committed to the principle of equality under the Constitution.

“If contractors were allowed to selectively follow employment or other laws according to their religious beliefs, we would quickly create an untenable morass of legal disputes,” the letter states.

“Furthermore, if selective exemptions to the executive order were permitted, the people who would suffer most would be the people who always suffer most when discrimination is allowed: the individuals and communities that are already marginalized.”

Some civil rights groups have applauded the letter. The ACLU’s Thompson told IPS that the move was “incredibly important” in the context of the broader equality debate.

“It shows is that religious leaders and faith organisations do not speak with simply one voice on these issues,” he says. “Rather, it shows that there are two sides to the faith community, and it is very helpful for the community’s pro-equality voices to come forward.”

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OPINION: Obama’s Quick Fix Won’t Solve the Regional Refugee Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-obamas-quick-fix-wont-solve-the-regional-refugee-crisis/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 19:36:38 +0000 Michelle Brane http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135459 A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

A migrant child is escorted by a U.S. immigration enforcement agent. Credit: cc by 2.0

By Michelle Brané
SAN FRANCISCO, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

In recent months, an unprecedented surge of refugee women and children has been traveling alone to the United States to seek protection at our southern border.

The vast majority are fleeing their homes in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, and risking their lives as they make long and incredibly dangerous journeys to seek refuge on our soil.

The Women’s Refugee Commission has been closely monitoring this population since 2011. Through our research, we concluded over two years ago that without major changes in U.S. aid or foreign policy to the Central America region, the United States would continue to receive more vulnerable migrants due to the humanitarian crisis developing in the region.

Michelle Brané

Courtesy of Michelle Brané

Organised crime, forced gang recruitment, violence against women, and weak economic and social systems are all contributing to the pervasive insecurity in these countries.

The flow of refugees fleeing from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala has not only continued, but has increased dramatically and rapidly as violence in the region has escalated.

And refugees are not only coming to the United States. The United Nations has found that asylum requests in the the neighbouring countries of Mexico, Panama, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Belize have skyrocketed by 712 percent since 2009.

While some children may be seeking to reunite with their parents or family in the United States, the motivating factor forcing them from their homes is violence and persecution. The children we spoke with told us they feared they would die if they stayed in their home country, and although they might die during the journey, at least they would have a chance.

Particularly concerning about the recent surge is that the children making the perilous migration journey are now younger than in years past. It has become common for children as young as four to 10 years old to be picked up and arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol.

Additionally, a higher percentage of the children are girls, many of whom arrive pregnant as a result of sexual violence. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) recently conducted research with this population and found that 58 percent of the children interviewed raised international protection concerns.

Children also come to the United States with their parents. Since 2012, the number of families arriving at the southern border of the United States has increased significantly. The vast majority of these families are made up of women with very young children and are fleeing the same violence and insecurity driving the refugee children.

Our country has a long and dedicated commitment to human rights, due process and the assurance that individuals who arrive at our borders seeking safety are not turned away without addressing their claims.

Under international and domestic law, we have an obligation to properly screen and provide protection for unaccompanied minors, trafficking victims and asylum seekers who arrive at our borders.

In recent months, however, the government has been unprepared and overwhelmed by the numbers of children and families in need. Rather than addressing the issue in a manner that is in line with our American ideals and recognising it as a regional refugee situation, the Obama administration is looking for a quick fix and compromising our values and the lives of women and children in the process by responding as though it were an immigration issue.

We are deeply concerned by the government’s recent announcement that it will drastically expand detention of families and will expedite the processing of asylum cases.

Harsh detention and deportation policies endanger the well-being of children and families, present a risk that individuals with legitimate claims to asylum and other forms of protection will be summarily returned to countries where their lives are seriously threatened, and do not work as a deterrent against future migration.

Additionally, the administration has proposed to roll back laws that are in place to protect children, in order to quickly and with no due process, deport kids back to the dangers they escaped.

This humanitarian refugee crisis is a complex human tragedy and needs both short-term and long-term attention. It requires a holistic approach that prioritises additional resources for addressing the root causes of this crisis, strengthening protection in the region, and reinforcing our protection and adjudication of claims, not blocking access to protection and sending women and children back to the dangerous situations they are fleeing without adequate due process.

The United States must not compromise its long-standing commitment to humanitarian principles in the hope of finding a quick solution.

Michelle Brané is director of the Migrant Rights & Justice Programme at the Women’s Refugee Commission. This article was originally published by New America Media – a network of ethnic news organisations in the U.S., and is reproduced here by arrangement with them.

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U.S. Moves to Address Chronic “Teacher Equity” Problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/u-s-moves-to-address-chronic-teacher-equity-problem/#comments Wed, 09 Jul 2014 00:07:24 +0000 Julia Hotz http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135438 The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

The U.S. Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline. Credit: Bigstock

By Julia Hotz
WASHINGTON, Jul 9 2014 (IPS)

The U.S. government has moved to tackle longstanding patterns of inequitable teacher quality, specifically in terms of how low quality teachers tend to be assigned to poor and marginalised communities across the country.

Both students of colour and students in high-poverty schools are less likely than their counterparts to receive highly effective teaching. On Monday, the U.S. Department of Education launched an initiative aimed at addressing what Education Secretary Arne Duncan calls the “systemic inequities that short-change students in high-poverty, high-minority schools across our country.”"Students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.” -- Dwanna Nicole

The problem is not only the lack of a solid teacher support and development system. According to President Barack Obama, also speaking Monday, “the kids who need the most skilled teachers are the least likely to get them.”

The Department of Education will now require states submit comprehensive plans to assign “effective educators” to poor and minority students. To implement these plans, the federal government will be offering some 4.2 million dollars in grants.

The government will also publish regular profiles evaluating how states and districts are improving their teacher equity.

While education associations and advocates are applauding the move, many are questioning the initiative’s scope and details. Although the government’s announcement noted that it will mandate states to “ensure every student has effective educators”, it did not specify how officials would measure educator effectiveness.

“We think that it is a commendable short-term effort to help combat inequity in the classroom,” Dwanna Nicole, a policy advocate for the Advancement Project, an advocacy group, told IPS.

“At the same time, we believe the inequity issue is much larger. We know that students of colour and students of high-poverty status are more likely to attend schools where less money is spent and where less extracurricular activities are offered, so the problem is much larger than just the teachers.”

For instance, Nicole notes that the Department of Education has recently strengthened its focus on reducing nationwide racial and socioeconomic disparities within school discipline.

“But it would be great to see more resources devoted to that effort as well … We want school districts to understand the harsh consequences of these extreme policies,” she says.

“A lot of the time, young people also need additional support – this includes mental health support, after-school support. And we also want there to be better training available for teachers.”

Furthermore, rather than solely considering standardised test scores to be a measure of educator effectiveness, Nicole says that the government needs to take into account additional factors, such as teachers’ success with classroom management techniques.

The National Educators Association (NEA), a prominent labour union, also says that it “fully supports the idea that students in challenging schools must have fully prepared and effective educators.” Yet the group noted its concern over the Education Department’s lack of definition for an “effective educator”.

“The current federal law offers a big loophole that calls individuals still in teacher training as ‘highly qualified’,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement Monday.

175 billion dollars a year

Although inequity within teaching quality has existed for some time, recent estimates have suggested that this disparity could become costly to the country as a whole.

In 2011, researchers with the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank here, published a district-by-district evaluation. They concluded that “highly productive districts were more focused on improving student outcomes,” while low-productivity school districts were more likely to be comprised of “students from more disadvantaged backgrounds” – and had the potential to “cost the nation as much as $175 billion a year.”

CAP is slated to release updated findings on the issue on Wednesday. The centre’s executive vice president for policy, Carmel Martin, has thrown her support behind the new Department of Education initiative, characterising it as an “effort to ensure that excellent educators are teaching in the classrooms that need them most.”

Advocates are now turning their focus to how the states will respond. Education policy has become a politically explosive issue in recent years, with some conservatives urging the abolition of the Department of Education altogether.

“The U.S. Department of Education should expect states to report their data and set meaningful goals for addressing inequity where it exists. And it should hold states accountable for meeting those goals,” Daria Hall, the director of K-12 policy development at the Education Trust, an advocacy group, told IPS.

However, Hall also warned that the department should not mandate specific approaches for the states to follow in their attempts to achieve equity.

“The specific strategies are best developed by states and districts, as they’re the ones who are closer to the problems and best able to develop targeted responses,” she says.

“That said, it is important to find and elevate examples of strong, equity-focused local policies and practices, and that’s something the Department can and should do through guidance and technical assistance.”

In addition to using multiple measures to assess teacher effectiveness, Hall believes that a variety of teacher development opportunities should be afforded to educators.

“Forced placement will not be an effective strategy for achieving equitable access. So states and districts should be focused instead on putting in place policies and practices that draw strong teachers to the low-income students and students of colour who need them the most,” she says.

“This means focusing on effective hiring practices, strong school leadership, supportive school climate and culture, and opportunities for professional advancement for those teachers willing to take on the challenge of teaching in high-need schools.”

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Macau Gambling Away Its Future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/macau-gambling-away-its-future/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=macau-gambling-away-its-future http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/macau-gambling-away-its-future/#comments Tue, 08 Jul 2014 09:52:53 +0000 Martin Murphy http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135269 A worker walks past Casino Lisbo, one of the largest casinos in Macau, China. Credit: Damon Garrett/CC-BY-2.0

A worker walks past Casino Lisbo, one of the largest casinos in Macau, China. Credit: Damon Garrett/CC-BY-2.0

By Martin Murphy
HONG KONG, Jul 8 2014 (IPS)

Macau’s gaming boom just keeps on giving. Gambling revenues soared to a new high of 45 billion dollars last year, a whopping 18.6 percent rise over 2012 and the city’s sixth straight year of record earnings.

Casinos in this former Portuguese colony, which returned to China in 1999, now earn seven times more than they do in Las Vegas.

Casino jobs, which pay 30 to 40 percent more than other sectors, employ nearly a quarter of the labour force. Add in casino-related positions like retailing and hospitality and about half the working population in this city of 600,000 is connected to the gaming industry. The result is an enviable unemployment rate of 1.8 percent.

So why not let the good times roll?

Macau’s mono-economy of gaming is creating a generation of workers steeped in the monotonous work of baccarat dealing and spinning roulette wheels, but with few of the transferable skills needed in today’s globalised knowledge economy.

With the economy and workforce increasingly dependent on Chinese gamblers from the mainland, however, there is little pressure for change —a situation that may suit Beijing just fine.

Some hit the jackpot, others pay the price

It should surprise no one that the city’s gaming boom, which produces 50 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP), has spawned a dark side. Prostitution, organised crime and money laundering are daily affairs.

Not so obvious, though, are the multiple stress lines now tearing at a traditional society trying to cope with uncontrolled urban development, loss of green space, rising local gambling addiction and a general deterioration in the quality of life.

For the average resident, the challenges created by the gaming boom now outweigh its advantages. Poor transportation, worsening air pollution from casino shuttles serving the city’s 29 million visitors and soaring property prices are just a few of gaming’s by-products.
“Macau is a complete illusion of prosperity, because what we are building is only casinos, rooms, and some shops with famous brands.” -- legislator Jose Coutinho

Macau’s small and medium-sized businesses, about 95 percent of its enterprises, also pay a price in rising rents and loss of both staff and customers to the casinos. Adding to this are higher crime rates across almost every category.

Despite all the downsides, Macau’s casino executives and investors, including the big U.S. gaming houses, see unlimited possibilities for further growth and expansion. Their main complaint? A shortage of skilled labour.

With more mega casinos scheduled to open in 2016, Macau will need at least an additional 75,000 casino and hospitality workers, officials say.

Given that the city’s small and medium-sized businesses already struggle to compete against higher-paying casinos for limited talent, Macau will have to import not only casino workers, but also professionals from every walk of life.

But neither Macau nor the Chinese government seems to have a plan to deal with the city’s soaring labour deficit, nor is either willing to slam the breaks on what has become a runaway train of unregulated growth.

Worse, Macau is turning its back on policies meant to prepare its future generations for a more globalised, knowledge-driven economy. If trends continue, Macau risks morphing into a society of know-nothings —one whose future could be devoid of educated and skilled professionals, its pool of workers increasingly drawn to easy money to be made in the often mind-numbing work on casino floors.

Every few months, new reports present dire warnings. In December last year, one survey showed that nearly half of businesses polled “found difficulties in recruiting IT professionals” and predicted the shortage “could further worsen.”

Last April, an industry report cited the lack of accountancy professionals, with “only fractional increases” since 2007. Another complained of the city’s “lack of engineers and related professions.” All this points to a society at the breaking point, one that is mortgaging its future generations for short-term gains.

Even Macau’s lawmakers now complain that the boom has been building castles in the sand. Last year, legislator Jose Coutinho told the media, “Macau is a complete illusion of prosperity, because what we are building is only casinos, rooms and some shops with famous brands.”

But he and other critics hold a minority view in a legislature where 12 of the 33 members are indirectly elected by industry bodies and another seven are appointed by Macau’s Beijing-selected chief executive.

Betting it all on gaming

While Macau officials pay occasional lip service to the need to rebalance the economy and have floated a number of proposals, none so far have the transformative effect needed to set the city off in new directions.

One of the most talked about proposals recommends that Macau capture more of the region’s “meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions,” or MICE. But this has been slow to take off and relies disproportionately on the gaming sector.

For example, Macau’s biggest trade show is the Global Gaming Expo Asia. A plan to develop nearby Hengqin Island as a free trade zone will also do little to help the majority of Macau’s small businesses, given its emphasis on large-scale projects.

But the main obstacle to a more sustainable economic model is that Macau continues to grow fat on Chinese gambling, and Chinese leaders still see Macau as an important outlet for the country’s wealthy and middle class. The result is that no one in authority is even contemplating the day when China’s economy slows, the gamblers stop coming, and the boom ends, even though history has shown that the bigger the boom in a mono-economy, the greater the potential for a crash.

While China says it wants to see Macau rebalance its economy, Beijing’s reluctance to impose policy prescriptions or offer inducements to help it diversify is not surprising.

That’s because Macau may be right where Beijing wants it and China’s other peripheral regions to be—societies increasingly dependent on the mainland for their prosperity and therefore less willing to make annoying demands for such things as democracy and greater autonomy.

(END)

Martin Murphy is a former U.S. diplomat. He was head of the Economic-Political Section at the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and Macau from 2009-2012. He can be found at www.hongkongreporting.com

Read the original version of this article on Foreign Policy In Focus.

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Child Migrants Flee Central American Crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-flee-central-american-crisis/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=child-migrants-flee-central-american-crisis http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/child-migrants-flee-central-american-crisis/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 18:54:49 +0000 Daniela Pastrana http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135411 Garifuna children from Honduras relax at one of the shelters on Mexican migration routes. Credit: Courtesy of Migrant rights defenders

Garifuna children from Honduras relax at one of the shelters on Mexican migration routes. Credit: Courtesy of Migrant rights defenders

By Daniela Pastrana
IRAPUATO, Mexico, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

In early May, the Irapuato Migrants’ House, in the centre-west Mexican state of Guanajuato, took in a group of 152 Garifuna Afro-Caribbean people from Honduras. Sixty of them were children.

“It was a Sunday,” said Bertha, the cook. “They had children of all ages, from babies on up. They were only here a few hours, they showered, ate and left. They did not talk much. I asked one of the women if these children go to school, and she just said: ‘No, we can’t right now,’ and nothing else,” she told IPS.“It is an appalling bloodletting. Children aged 13-16 are sent straight into sexual exploitation or slave labour, or they are massacred or disappeared, or become hired killers." -- Diego Lorente

Between May and June, this shelter took in over 400 children, mostly from Honduras. They travelled in large groups. Only once did they stay for more than four hours.

“They said very little, they did not tell us how they travelled, although we know they did not come on the train. They wouldn’t say what route they were taking, either,” Guadalupe González, the head of the shelter, told IPS.

Some 1,000 kilometres to the southeast, “La 72” migrants’ shelter in Tenosique, a municipality in the state of Tabasco on the border with Guatemala, is also experiencing a similar trend.

They began to see a marked increase in unaccompanied young migrants aged 14-18, women with small children, and groups of Garifunas, who were previously only occasionally to be found on the migrant route to the United States.

Mexico’s northern border with the U.S. is 3,152 km long, while in the south its border with Guatemala is 956 km long, and with Belize it is 193 km. The distance from south to north of the country is 3,200 km as the crow flies, but the six main migration routes are over 5,000 km long.

The same pattern that has been seen in other hostels has been found at the Belén Migrant Shelter in Saltillo, the capital of the northeastern state of Coahuila, on the U.S. border, where since May the passage of children has risen from an average of four a month, to four a day.

“Its an extremely alarming situation,” Father Pedro Pantoja, who runs the hostel and is an expert on migration affairs, told IPS.

It is still not clear what has provoked this exodus of Central American children, many of them on their own, which has overwhelmed the capacity of the U.S. Border Patrol and created a humanitarian crisis in the United States, according to President Barack Obama.

Advocates for migrants in Mexico attribute the surge to the spread of rumours about future regularisation for migrants who enter the U.S. as children.

This, at least, is what has prompted Delsy, a 20-year-old Honduran woman who looks several years younger, to head north, leaving behind her mother, four siblings and her 15-month-old son.

“Someone told me that if I declare I’m under 18, I can get into the United States from (the northwestern border city of) Tijuana. She said it’s a sure thing, because that’s how she got in,” Delsy told IPS at the Irapuato shelter, shortly before taking the train to the border.

Since October 2013, more than 52,000 children have been detained in the United States. In Texas and Arizona, two states on the border with Mexico, facilities at detention centres and military bases are filled to overflowing  and minors are overcrowded while they await deportation.

Organisations working for migrants’ rights, like the Fray Matías de Córdova Human Rights Centre (CDHFrayMatías) in the southern city of Tapachula, in the state of Chiapas, documented the systematic increase in the influx and detention of children since 2011.

However, none of the governments involved took measures to combat it. What did change was the place of origin, because Mexico was formerly the main country of origin of migrant children.

In contrast, from Oct. 1, 2013 to Jun. 15, 2014 the U.S. authorities detained 15,027 children from Honduras, 12,670 from Guatemala, 12,146 from Mexico and 11,436 from El Salvador, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The Washington-based Pew Research Centre linked the new places of origin of child migrants with indicators of violence.

“There is a humanitarian crisis, not only in the United States, but also in the northern triangle of Central America, and chiefly in Honduras, which is forcing children and victims of social and political violence to leave the region,” activist Diego Lorente of CDHFrayMatías told IPS.

The problem could be even worse than it seems, because thousands of child migrants who leave their homes never make it to the United States. Human rights organisations estimate that four out of 10 children who migrate do not even reach Mexico’s northern border.

Some are detained in Mexico. The government’s National Migration Institute reported that between Jan. 1 and Jun. 26, 2014, it had “rescued” 10,505 migrant children, who are in the process of being deported back to their countries.

But many more simply disappear in Mexican territory.

“It is an appalling bloodletting. Children aged 13-16 are sent straight into sexual exploitation or slave labour, or they are massacred or disappeared, or become hired killers,” said Pantoja of the Saltillo shelter.

In the United States, the law stipulates that children must be processed within 72 hours of their detention. The solution for most of them is for a relative to legally claim them, or to stay in shelters for a long time. When they reach their 18th birthday they must be deported.

On Jun. 30, Obama announced that his migration reform had met with stalemate in the House of Representatives, dominated by the rightwing opposition Republican Party, and that he would rely on executive action from now on to try to solve the crisis.

But there is no simple solution to the problem. According to the Honduran authorities, 3,000 children have dropped out of school so far this year in order to pursue the “American dream.”

“In Garifuna communities on the north coast of the country, many children are dropping out of classes because they are leaving the country with their parents or private persons, en route to the United States,” Honduran newspaper La Tribuna said on Jun. 28.

“The rumour spread like wildfire, and now there seems to be no stopping it,” said Guadalupe González at the Irapuato shelter, while two young Honduran women walk away, convinced that if they get to the border, all they have to do is say they are underage in order to get across it.

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OPINION: Fighting Killer Diseases Is Essential in the Post-2015 Agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-fighting-killer-diseases-is-essential-in-the-post-2015-agenda/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=opinion-fighting-killer-diseases-is-essential-in-the-post-2015-agenda http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/opinion-fighting-killer-diseases-is-essential-in-the-post-2015-agenda/#comments Mon, 07 Jul 2014 10:58:34 +0000 Laurent Huber http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135402 By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Credit: Bigstock

By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America. Credit: Bigstock

By Laurent Huber
GENEVA, Jul 7 2014 (IPS)

Undeniably, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) helped lift specific health concerns onto the global agenda.

For example, maternal mortality, which is addressed in MDG 5, declined 45 percent from 1990 to 2013, while deaths of children under five (MDG 4) dropped from 12.4 million to 6.6 million worldwide from 1990 to 2012, (both statistics from the World Health Organisation).If trends do not change, by 2030 NCDs will be the leading global cause of disability.

Despite those impressive advances, the world is facing new development challenges. For this reason, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the MDGs in 2015 must expand the list of health goals to include non-communicable diseases (NCDs) – the world’s #1 killer.

NCDs account for 60 percent (35 million) of all deaths. They include cancers, cardiovascular and lung disease, and diabetes, but they are not – as many people believe – ‘lifestyle’ diseases afflicting old people in rich countries. The largest burden – 80 percent, or 28 million deaths – occurs in low-middle-income countries (LMICs), making NCDs a major cause of poverty and an urgent development issue.

If trends do not change, by 2030 NCDs will be the leading global cause of disability. In addition, between 2011 and 2031 the diseases would have cost the world economy 30 trillion dollars, the equivalent of 98,400 dollars for every person in the United States.

Tobacco is the leading risk factor for NCDs. One hundred million people died from tobacco-related disease in the 20th century, and unless the global community acts decisively, one billion people will die in the 21st century. By 2030, 80 percent of deaths from tobacco will be in the poorest countries in Asia, Africa and South America.

In 2011, world leaders assembled for the first time at the United Nations to discuss the growing NCDs epidemic. The Political Declaration they issued concluded that the burden of NCDs “undermines social and economic development throughout the world”.

It noted that NCDs strike people in LMICs during their prime working years, and that close to half of all NCD deaths in these countries occur below the age of 70, and nearly 30 percent under age 60. As well, most NCDs deaths are preceded by long periods of ill health.

These illnesses, and early deaths of families’ main income earners, result in loss of productivity, which drags down economic growth and development.

Social determinants, such as education and income, influence people’s vulnerability to NCDs and exposure to risk factors. Individuals of lower education and economic status are increasingly exposed to NCDs risks and are disproportionately affected by them. For example, in countries such as Bangladesh, India and the Philippines, tobacco use is highest among the least educated and poorest segments of the populations.

At the same time, having an NCD may also contribute to social inequalities. The financial burden associated with these diseases increases the risk that families will be unable to send children to school and, under-educated, the risk grows that those children will live in poverty for the rest of their lives.

What can be done? There are four modifiable risk factors for the main NCDs: unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use. While work continues to adopt global tools to tackle the first three factors, there is consensus on how to fight the tobacco epidemic.

In 2003, the world’s governments adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, the first modern-day public health treaty. It contains a number of measures that Parties commit to implement, including: smoke-free public spaces, pictorial health warnings on packages, price and tax measures to increase the price of tobacco – which discourages consumption – and complete bans on tobacco advertising.

Today the FCTC has 178 Parties, representing nearly 90 percent of the world’s population. In the battle against NCDs, “There is no other ‘best buy’ for the money on offer”, said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan in 2011.

Recognising the potential of global tobacco control, the Political Declaration of the 2011 NCD Summit:

• Urged greater efforts from countries to implement the FCTC;
• Called on countries that are not Parties to the FCTC to accede to the Convention;
• Noted the importance of tobacco taxation as a strategy at the national level;
• Recognised the irreconcilable differences between the tobacco industry and public health policy.

Building on the Declaration, in May 2013 the World Health Assembly endorsed the Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs, 2013-2020. It includes a target for cutting tobacco use: a 30 percent relative reduction in smoking prevalence by the year 2025.

A stand-alone goal, Attain healthy lives for all, has been proposed for the SDGs. Its sub-goals include: “By 2030 reduce substantially morbidity and mortality from non-communicable diseases (NCDs) through prevention and treatment…” and “Strengthen implementation of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control in all countries who have ratified the Convention and urge countries that have not ratified it to ratify and implement it”.

Including NCDs and the FCTC in the development goals that will be announced by the UN General Assembly in 2015 will also ensure that battling the tobacco epidemic becomes a national priority, and prevent millions of premature deaths.

Laurent Huber is Director of the Framework Convention Alliance.

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Cambodian Migrant Workers Pay for Thai Documentation Scramble http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cambodian-migrant-workers-pay-for-thai-labour-scramble/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=cambodian-migrant-workers-pay-for-thai-labour-scramble http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/cambodian-migrant-workers-pay-for-thai-labour-scramble/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 13:00:28 +0000 Michelle Tolson http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135353 Mr. Kong, left, is among thousands of Cambodia workers eager to find higher paying jobs in neighboring Thailand. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

Mr. Kong, left, is among thousands of Cambodia workers eager to find higher paying jobs in neighboring Thailand. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Michelle Tolson
Poipet, Cambodia, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

Eight people, three women and five men, are crouched in the dirt in the center of a roundabout where the main road at Poipet –a major Cambodia border town– merges with the check point to Thailand. Dust swirls in the wind as they squint their eyes at the sun. Others playing the waiting game mill about on the road’s edges.

Last week a reported 220,000 Cambodian migrants hastily returned from Thailand in fear of a crackdown against undocumented workers, creating a migration crisis. The Cambodian government, United Nations and NGOs quickly mobilized to feed and transport them to their home towns.

This week Poipet is quiet, but a growing number or migrants have come back to the border since Thailand announced last Friday it opened a fast-track visa processing center at the border for undocumented workers. Their Thai construction employer, DC Company, is supposed to help them obtain official work permits for as little as 37 dollars.

I am here waiting for my employer to tell me he has the documents I need to cross,” Mr. Lin, a 36-year-old man from a village near Battambang, tells IPS.

“But I don’t know how much it is for a new document,” he adds.

Expensive documents

The Cambodian government, for its part, is trying to help the estimated quarter million repatriated undocumented migrant workers return to work and has introduced its own 4-dollar passport fee for students studying abroad and migrants, down from the previous 135 dollars charged.

Cambodia, as a least developed country (LCD), has one of the most expensive passports in the ASEAN region, contributing to the high rate of undocumented workers. Vietnamese passports cost just 12 dollars, while Laos and Thai ones go for 35 dollars and 30 dollars, respectively.

“Factories in Cambodia don’t pay you for two months sometimes. They smell bad, have fumes and are big and cold.” - Cambodian migrant worker Ms. Hun
Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) estimates that 50 to 55 percent of the 440,000 Cambodians that work in Thailand are undocumented.

In addition to passports, there are fees for foreign work permits.

“It costs 50 to 100 dollars to work in Thailand for two to four months, and 500 dollars for two years,” Mr. Kong, a young 19-year-old construction worker from Sisophon, tells IPS.

Like Lin and others interviewed for this story, Kong was only conformable providing part of his name, as policemen were closely watching the crowd and listening in on their statements.

According to Chaan Sokunthaea, Head of Women and Children Section and Alternative Dispute Resolution Sectionwith ADHOC, “the price for the work permit depends on the situation and the broker.” The Cambodian government is allowing brokers to help Cambodians get passports, enforcing a 49-dollar broker-fee limit, but the new scheme will take several weeks.

Speaking to IPS, Chaan said it was too early to comment on the process.

“Good money”

Kong was able to save money in Thailand as an undocumented worker because he didn’t owe a debt to a broker, he says. He made “good money” working in construction in Bangkok for a year, sending it home to his family by electronic wire.

“Because I was good at my job, sometimes I made 320 baht (about 10 dollars) a day,” he says. He managed to save 3,000 to 4,000 baht (92 to 120 dollars) a month.

All the families lingering by the border have tales of supporting elderly parents, aunts and uncles in the countryside, or they have children their grandparents are raising for them.

“There are no jobs in my village and we don’t have enough land to grow rice,” Mali, the 33-year-old wife of Lin, tells IPS.  The couple recounts leaving their 13-year-old daughter back home with their parents, where their foreign income puts her through school – a parent’s sacrifice to allow her to have a better life.

Like her husband, Mali works in construction. Mali earns 250 baht (approximately 7.70 dollars) a day. It’s 50 baht less than the men make, but she thinks this is “fair” because she is not as strong as they are. Still, she prefers it to working in garment factories in Cambodia.

“Factories in Cambodia don’t pay you for two months sometimes,” Ms. Hun, who works with Mali, tells IPS . “They smell bad, have fumes and are big and cold.”

With an average salary of just 100 dollars a month, making ends meet with factory work is near impossible for many.

As a result, “Most workers we talked to complained they have debt in [Cambodia]”, Tola Moeun, Head of Labor at Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), tells IPS. “They need the Cambodian government to set up a minimum wage to allow them enough to live on.”

They avoid garment factory work in Thailand “because they check documents,” a tour guide going by “Jim”, who is translating for the women, says.

Other migrants work as farmers or fisher folk, another industry known for undocumented workers.

Mr. Gumroun, 41, is sitting on a bench with his family waiting for work papers from his Thai boss. They had worked together on a Thai farm harvesting sugar cane, mangos and corn. His 16-year-old son sits next to him and his older daughter sits nearby.

“I don’t want to leave my son at home because he has no mother. We have no family in our village so it is safer working with me,” Gumroun tells IPS. He earns 300 baht (about 9.20 dollars) a day, while his children earn 200 baht (about 6.16 dollars). In Cambodia, in comparison, they might only bring home 3 dollars a day.

Rumours

ADHOC’s Chaan says workers fled Thailand because of a rumour they would be killed if found without documents. “According to our research, brokers told workers this to get money from them for documents.”

A quarter million workers needing papers represents a lot of cash.

Workers who fled back to Cambodia said they were cheated by taxi drivers and police to pay bribes, according to CLEC.

Several died in traffic accidents from the panic. Military fired guns at workers’ vans and trucks, further increasing the hysteria, ADHOC reported.

The Thai government claims it was merely addressing the sudden downgrade by the U.S. Department of State’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report to tier three, which resulted from reports that migrant workers were enslaved on Thai fishing boats.

While various migrants told IPS they are “very afraid” of the new Thai junta, the realization that they can’t survive in Cambodia continues to drive them across the border.

And so, as the Cambodian government scrambles to meet the needs of returnees by starting the untried 4-dollar passport system, migrants are trickling back to the border.

They put their faith in their bosses to help them navigate the new Thai document system they think will be faster.

“Our bosses are good to us,” 29-year-old Mr. Ta from Battambang tells IPS. “They like Cambodians more than Thai workers because we work all day – 12 hours, only stopping to eat lunch.”

 

 

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Shoemaking Saves Zimbabwe’s Jobless Youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shoemaking-saves-zimbabwes-jobless-youth/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=shoemaking-saves-zimbabwes-jobless-youth http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/07/shoemaking-saves-zimbabwes-jobless-youth/#comments Thu, 03 Jul 2014 12:00:55 +0000 Jeffrey Moyo http://www.ipsnews.net/?p=135356 Makers of handmade shoes sit on the pavement in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. There are almost 200,000 youth involved in unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe businesses across the country. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

Makers of handmade shoes sit on the pavement in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. There are almost 200,000 youth involved in unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe businesses across the country. Credit: Jeffrey Moyo/IPS

By Jeffrey Moyo
HARARE, Jul 3 2014 (IPS)

For many young Zimbabweans like 19-year-old Shelton Mbariro, running an unlicensed, backyard handmade shoe business has become a way to escape unemployment in this southern African nation.

“We craft the shoes using raw hides that we get from abattoirs and cattle farms in and outside Harare, making strong and long-lasting shoes,” Mbariro tells IPS.

According to statistics from the Harare United Cobblers Association, an organisation of young shoemakers, Mbariro is one of 196,423 young people aged between 19 and 24 who have set up shop on street corners across towns and cities in Zimbabwe, offering a range of handmade shoes.

There are no clear figures about the total number of youth in the informal sector. However, in 2012 the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency said 3.7 million of the country’s 13.7 million Zimbabweans worked in the informal sector.

Handmade shoes for either men or women can cost anything from 25 to 40 dollars, with sandals costing about 10 dollars. According to shoemakers interviewed in Harare, these prices fluctuate, often falling during the day. However, the prices are linked to demand and increase during peak hours and at month end.

Despite the increased availability of cheap, Chinese-made shoes, these handmade shoes are popular because of their long lifespan, attractive designs and negotiable prices. They could also be popular because soon after Zimbabwe’s July 2013 elections, the country’s sole shoe manufacturing company, Bata, scaled down operations citing the country’s poor economic performance.

But Mbariro and even 21-year-old Shadrack Bvumb, another shoemaker from Harare, attract large numbers of customers.

“When business is good, mostly during month end, I pocket at least 100 dollars from my daily sales,” Mbariro says.

Making shoes by hand has become the way of life for youth here in a country where the economy continues to shrink amid perpetual closures of industries.

  • The National Social Security Authority’s Harare Regional Employer Closures and Registrations Report for July 2011 to July 2013 shows 711 companies shut down in Harare during that period, leaving 8,336 people jobless.
  • In 2013, over 2,300 workers lost their jobs after 165 companies embarked on staff rationalisation programmes, according to statistics from the country’s Ministry of Public Service Labour and Social Welfare.

“This is the way we now survive as you see us here selling these handmade shoes. We make them on our own and come here to sell them because it’s a waste of time to keep searching for unavailable jobs,” Bvumbi, who comes from Mabvuku, a high-density suburb in the Zimbabwean capital, tells IPS.

But local authorities say they hardly benefit from these young people, whom they accuse of evading tax and flouting council bylaws.

“As council, we get nothing from these shoemakers because they operate at undesignated points often evading council cops,” Harare City Council spokesperson Lesley Gwindi tells IPS.

Most street venders here have, at some time or another, engaged in running battles with council cops for selling their handmade shoes without licences.

It costs about 20 dollars to apply for a vendor’s licence in the city. If approved, the licence costs 120 dollars and is valid for a year.

But the young entrepreneurs say they cannot pay local authorities and get nothing in return.

“We make money on the streets where there are no designated points for us to do business. Council authorities here have no facilities for us,” Mbariro says.

Edmund Chiutsi, who heads the Harare United Cobblers Association, tells IPS: “There are no proper points for us in towns here to sell the shoes we make; there are no shelters and what should we pay councils for?” Instead, the association lobbies local and government authorities to recognise informal shoemakers’ strides in stimulating the economy and to allow them to safely operate in cities and towns.

Economists say young people are finding a way to survive the current economic crisis.

“Increasing retrenchments in workplaces and the increase of jobless young people fuels the rise of local innovators as people strive to fight against the tide of economic challenges here,” economist Daniel Mbewe tells IPS.

“Unemployed youth have shifted focus to the informal sector, often learning completely new skills in order to survive under harsh economic conditions,” adds Mbewe.

In 2011, the Ministry of Youth, Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment created the 11-million-dollar Youth Fund to assist young people start self-help projects.

But only two percent of young footwear makers benefitted from this, according to the Harare United Cobblers Association. And those who benefitted allegedly had links to ruling party politicians.

“We rather prefer to fight on our own and keep going,” Bvumbi says.

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