Recent Resources for Feminists
Kamla Bhasin: Patriarchy is an Institution to be Outlawed Print E-mail
Sunday, 02 February 2014

Patriarchy is an Institution to be Outlawed

Please also read: What is Patriarchy and Why is it the Most Powerful Force in the World Today? by Mary L. Wentworth

By By Kamla Bhasin

In early December 2013 I received a call from Swaraj, a Karnataka wide network of women’s groups, fighting against violence and all forms of discrimination against women, to invite me for a function to felicitate six rural women who have challenged the oppression of widows in their families and villages. They asked me to speak on Patriarchy as a Superstition. I was amused by this formulation and asked them why this topic. They said the government of Karnataka was planning to bring a new law against superstition and they want patriarchy to be declared a superstition and outlawed. I smiled whole heartedly and said, WOW. What a great idea!! Once again I marveled at the wisdom of working class rural women. I wondered why in spite of such wisdom of rural working class women, so many media people think feminism is an urban phenomenon.

As I started thinking on this topic, I was convinced that patriarchy is indeed just a superstition with no basis in reality or in the law s of Nature. Actually, so many other man made systems like caste, racism etc. are nothing but superstition. The word for superstition in Hindi is Andh Vishwas., blind belief. Superstition is something which has no basis. It is illogical. It has no basis in natural law. Yet superstitions can be as powerful as patriarchy or caste system in spite of the destructive nature of these blind beliefs. One can once again see that if we repeat lies all the time they become the truth. Mother Nature gave women the special responsibility and power of carrying new life and caring for it by breastfeeding. Because of this I suppose, Nature made women biologically superior. For millions of years women and men lived together as equals. Because of their special power, women and Nature were worshipped all over the world. Then suddenly, a few thousand years ago when humans developed private property and weapons to control Nature, animals and other human beings, man created systems of class, caste and patriarchy. From equality human beings moved in to all kinds of inequalities and hierarchies mainly because of the development of private property.

Let us look at patriarchy more closely. Post patriarchal religions created all kinds of superstitious beliefs like Eve was created from Adams rib, Brahmins were created from the head of Brahma etc. Natural laws were put on their head. Men, who are unable to create from their bodies, were declared to be the Creators, the heads of households, the inheritors of private property and family names. Hinduism said only sons can do the last rites. Jainism said only men can achieve Nirvana. One lie after another repeated for centuries. Because they were lies, they had to be repeated everyday through rituals like karwa chauth, mundan for boys, kanya daan, father giving away the bride amongst Christians, four marriages and more property for men in Islam and I can go on and on.

As to the power of these rituals, even I did not wash my hair on a Thursday until I was 24. In our Punjabi community Thursday is called Veervaar, or brother’s day. We were told if sisters washed their head on this day, something bad will happen to their brother/s. Since I loved my brothers I followed this superstition until Feminism dawned on me. Of course there was never a day on which my brothers did not wash their hair for their love for me.

I think the time has come for us and our leaders to think and decide if we believe in our Constitution or in the superstition of Patriarchy or Caste. We cannot believe in both. Therefore, it is indeed time to remove these superstitions from our personal belief systems, from our families and communities and then declare them illegal. If we accept and respect the Indian Constitution, then words like Pati, Swami, Jajmana. Mijazi Khuda (all words for husband in different Indian languages), even the word husband which means controller, manager, domesticator (remember animal husbandry?)should be illegal and abandoned. Practices like Kanyadaan should be illegal and abandoned. Unless we do these things in our personal lives the Constitution cannot be implemented. This is why we feminists say the Personal is the Political.


Australia: Men’s street violence distracts from their domestic violence against women & children Print E-mail
 Melbourne ~ Sunday January 26, 2014

Hidden violence, silent killer: rage on the streets is only part of the story

By Bianca Hall/Political Correspondent
Read also "Legislation enacted to halt slaying of men on the streets, but for Domestic Violence-related murder of children & women compassion for the killer is the call"
It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of women physically assaulted by a partner do not report it to police.

Spare a thought for the ladies, the seemingly invisible 51 per cent of our population. Not for us a front-page campaign, nightly TV news updates and thundering editorials demanding action on the ''scourge'' of drunken violence.

The way the media and politicians have been carrying on lately, you would think the only people getting the living daylights belted out of them at the moment are young men in Sydney's Kings Cross. But women and children are still more likely to be belted in their own home than a man is to be struck by a stranger on the street. And while street violence rates are falling, domestic violence is holding firm. In Victoria, police were called to 60,829 family violence incidents in 2012-13, laying charges in 25,574 of the cases. In New South Wales, police recorded 27,808 domestic assaults in the 12 months to September.

It is estimated that more than 60 per cent of women physically assaulted by a partner do not report it to police. And this hidden violence can become a silent killer.

In Victoria alone, there were 45 homicides in family settings in 2012-13. That compares with one-punch assaults, which have dominated headlines for three weeks, and have claimed 91 lives across the country since 2000.

And in case anyone thought women were not falling victim to drunken violence, the Australian Institute of Criminology tells us that almost half (44 per cent) of all ''intimate partner homicides'' involve alcohol. That rises to a whopping 87 per cent of intimate partner homicides involving indigenous people.

But while women have been forgotten in the sometimes hysterical debate about drunken violence, women will be the accidental winners in NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell's tough new ''one punch'' laws.

In news that has largely gone unnoticed, the new drunken violence laws Mr O'Farrell plans to introduce this week will apply statewide, both inside the home and on the street. That means anyone affected by alcohol or drugs who is found guilty of a ''one punch'' assault on someone who dies will face a minimum mandatory sentence of eight years, and a maximum of 25 years. Those found guilty of alcohol or drug-fuelled assaults, affray, or sexual assault will attract minimum mandatory sentences of between two and five years. ''Our priority is on alcohol and drug-fuelled violence full stop,'' Mr O'Farrell told the ABC's Leigh Sales. ''And I'm not going to make any apologies for being tough about that.''

Mr O'Farrell is to be commended for including all assaults in his laws, but it's hard to see the inclusion of domestic violence in his crackdown as being anything but an afterthought.

A La Trobe University PhD candidate, Ingrid Wilson, who is researching the impact of alcohol on aggression in relationships, says domestic violence has never captured the public imagination the way random street attacks have, and the same is true for public drinking. ''Most of the alcohol policy attention has focused on drinking in public places, but we've yet to shine a spotlight on drinking and violence within private premises,'' she says.

The differences do not end there.

While the street violence debate has focused on the drinking habits of men who bash strangers, domestic violence workers have traditionally been reluctant to draw a causal link between offenders' substance abuse and their violence.

Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearing House researcher Dr Rochelle Braaf summed up the thinking in a July 2012 research paper.

''Those working in the domestic violence sector have largely rejected a view of alcohol consumption as a cause of abusive behaviour towards a partner,'' she wrote.

''Viewing alcohol as a cause of violence implies that perpetrators are not to blame for their abuse.''

While it's driven by a feminist desire to make men take responsibility for their actions, drunk or not, Ms Wilson says this thinking misses the point that there are clear links between alcohol use and domestic violence.

''Alcohol consumption by a male partner, while it doesn't cause violence, it increases the risk for women that they will be more severely harmed or even killed, in domestic violence situations,'' she says.

Just as drunken violence is not just a street violence issue, it's not just a Sydney issue and it's not just a law-and-order issue.

The Australian Medical Association and others have backed the federal Greens' push for a wide-ranging inquiry into Australia's alcohol problem, including the cost, labelling and marketing of grog.

The move has - so far, at least - been resisted by Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Instead, the government will limit its own bipartisan inquiry to the effects of alcohol on indigenous Australians. But as Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion pointed out recently, the effects of alcohol on violence cannot be fenced off by racial grounds. ''This is about a challenge that faces all Australians,'' he said.

By treating it as a street violence problem, or a Sydney problem, or an indigenous-only problem, we miss a valuable opportunity to make the hidden victims of drunken violence visible again.

Bianca Hall is The Sunday Age's political correspondent.
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 Melbourne ~ Thursday January 23, 2014

The secret of street violence

Blunt Instrument: By John Birmingham who tells stories. Most of them true

Men - some men - are often the driving force behind violence on city streets. (Justin McManus)

There is only one certain way to put an end to street violence - remove all men from the streets.

That’s it. All of the posturing over lock-ins and lockouts and alcohol free zones and putting more cops on the beat and legislating mandatory sentences for one-punch killings, all them step lightly around the real problem.

Not drunken men, for many of us can take drink after drink with no ill effects or anti-social repercussions beyond naps and telling the same story, poorly, over and over again.

Street violence leaves marks... visible and otherwise. (Steve Christo)

Not men who lift weights, or train in mixed martial arts or boxing clubs, for many of us can do that without ever feeling our fists bunching up as we walk down the street.

Not men who play football, or men who play video games more violent than the hardest football code, not men who ride motorbikes or men who watch soccer.

Just men.

Or rather, just some men.

Because some men are fools, who feel the greatest power they have lies in their clenched fists.

Some are cowards enough that they will never face other men to act out the truth they feel in their own sinews. Their blows will land on the soft faces of the women and children in their lives. Others imagine themselves heroic figures and cannot wait to seek out other, lesser men into whose faces they will beat the truth of it. But it’s a subjective truth, of course, known only to them and the like-minded around them. They are not heroes, they’re cowards too.

Their fearfulness is two-fold, of the world, and of being exposed before the world as less than they would have us believe of them. Hence the grotesque, misshapen sadists, huge with steroid boosted muscle mass and hours upon hours upon hours spent grinding out the heavy lifts launching stealth attacks on men who are fractions of their size and possessed of none of their rage with the world, and with themselves for not being able to put a bigger dent in it.

This is where street violence is born. In toxic masculinity.

Sure, alcohol, some drugs, culture, they can all make it worse. (Although alcohol-related violence has been declining since 2008 in crime statistics in NSW, the source of so much of our angst). And while some cultures or subcultures may appear in their language and actions to be more prone to violence, what of headlines and politicians calling for the state to 'get tough', 'crack down', to 'smash' and to 'crush' the threat out on 'our streets'? Why is this rhetoric any less culpable in establishing violent force as appropriate than, say, a video game?

In the end, however, men are the cause of male violence, and more often than not its victims.

At times like this I’m put in mind of a passage from Simone de Beauvoir, the French philosopher and novelist, whose writing helped eternize the Resistance, on the fringes of which she acted during the Nazi Occupation. After the terrible and violent debauchery of the war she wrote that although, brute force played no great part in the adult world in normal times, it nevertheless “haunts that world; many kinds of masculine behaviour spring from a root of possible violence; … for a man to feel in his fists his will to self-affirmation is enough to reassure him of his sovereignty against any insult…”

There is the most tawdry of the secrets of male street violence. It’s not eight beers, or rum and cokes, it is self affirmation. The frantic blows of a pitiable creature lashing out at a world it thinks owes it more.

More respect.

More tribute.

More wealth.

More sex.

More fear.

It is not an impossible problem for civilisation. Millions of men have grown beyond this. But many, many of us haven’t.


DRC: Gynaecologist Denis Mukwege explains the dynamics & destruction due to sexual violence Print E-mail
 8 January 2014

Mukwege: "It is Our Women Who Carry Africa on their Shoulders"

Nobel Peace Prize nominee and gynaecologist Denis Mukwege explains the dynamics and destruction caused by sexual violence in the eastern DRC:

Watch video via

Scroll down to also read, forthcoming in Green Left Weekly, "Congo: Sexual Terror, Drones and the Coltan Bonanza"

"The rape capital of the world." This controversial title was given to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) by Margot Wallström, UN special representative on sexual violence in conflict, in 2010. It is difficult to gather accurate data on rape, especially in a country that has endured such debilitating conflict, but Wallström's comment is not unfounded; a 2011 study estimated that 48 women were raped every hour, and that's not including marital rape or sexual violence against men and children.

In response to this growing humanitarian crisis, Dr Denis Mukwege founded the Panzi hospital in Bukavu in 1999. Trained as a gynaecologist, Mukwege and his team of doctors treat around 10 women a day, often pioneering life-saving surgeries as well as offering psychological therapy. His work has earned him a Nobel Peace Prize nomination and countless other international awards, though it has also attracted unwanted attention. Last year, an attempt on his life was made after he criticised the culture of impunity that surrounds mass rapes in the DRC.

Before this assassination attempt, Mukwege spoke to Congo Connect about sexual violence in the Congo. He described not just the psychological and social effects it has on survivors, but also the economic impact of sexual violence, and his fears for the generation of children born through rape. Dr Mukwege emphasises what the statistics hide; that this is a complex human tragedy and that it is not a problem inherent to the DRC, but rather a result of lawlessness and economic insecurity, conditions that exist around the world.

Interviewed and filmed by Millie Harvey. Editing and above text by Jenni Smout. Translation by Gerri McHugh.

This video is property of Congo Connect and cannot be used without permission.
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Congo: Sexual Terror, Drones and the Coltan Bonanza

By Lynette J. Dumble and Jocelynne A. Scutt

Since 1996, the prevailing war in the Democratic Republic 0f Congo (DRC or Congo) has led to the death of six million, the vast majority civilians. As Dr Carrie Giunta, an academic currently based in London, has recently pointed out, the ongoing annihilation of humanity in the DRC exceeds by millions the number of deaths engineered over the same timeframe through war and conflict in Darfur, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Rwanda. Not since World War II has a declaration of war brought about a death toll which exceeds that already reached in the Congo.

World eyes are regularly opened to the rape and sexual torture which predominate in the Congo’s killing fields. Occurring on a daily basis, militia strategically turn the bodies of females of all ages, from infants to the elderly, into battle grounds; penetrating and mutilating their victim’s genitals to impart maximum physical and psychological damage to their victims, and also to their families and communities. Kidnapping too, while targeting boys and young men as military recruits, also targets girls and women for sex slave purposes, often retaining them for months and in some instances for several years.

Back in 2010, Alex Duval Smith interviewed a Dr Dennis Mukwege, observing that this skilled and committed gynaecologist kept hopes alive; drawing his strength from the indomitable spirit of the most weakened of victims girls and women raped in a calculated act of war, arriving on his hospital doorstep , broken, waiting for death, and hiding their faces. Often, they are unable to talk, walk or eat, following sexual assaults which are beyond the bounds of the describable. By that time, from his single-storied medical centre, Dr Mukwege, together with a dedicated team, had surgically repaired the mutilated bodies of more than 20,000 of the thousands upon tens of thousands of girls and women who had been war-raped in the Great Lakes region of the Congo. Insightfully, during that interview Dr Mukwege suggested that “coltan ore politics” were behind the international apathy towards what can only be described as an unimaginable campaign of sexual terror inflicted on Congolese women and girls. In response, Alex Duval Smith concluded that the DRC’s 14-year-war was “in effect, a continuation of the genocide that took place in neighbouring Rwanda [but in the Congo] had become a gynocide in which rape was used to tear the bonds of the community apart and facilitate access to mineral wealth”.

In a world basking in the perceived wealth of globalisation, human rights abuses, the majority relating to unfair wages and unsafe working conditions for workers in developing countries, are less than rare. But with multinational corporations from the United States, France, and the United Kingdom accused of cashing in on the Congo’s mineral wealth, the coinciding rape, ravaging and destruction of women’s bodies, women’s psyche, and women’s lives, sinks the human rights abuses of globalization to an all time low.

In September of 2011, Dr. Carol Mann in her FemAid Report "From Kabul to Kisangani” also raised the likelihood that the DRC’s mineral economy was fuelling the violence against the country’s women - in her words “the blood-gold, blood copper, and blood coltan (the all-precious material that goes into our mobile phones and computers)”. In this context, it is reasonable to conclude that a global majority is today reaping the benefits of what Mann describes as “blood-High Tech“.

Precisely one year later, in September of 2012, Dr Mann and co-author Alphonse Maindo described the shortcomings of the Dodd-Frank Act: Known in the DRC as “Loi Obama“, the regulation aimed to ensure that public companies trading in these commodities guaranteed that their business did not benefit warlords in the region. While the US Act was designed to prohibit the marketing of minerals linked to the country’s hostilities, reports from 2013 suggest that it is “business as usual” when it comes to both the sexual terror inflicted on Congolese females, and the demand for the DRC’s minerals.

On the subject of sexual terror, UNHCR spokesperson Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba reported in July of 2013 that 619 cases of rape in the Congo’s eastern province of North Kivu were registered with protection monitoring teams since January a four-fold increase on the 108 cases registered during the same period of 2012. Simultaneously, “the recorded cases of sexual violence in North Kivu soared from 4,689 cases in 2011 to 7,075 in 2012. Many more cases remain unreported.” According to Lejeune-Kaba, there are serious concerns “that the fighting between the ADF, a Ugandan rebel group, and the army as well as renewed fighting between the army and the M23 rebels near the North Kivu capital, Goma, over the past two weeks will increase the danger for women in the region, including those living in camps”.

Dr. Carrie Giunta recently reiterated that the DRC’s violence and brutality was “proportionate to the demand for the eastern regions of the country’s rich mineral deposits ... and it is less a matter of who is funding and supporting one army or another. The question is, rather, what is creating a heightened demand for conflict minerals?”.

Alarmingly, in answer to that question, high-grade metal tantalum, extracted from the precious mineral coltan, in addition to enabling the manufacture of smaller and increasingly sophisticated electronic devices, is also essential to maintain the military’s escalating romance with drones, with the new demand boosting coltan mining, trading and smuggling. As Dr Giunta put it “It is doubtful if defence companies will be seeking out [Loi Obama compliant], conflict-free mineral sources any time soon”. Anyhow, as she adds” A conflict-free weapon is an oxymoron”.

Extended use of drones in the past decade translates to a US dependency on coltan-derived high-grade metal tantalum to build the basic circuitry of its surveillance arsenal. The US drone industry is far from alone: France and the UK‘s "stealth" drone called Telemos is anticipated to be operational by 2018. Three arms companies - France's Dassualt, France-Germany’s Eads and Italy's Finmeccanica - agreed in June of 2013 to launch a European drone programme., while in Brussels in November of 2013, seven European nations - France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Spain - formed what France calls a "club" to produce military drones from 2020 onward.

An estimated 525 tons of the DRC’s coltan are annually exported to the US, the price skyrocketing from $65 to $600 before settling to the current cost of $100 per kilogram. According to the US-based consultancy, the Teal Group, the global drone market is worth $6.8 billion a year , and is forecast to almost double to $12.2 billion by 2018. At this rate, if not already, the weapons industry will put coltan consumption for personal electronic purpose in the shade. Equally, the heightening interest of the global arms competitors adds credence to suggestions that the largely femicidal war in the Congo, home to somewhere between 70 and 80 per cent of the world’s coltan reserves, is tied to the West’s huge appetite for strategic minerals essential to the electronics and military industries.

There is a troubling connection between two contemporaneous wars - the twelve-year war on terror and the sixteen-year war in the Congo. Joining the two is the demand for Congolese minerals, with the link to weapons manufacturing giving new meaning to the term “blood coltan” - the bottom line being that geo-politics have wreaked sexual terror on women in the region, as the West basks in the mineral bounty.
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Dr Lynette Dumble is the founder and director of The Global Sisterhood Network, and Dr Jocelynne Scutt a barrister and human rights lawyer.
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Afghanistan: Plagued by opium addiction & hunger, women driven to rent children out to beggars Print E-mail

 
 January 4, 2014

In Kabul, children are 'rented' out to beggars

By Kreshma Fakhri 

Scroll down to also read "Now, curse of hunger and malnutrition stalks Afghans"



KABUL (Pajhwok/IMC): Begging on the street has spawned a vicious practice: beggar mafia are renting children in Kabul, and drugging them with opium to ply their trade.

Afghan cities also see Pakistani beggars in the summer, reveals an investigation by the Independent Media Consortium (IMC) Productions.*

The government outlawed street-begging in November 2008 and set up a commission - made up of different government bodies and the Afghan Red Crescent Society (ARCS) - to end street-begging in the capital but it has not helped.

Instead the numbers seem to have grown in the last few years, and many of the beggars are women and children.

Freda, who must be in her forties. lives in Guzar Qazzi in the 1st District, and has been begging for 12 years. She says she earns roughly 300 Afs daily (1 USD is 56 Afs). Her drug addict husband does not work.

An opium addict she has turned her eight children, the eldest an 18-year-old daughter, into addicts. "I take one or two of the younger children with me every day. The rest stay home with my eldest daughter. Before we leave the house I feed them half a bean of opium. They sleep quietly on the street. When I want to wake them up, I pour water on their faces, and make them drink water. Sometimes they vomit!" she is matter-of-fact. When the children do not get their daily fix, they cry, and complain of body ache, the mother adds.

Freba is part of a 15-member gang of beggar women who drug their children with opium.

The Afghanistan Human Rights Independent Commission (AHRIC) estimates there are 60,000 child addicts in the country. Opium is the most common drug.

Zainab in her fifties is a self-confessed addict and beggar for the last nine years since her return from Pakistan. She says she has seven children between 5 and 28 years, and the three youngest are addicted to opium. She tells IMC that she gives them "on rent" to beggar gangs. "I give them opium," she explains. "The youngest stays with me, while the other two are given to women who give me half their earnings in return," she adds. It is for the children that people give arms, Zainab thinks. "Otherwise no one will help us," she says despairingly.

Nearly half of Afghanistan's estimated 27 million people live on less than 1 USD a day, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has calculated.

Karima, a mother of seven, is both a street food seller and beggar. What of her husband? He's addicted to narcotics and jobless, she says. "I cook Bulani and sell it in the bazaar. Later in the day I take along two or three of my children, and seek alms near Ashiqan and Arefan shrine, or next to Pol e Kheshti mosque," she says. She admits to giving her children opium, and giving two of them to two other women in her group of beggars who don't have children. "We are 12 women in this area. I take one child and two other women take my 8-year-old daughter and one and a one-and-a-half-year-old son. In the evening, when we are going home, we divide whatever food and money that we have got."

Karima says she earns at least 400 Afs (7 USD) on her own. "I get some money from renting my children," she adds.

General Mohammad Zahir, the security commander of Kabul, confirms children are drugged on opium by beggars. He insists his department is rounding up beggars "every night" - an act he believes is humane because "when they (beggars) see the opportunity and safety (in poor homes) they are happy". He did not give more details.

Mohammad Bilal Siddiqi, deputy head of advocacy for child rights at the AIHRC, says interviews with children of beggars who were rounded up reveal "they (children) are being coerced to beg".

"There are many instances of beggar children being bought and sold, and incomes earned through them," he says. "There are some professional people who use the children as economic tools," he adds.

Najibullah Babrakzai, a coordinator for child rights at AIHRC, says: "That children sleep from 8 am to 4 pm is evidence they are being given narcotics. It is really a crime." The Commission has raised the issue with the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in meetings on beggar children, but "they have paid little attention", he says.

Influx of foreigner
Only some beggars are locals. "Some are needy locals, begging out of compulsion," says Babrakzai. Another category is of "seasonal beggars", he points out. Those who travel to cooler climes in the summer months, and vice-versa in the winter months. IMC interviewed a third group: Pakistanis who come to Kabul, and other Afghan cities, in the summer to beg.

Sakina who speaks Dari with great difficulty says she is from Baluchistan in Pakistan. Financial problems drove her to Kabul to beg on the streets, she says. IMC met her in Kota Sangi. "Our income is good," she says with self-assurance. "In the winter we go back to Baluchistan."

Farooq has come from Sindh in Pakistan. His one leg and hand are disabled. "I don't have food at home that is why I come here to beg," he told IMC.

Kabul residents are suspicious of these "foreign" beggars.

Shopkeeper Mohammad Daud in Mariam Bazaar, Khairkhana, says he's seen them descend on the market in vehicles. At night they gather again around Khesht Hokhtif area, and are taken back by vehicles. "I believe the police collect bribes from them as well, or they should be rounded up as ordered by the anti-begging Commission."

A police commander in Deh Afghanan who didn't want his name revealed says he has "removed them many times but they come again". He calls foreigners begging on Kabul streets "commercial beggars". "Their number is not known; you can see them everywhere in the city," he adds.

Khuja Mir who is disabled and forced to beg for survival in the Lesa Maryam (Maryam High School) area, confides "Pakistani beggars are paid a salary in their country". "One of them told me he earns 15,000 Pakistani rupees (140 USD). Whatever they earn here is given to the company that brings them here," he says.

Hawker Sayed Mohammad in Mekroryan Market says he sees more Pakistani beggars in summer time. "Begging is a business for all of them. Our government doesn't do anything about it," he laments.

Waheed who sells vegetables in Mekroryan claims he saw a bus from "Bi Bi Mahro area drop beggars. At 8 pm some 40 beggars gather in the Qala Jangi area. The bus comes again, and takes them back."

An activist, Mohammad Anwar Maidanwal, thinks people's concerns should be addressed, and the government should find out "who the real beggars are, and who works for whom?" He thinks those who are employed by mafia should be handed over to the police. "The prestige and honour of Afghans is at stake," he feels.

Passing the buck
Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Wasel Noor Mohmand refused to comment until he had confirmed documentary evidence of beggar gangs, and children being drugged for begging.

IMC investigations show a beggar earns a little more than a daily wage worker in Kabul, which is 300 to 350 Afs (5 to 6 USD). Many beggars are disabled, including those from Pakistan. The Pakistani embassy turned down requests to be interviewed.

The National Security Department in an email reply to IMC, writes: "The Pakistani beggars, it is obvious from their physical status, are not coming by themselves rather they are taken to Afghanistan by groups and abused. The National Security Department doesn't have documents that the Pakistani beggars might be intelligence agents for others but there is a possibility that the disabled beggars would be tools of some organisations."

General Zahir, security commander in Kabul, however, thinks foreigners begging on the streets of Kabul have come in legally to earn money. "Kabul police always round them up, and send them to their country. Unfortunately our consulates, since they are from countries with good relations, give them visas, and they come and beg here," he says without naming any country.

General Zahir could not show documents to prove the involvement of beggars in spying, but he confirmed they were organised. "There are special houses for these beggars that are provided secretly," he says. "They stay indoors at night and come on the roads in the day time. They give money to those who bring them here, which is a big crime. Some have been arrested, and deported. The arrests will continue."

Mohammad Zaher Koshan, in-charge of poor houses in Kabul, insists, "Only one out of 10 beggars rounded up by police are really poor."

The Afghan Red Crescent Society, which was part of the anti-begging commission established in 2009, has been hamstrung by a funds crunch. AIHRC's Siddiqi acknowledged money was the problem for the slowdown in attempts to end street begging.

Deputy Minister Mohmand told IMC the draft of a new law prepared by the Red Cross, Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs and others has been sent to the office of the second vice president. "Most beggars who were arrested restarted begging, and the lack of a law was what created a problem," says Koshan, in-charge of Kabul's poor houses.

National Assembly representatives blame corruption for the problem of begging. "If those responsible round up beggars from the street, take action against those who abuse their children, I don't think they would repeat the crime," says Shukria Paikan, Member of Parliament (MP) from Kunduz.

(*) Independent Media Consortium is a joint initiative of Pajhwok Afghan News, The Killid Group (radio and print media), Saba Media Organisation (Saba TV-Radio Nawa networks) and Hasht-e-Subh. This is the 11th of a series of investigative reports on corruption and human rights cases.
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 Tuesday January 7, 2014

Now, curse of hunger and malnutrition stalks Afghans

By Rod Norland (International New York Times )

Hospitals have been registering significant increases in cases of severe malnutrition among children

In the Bost Hospital at Lashkar Gah, Afghanistan, a teenage mother named Bibi Sherina sits on a bed in the severe acute malnutrition ward with her two children. Ahmed, at just 3 months old, looks bigger than his emaciated brother Mohammad, who is a year and a half and weighs 10 pounds.

In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying. Half of the other children in the ward are crying as well, a cacophony that rarely pauses.

Afghan hospitals like Bost, in the capital of war-torn Helmand Province, have been registering significant increases in severe malnutrition among children. Countrywide, such cases have increased by 50 percent or more compared with 2012, according to United Nations figures. Doctors report similar situations in Kandahar, Farah, Kunar, Paktia and Paktika Provinces ­ all places where warfare has disrupted people’s lives and pushed many vulnerable poor over the nutritional edge.
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Even the capital has seen an increase. “In 2001, it was even worse, but this is the worst I’ve seen since then,” said Dr. Saifullah Abasin, head of the malnutrition ward at Indira Gandhi Children’s Hospital in Kabul. Reasons for the increase remain uncertain, or in dispute. Most doctors and aid workers agree that continuing war and refugee displacement are contributing. What is clear is that, despite years of Western involvement and billions of dollars in humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, children’s health is not only still a problem, but also worsening, and the doctors bearing the brunt of the crisis are worried.

Nearly every potential lifeline is strained or broken here. Efforts to educate people about nutrition and health care are often stymied by conservative traditions that cloister women away from anyone outside the family. Agriculture and traditional local sources of social support have been disrupted by war and the widespread flight of refugees to the cities. And therapeutic feeding programs, complex operations even in countries with strong health care systems, have been compromised as the flow of aid and transportation have been derailed by political tensions or violence.

Perhaps nowhere is the situation so obviously serious as in the malnutrition ward at Bost Hospital, which is admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition ­ four times more than it did in January 2012, according to officials with Doctors Without Borders, known in French as Médecins Sans Frontières, which supports the Afghan-run hospital with financing and supplementary staff.

One patient, a 2-year-old named Ahmed Wali, is suffering from the protein deficiency condition kwashiorkor, with orange hair, a distended belly and swollen feet. An 8-month-old boy named Samiullah is suffering from marasmus, another form of advanced malnutrition in which the child’s face looks like that of a wrinkled old man because the skin hangs so loosely.

Médecins Sans Frontières helped Bost Hospital nearly double the number of beds in the pediatric wing at the end of last year, and there are still not enough ­ 40 to 50 children are usually being treated each day, mostly two to a bed because they are so small. Nearly 300 other children, less severely malnourished, are in an outpatient therapeutic feeding programme.

Now, MSF is planning to open five satellite clinics with intensive feeding programs in Lashkar Gah to take the pressure off the overcrowded hospital. Despite the increase in the malnutrition caseload, doctors and health officials are not sure there has actually been a sharp rise in child malnutrition that can be attributed to any single factor.

“It’s quite an unusual situation, and it’s difficult to understand what’s going on,” said Wiet Vandormael, an M.S.F. official who has helped coordinate with Bost Hospital.

In part, expansion of the hospital’s facilities has acted as a magnet, drawing more cases, Mr. Vandormael said. Unlike at other public hospitals in Afghanistan, patients and their caregivers do not have to pay for their own medicine and food at Bost. “Our treatment is better, so we get more patients as they hear about it,” said Dr Yar Mohammad Nizar Khan, head of pediatrics at Bost Hospital.

Nonetheless, the numbers are still worrisome. Dr Mohammad Dawood, a pediatrician at Bost Hospital, said there were seven or eight deaths a month there because of acute malnutrition from June through August, and five in September. Doctors around the country have reported similar rates.

Acute crisis

Officials at Unicef and the Afghan Ministry of Public Health have declined to characterize child malnutrition here as an emergency, however. As defined internationally, that would mean severe acute malnutrition in more than 10 per cent of children younger than 5; health officials in Afghanistan estimate the rate is more like 7 per cent.

In January 2012, for instance, Unicef and the Afghan government’s Central Statistics Organisation released a survey of more than 13,000 households showing that some provinces had reached or exceeded emergency levels, with more than 10 percent acute severe child malnutrition.

The survey caused an uproar, but Unicef and the Health Ministry repudiated it, saying it was based on faulty research. Unicef then financed a more thorough child nutrition survey, which was completed in November, but the government has yet to release the data, said Dr. Bashir Ahmed Hamid, head of nutrition for the Health Ministry. “Unfortunately, we faced some challenges with data analysis.”

Dr. Hamid said he expected the new data to show very high levels, probably more than 50 percent, of long-term or chronic malnutrition, which shows up as stunted growth in children. While acute malnutrition can be fatal, chronic malnutrition can cause multiple health and developmental problems.

Unlike malnutrition crises elsewhere in the world, this one has not been connected to specific food shortages or crop failures. In addition, parents are not showing up malnourished, even when their children are.

Doctors involved in treating the victims offer many explanations for what is happening. “There are mines in their fields, and they can’t get to their crops,” said Dr. Dawood in Helmand Province. “And they can’t get to help at local clinics, so they’re coming in very late stage in very critical condition.”

Poverty is another factor. In Afghanistan, the poverty line is defined as a total income sufficient to provide 2,100 calories a day to each family member. Some 36 percent of Afghans are below that threshold, according to the Health Ministry.

In 2013, Unicef raised its target for providing therapeutic foods to severe acutely malnourished Afghan children, to 52,144 from 35,181. Therapeutic foods are specially made for the severely malnourished, who have difficulty digesting normal food.

But Dr. Hossain of Unicef acknowledged that those programmes had experienced supply-chain problems, and Unicef is working with the Health Ministry to develop better monitoring and management systems. Shipments of therapeutic foods, mostly made by two companies in France and Norway, have been reduced because of differences between Nato and Pakistan, and sanctions on Iran, the two countries with ports closest to landlocked Afghanistan, he said.International New York Times

 

India: Kerala & Haryana's overdue crackdowns on anti-girl child violations of PCPNDT Act Print E-mail

 Monday January 6, 2014

Link between scanners and falling child sex ratio in Kerala?

By Shyama Rajagopal

The State Health authorities had a relook at the PNDT Act only in 2013 when a detailed analysis of the 2011 census highlighted the decline in the child sex ratio. (The Hindu File Photo)

Kochi: Health officials on a mission to check illegal use of scanning machines under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and prevention of misuse) Act 1994

Is there a potential link between the high number of scanning machines in the private medical institutions, many of them allegedly without proper records, and the dipping child sex ratio in Kerala?

Since the health officials don’t want to misread the situation, they have been on a mission to check if there are any illegal use of scanning machines under the Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (Regulation and prevention of misuse) Act 1994. And the warning shot ahead of check at hospitals and diagnostic centres was good enough as the inspection team sent by the Health advisory committee has registered only two cases, both in Ernakulam, out of the 1,000 inspections carried out across the State during the past two months.

What’s soothing is that the two cases in the district come after nearly 300 inspections. Other districts are yet to take much action.

The State Health authorities had a relook at the PNDT Act only in 2013 when a detailed analysis of the 2011 Census highlighted the decline in the child sex ratio. “It is not an alarming situation where the average sex ratio is 959 at birth,” said Dr. Sreedhar, additional director (Family Welfare).

Considering the dismal child sex ratio nationally, which has gone down from 927 in 2001 to 914 in 2011, the State figures may not be alarming. However, the fall in child sex ratio in two decades from 976 in 1991 to 959 in 2011, has got the public health experts and academics sit up and analyse the cause of decline.

During the inspections, the health authorities found that seven scanning machines in the district did not have licences. But five of the centres were quick enough to comply with the formalities. The panel had inspected 240 scanning centres in the district, visiting a centre more than once.

During the first round of inspection, the focus was on finding out whether the scanning machines were registered and papers were in place. In the subsequent visits to the centres, data would be collected on whether the documentation is in order. There are a number of forms to be filled out and documented when a scanning machine is operated. Since there had been little checking, it is likely that many hospitals had not documented all the procedures in the right manner.

“We go by the Act to see whether rules are being complied with. Only the first stage of checking has begun,” said N. Sreedhar.

“It is under presumption that we go from this point that documentation is incomplete because of violations of Act,” said Dr. Sreedhar. However, no sting or decoy operations have been done so far to know whether any sex determination is actually taking place.

He said PNDT Act violations could be happening when there were so many machines. “But we need to probe. We have been conducting training for our personnel and also plan to sensitise the judiciary about it so that when such cases come up, they are dealt with all the seriousness they deserve,” he said

Experts who studied the sex ratio in places like Palakkad where there had been a steady decline in the child sex ratio for over two decades pointed towards the need for better public health probity on the issue. In Thrissur, the sex ratio had gone down by over ten points in a decade from 958 to 948, Idukki by 11 points (969 to 959), Wayanad by six points, Kannur by seven points.

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Monday January 6, 2014

HARYANA: 5 docs, nurse booked under PNDT Act

By Bijendra Ahlawat/ Tribune News Service

Faridabad: At least five doctors running private clinics in the state have been booked for conducting sex determination tests on expecting mothers in the past one week. The accused include two doctor couples and a nurse based at Faridabad, Jhajjar and Bahadurgarh, respectively.

This is perhaps for the first time that the violation of the PNDT Act has come to the fore, despite the ongoing mass awareness programme of the state government. The number of females per 1,000 males in Haryana stands at 879 as per the last census.

The police have registered three cases under various sections of the PNDT Act against a doctor couple after a raid was conducted by officials yesterday.

It was revealed that the accused, identified as Dr Naveen Aggarwal registered as an ultrasonologist at a private hospital at Jhajjar, was having a portable ultrasound machine at his clinic in Sector 4 here.

Health officials, who raided the premises, have claimed that circumstantial evidences and investigation have found that the doctor couple was allegedly involved in the determination of the sex of a foetus, which was a clear violation of Section 4, 5 and 6 of the PC and PNDT Act 1994.

It is charged that Dr Naveen and his wife who were running a clinic under the name of Sangini Medical Centre had been misusing the facilities for conducting the USG and sex determination.

Dr Naveen was also found to be violating the regulation under which an ultrasonologist could not work at more than two machines simultaneously. The police have booked three cases against the doctor couple.

Earlier, the officials had registered a similar case against a doctor couple at Jhajjar and a lady doctor operating a private clinic at Bahadurgarh.

The latest series of raids by the department concerned to detect the violation of the act started in the last week of December when officials of the Drugs and Food Administration, Haryana, stumbled upon a diary of a nurse at Bahadurgarh, which revealed the network of certain private hospitals and clinics was involved in the activity of sex determination.

The department also got nailed a doctor operating in Rohini of New Delhi after sending a decoy patient a couple of days ago. The accused took Rs 6,000 from the patient for revealing the sex of an unborn baby.

Fact file

* The accused include two doctor couples and a nurse based at Faridabad

* Dr Naveen Aggarwal, registered as an ultrasonologist at a private hospital at Jhajjar, had a portable ultrasound machine at his clinic

* He, along with his wife, had been misusing the facilities for conducting the USG and sex determination


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