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Sunday, 11 January, 2015
Schoolgirls in China paid large sums to donate eggs to infertile couples on black market
Young women are undergoing intensive procedures in exchange for tens of thousands of yuan - but could end up infertile, medical experts warn
Scroll Down to Also Read "Women lured by cash for eggs can pay high cost to health" and from the archives 10 years back by Judy Norsigian in DifferenTakes #33 "Egg Donation for IVF and Stem Cell Research: Time to Weigh the Risks to Women's Health"
- A prospective seller is measured by agents. (SMP)
Health experts have called for government regulation to halt the black market trade in women's eggs, following a report on the practice by state broadcaster CCTV yesterday.
The sellers - some still in high school - were being paid tens of thousands of yuan for their eggs by agencies acting on behalf of infertile couples but were being misled about the risks of the drug therapy involved, the report said.
"The girls we target are all around 20 years old, because that's the age when women's eggs are best," one agency representative told CCTV.
Retrieving the eggs required only drug therapy and minimally invasive surgery across about 20 days, agencies told the women. They could earn between 30,000 (HK$37,910) and 100,000 yuan for a successful retrieval, depending on appearance and education level, CCTV said.
The women were told: "You guys can earn tens of thousands of yuan each time, so why not?"
Mainland law prohibits compensating women for their eggs, although they can donate them up to three times.
Medical experts warned the procedure carried risks.
"Egg retrieval needs a certain dose of injections for ovarian stimulation before the operation, which could cause different levels of damage to the ovaries," said Dr Suen Sik-hung, a private obstetrician in Hong Kong.
"For young women, a large dose might produce more than 20 eggs each time, which could enlarge her ovaries, and in some cases, it could cause bleeding or even necrosis, meaning she will become infertile."
The infertility rate among mainlanders of child-bearing age rose from 3 per cent two decades ago to between 12.5-15 per cent in 2009, according to a report by People's Daily last year. More than 50 million people on the mainland have been diagnosed as infertile, it said.
Some agencies in Guangzhou were charging infertile couples up to 1.2 million yuan for a boy. The package covers eggs, surrogacy services and abortions if the foetus is a girl, according to CCTV.
A Guangzhou-based agency said the minimum charge, if the sex of the baby was not specified, was about 400,000 yuan.
Ai Xiaoming, a professor of women's studies based in Guangdong, said a lack of regulation and medical information could lead young women to sell their eggs for money. One woman undergoing the procedure told CCTV she was paying off credit card debt.
"It's nothing new as in today's China, the human body has become a commodity. It's impossible to ban the commercial surrogacy business as assisted reproduction technology has become part of our lives," Ai said.
"But the growing market shows there is a need to form a comprehensive regulation system, which should be based on a large government-led public consultation between medical authorities and experts from different sectors.
"All the cases show that if the government still hesitates to come up with regulation against these illegal operations, the rights of children and women, as well as the sex imbalance in our country, will never be properly addressed."
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as Illegal egg donors 'run big risks'
Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Women lured by cash for eggs can pay high cost to health
Documentary reveals 'dirty little secret'
By Cheryl Wetzstein
A few years ago, Alexandra, a doctorate student, decided that selling her eggs to a fertility clinic was the perfect way to get an extra $3,000 she needed to pay for her tuition.
But then "things went south," she recalls in "Eggsploitation," a new documentary on the health hazards of paid egg donation. Alexandra and two other women, identified only by their first names, say their experiences with egg donation led to hospitalizations, ovary loss, stroke and possibly cancer.
College campuses are filled with ads offering to pay young women large sums of money - as much as $100,000 - for their eggs, which are the "main commodity" of the multibillion-dollar fertility industry, film director Jennifer Lahl said at a recent screening of her film at the conservative Family Research Council.
But no one is speaking out on behalf of these young women when problems and complications arise, said Ms. Lahl, a registered nurse and founder of the Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, which released the film. The "dirty little secret" of the industry is that life-threatening complications can occur with egg donation, she said.
The documentary is likely to fan a long-running controversy over the ethics, finances and health risks of the procedure. Unlike collecting sperm, egg donation is an involved and drawn-out process involving weeks of hormone injections designed to stimulate the ovaries, followed by a surgical extraction conducted with the use of a local anesthetic.
In its defense, the fertility industry points to decades of experience it has built with egg donation and says it knows the risks of short-term complications - such as abdominal discomfort and nausea - as well as more severe, longer-term dangers.
The risks "are primarily related to the stimulation drugs that we're giving," said Dr. R. Stan Williams, president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
About 1 percent of the time, the process can lead to severe ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), he said. OHSS can lead to other complications, such as thrombosis, stroke or a heart attack. "These [OHSS complications] are extremely rare, but they do occur," he said.
"Smaller but still significant'" risks include internal bleeding from the egg-retrieval procedure and pelvic infection, Dr. Williams said.
But, he added, "there's no connection between fertility drugs and ovarian cancer or any kind of cancer."
Information about these rare complications "may or may not be visible" on websites, Dr. Williams said. But "certainly by the time a woman reaches the physician's office," she will hear about them, "as it's the physician's duty to counsel the patient about the risks of any procedure, and that includes the egg donor."
The federal Food and Drug Administration has "absolute oversight" of the screening of the donors "so that infectious diseases are not transferred," and has "an inspection process in place, where they send inspectors out to a random number of clinics each year" to monitor adherence to FDA regulations, Dr. Williams said.
The fertility industry also sets standards and guidelines on egg donation, including payment, he said. It is acceptable to compensate egg donors $5,000, and possibly as much as $10,000 in special circumstances. But advertisements offering $35,000 to $100,000 for egg donations? "We consider those unethical."
But a study last year published in the Hastings Center Report, a leading bioethics journal, found that a fourth of the egg-donation ads culled from more than 60 colleges offered compensation that exceeded the recommended $10,000 ceiling. In another apparent violation of ethical guidelines, the offered pay went up in tandem with the SAT scores of the average incoming freshmen.
Clinics say they adhere to the guidelines laid down by the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, but that so-called egg "brokers" - who link donors and clinics - are far more likely to skirt the rules.
Egg donors also testify about their experiences, usually happily, on fertility websites or social networking sites. For instance, a graduate student named "missjamiesue" posted a 10-part video on YouTube describing how she donated 15 of her eggs. "It was not that big a deal. Well, it was - but it isn't something you should be scared of if you are considering doing it," said the young woman, who said she received $5,000 in compensation.
Young women are the targets for this procedure and yet there's not enough clear or unbiased information about its pros and cons, said Kierra Johnson, executive director of Choice USA, a reproductive advocacy group. As a result, she said, Choice USA is working with Generations Ahead, a social justice group, and the Health Equity Institute at San Francisco State University, to survey egg donors and launch a website on the procedure.
Kristan Hawkins, executive director of Students for Life, said her organization is "keeping our eye on" the issue as well.
Campus ads on egg donation are reaching young women "right when they need that money most, so we've got to be out there saying, 'Look, you need to take a second look at what you're about to do,'" said Ms. Hawkins.
"The women interviewed in "Eggsploitation" underscore that warning.
Alexandra, for instance, said she read up on egg donation before agreeing to it, but "didn't see the risks."
She eventually produced 28 eggs and felt fine for a week. But then came a searing pain, followed by doctor visits and prescriptions for painkillers.
When she saw a doctor two weeks later, "his face went white" when he saw her distended abdomen. She went in for surgery but lost her ovary.
When she reached her 30s, Alexandra said, cancer was diagnosed in one of her breasts and then in the other breast. She had no known risk factors for cancer, and - except for donating eggs - her health history was unremarkable, she said.
Another egg donor named Sindy landed in the hospital, too: She responded powerfully to the fertility drugs, resulting in a harvest of between 50 and 60 eggs. Pain soon drove her into a hospital, where doctors discovered she had a puncture in an artery, either from the harvesting process or from hyperstimulation. Sindy said she has since endured more surgeries.
Calla, a third donor, said she signed up for egg donation to help someone have a family, but said she regrets it now. She said she suspects the drugs she took interacted with a hidden, benign tumor in her pituitary gland, leading to a massive stroke. In addition to suffering from several disabilities, "I can't have my own children now," she said.
"Eggsploitation" also suggests that two women who donated eggs died directly or indirectly as a result of the procedure.
These donors' stories "need to be told," Ms. Lahl said.
Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC.
About the Author
Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor.
Saturday January 3 2015
Street crime in Delhi triples, a rape recorded every 4 hours
By Karn Pratap Singh, Hindustan Times New Delhi
Nearly 300 people were robbed, mugged or had their belongings snatched every day of the past year in Delhi, data released by the police said Friday, underlining the failure of the authorities in keeping the city's roads safe.
Street crimes in the city surged by 186% in 2014 with 12 cases reported every hour, up from four in 2013. The overall crime rate also doubled - 147,000 cases till December 15, 2014 - compared to the previous year.
Delhi remains notorious as rape and molestation cases shoot up in the city
Crimes against women remained a worry with a rape reported every four hours and a molestation every two hours in the Capital. Number of rape cases grew to 2,069, up 32% from 2013 while cases of molestation jumped 25% to 4,179.
Percentage of crimes solved, however, plunged to an abysmal 29.5% from 48.86% in 2013. Culprits in only 26.96% of all snatching cases and 46.12% of robbery cases were brought to book in 2014, down from 47.24% and 75.56% respectively in 2013.
Delhi Police commissioner BS Bassi attributed the spurt in street crimes to police registering all complaints and police control room calls as FIRs, not turning away people to keep the crime graph down.
The number of investigating officers hadn't kept pace with rising crime, causing the dip in number of cases solved, Bassi added. Delhi has around 84,000 officers policing its 1.67 crore population - a ratio of one cop per 200 people.
Amongst street crimes, robbery rose by a whopping 459% -- 18 cases daily or 6,180 overall - when compared to 2013 that reported 4 cases daily and 1,106 in total. Incidents of snatching also doubled from 3,316 in 2013 to 6,944 last year.
Bassi said the rise in cases was due to his batting for "truthful registration" of crime. "Last year, I urged we must stamp out the practice of burking from our functions since it is a major cause of public dissatisfaction. I now have no hesitation in saying reluctance to register cognizable crime has almost disappeared among Delhi Police officers," he said.
Wednesday December 10 2014
Sexual violence in Delhi: what the numbers say
By Rukmini S
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 (The Hindu)
The rape of a young woman in a taxi is another reminder of Delhi's reputation as India's most unsafe city, a reputation only partially borne out by facts.
Official police data comes from the National Crime Records Bureau (whose data until 2013 came with one important, hidden caveat).
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 in the aftermath of the December 16, 2012 gangrape, a phenomenon the police attribute to better reporting. (The far bigger leap was in the reporting of molestation). As of mid-November this year, 1879 cases of rape had been registered in the city, but the increase between 2013 and 2014 was far smaller.
The number of reported rapes in Delhi more than doubled between 2012 and 2013 (The Hindu)
How does Delhi do in comparison to other cities?
In 2013, the most recent year for which comparable data exists, Delhi did have a higher rate (proportionate to its population) of reported rape than Mumbai or Chennai, but cities in Madhya Pradesh do even worse.
In Delhi - as in the rest of the country - less than 5 per cent of alleged rape is by men not known to the complainant.
Moreover, the precise nature is complex, as The Hindu found in an investigation earlier this year. Two out of three cases, court records revealed, concerned parents criminalising the acts of consenting young couples and broken promises of marriage. Under 3 per cent involved rapes by strangers, and conviction was nearly certain in such cases.
What of rape that never gets reported? It is true that rape in India (for statistical reasons, Delhi is hard to disaggregate for this data point) is grossly under-reported as comparing the National Family Health Survey with NCRB data shows, but the vast majority of that sexual violence is by husbands.
Wednesday November 26 2014
Evil of rape goes on unabated
Turn the pages of any news daily in any language on any day or turn on the news channel of your choice on any given day, seldom will you pass a day without reading or hearing a story of petrifying and dehumanising rape or abuse of a child taking place in some part of India!
The terror of rape on a land known for its culture and tradition is appalling. The metaphor of terrorism to describe rape implies that no girl or woman today can feel absolutely secure as she steps out of her house during any time of day or night.
Almost two years have elapsed since the brutal rape of a physiotherapy student in Delhi in 2012 on a moving bus and the country has witnessed numerous sexual assaults on women in different parts of India since then. Despite unprecedented public hue and cry over the incident and new legislation, there are no visible signs of drop in the rape cases.
The gang rape of a medical student of Manipal University last year did not receive same national attention. The suspicious death of Sowjanya, a pre-university student of SDM College Ujire, has not seen a decisive end in spite of enquiry by the CID and CBI. What does this imply? Justice delayed is justice denied!
Recently, Bengaluru, known as the IT hub, hit the headlines for child rape incidents that occurred in school premises. Further, these incidents reported in elite international schools have forced the government to issue security guidelines to schools.
However, many schools are yet to implement them. Is the government ready to shell out funds to implement its own guidelines in government schools across the state?
In the most recent unbelievably brutal incident, a woman in Rajasthan was paraded naked on a donkey on the orders of village elders for allegedly killing her nephew.
Few years back, a girl was paraded naked through the village with the mob chasing and abusing her along the way. Incredible India! Where are the so called custodians of culture and self- proclaimed moral police?
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, 24,923 cases of rape were reported in India in 2012. It is worth noting that these statistics are only about the reported cases.
In a country where sex is taboo, the voice of victims of rape is enfeebled. Amidst this, politicians are speaking irresponsibly. Samajwadi party head Mulayam Singh Yadav spoke in a justifying tone that it is natural for boys to commit such crimes!
Pertaining to child abuse incidents in Bengaluru recently, Karnataka politicians stooped to a new low in using sexist language and exploiting the topic of rape for political gains!
Rape is increasing or is it being highlighted more nowadays? The question calls for research because recently when the home minister and chief minister of Karnataka were quizzed about the increasing incidents of rape, they retorted, "The media is looking for news on rape for increasing its TRP rate." Is there smoke without the fire?
Majority of the households in rural India do not have a toilet at home and are forced to answer the nature's call in the open.
In such situations, women and girls become soft targets of sexual perverts. The gang rape incidents during the post-Godhra Gujarat riots revealed rape could be used as a powerful weapon to display hatred and hegemony.
The rapes of toddlers as young as 2-3 years reveal that it is nothing short of a psychological disorder. It suggests that no single reason can be cited for every rape case.
So what is the panacea?
Merely stressing on punishment is no solution. The need of the hour is suitably manpowered investigative agencies and enough number of fast track courts. Tougher laws make sense when they are properly implemented. Providing security, financial and moral support to the victims can make them stronger and steadfast in their legal fight against their offenders. The new guidelines issued by the Union health ministry for treating rape victims should be implemented at the earliest.
Laws alone cannot create wonders. The cultural construct of woman as an object of pleasure, as often projected in films and ads, needs to see a sea change. Encouraging women to take up a profession can instill confidence in them.
Incidents of rape are not less in developed countries. Despite scientific and technological progress, sexual violence has become commonplace. Nevertheless, this is in no way a justification for a developing country like India for the brutal rapes.
Before India is branded as 'the rape capital of the world', let's arise and awake for a positive action. Let there be anti-rape campaign on the lines of 'Clean India campaign!'
(The writer teaches at the Bahrain Training Institute, Bahrain)
Thursday January 01 2015
Women need to thrive, not just surviveBy Meena Menon
Instead of strengthening women's rights in the Asia Pacific region and in the rest of the world, governments are whittling them away in some cases
There was one significant photograph missing in the lobby of the United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) hall in Bangkok where an important regional review of the Beijing plus 20 goals was under way from November 17-20. While many women leaders in the region, including former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, were represented, Thailand's first woman Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, ousted in a military coup in May, didn't find a place. The Thai Deputy Prime Minister for Social Affairs, Yongyuth Yuthavong, in his inaugural address, confessed to being the odd man out in a women's meeting just a few years ago, but today the scene is different; there were more men in the room, he said. Yes, there are certainly more men for gender equality meetings now but there are also many elephants in the room.
Twenty years after the Beijing Declaration and 35 years after the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women was adopted, some countries like Iran don' recognise feminist organisations, Russia has a problem with sex education, India conveniently denies armed conflict and caste, and everyone is reluctant to acknowledge sexual rights for women, differences in sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).
As a result, the Asia Pacific ministerial declaration on gender equality and women's empowerment, which was accepted in November, was a tame affair. Peace is inextricably linked with equality between men and women, according to one of the critical areas of concern in the Beijing Platform for Action. Yet only six countries in the region have development national action plans on women, peace and security. Survivors of armed conflict are still fighting for transitional justice with very little mechanisms in place for post-conflict situations and also for internally displaced persons. The Indian government, backed by Indonesia, managed to get the words 'armed conflict' out of the final declaration, the second important change it succeeded in making without much ado. That caste has deep implications, especially on women, was lost on the Indian government and it preferred the term 'social origin' instead; this was not opposed by any other country. The term 'sexual orientation' was replaced with 'men and women in their diversity,' angering activists who had fought for SOGI to be recognised.
A global concern
Two major UN meetings to review the Beijing Declaration and Sustainable Development Goals are coming up in 2015. Right from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, gender equality has been a global concern. The Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and the Declaration and Platform for Action set the global standard for promoting women's issues.
Reviews by governments of the Beijing goals 20 years later reveal many shortcomings. The UN Secretary General's campaign 'Unite To End Violence Against Women' cites data to show that 50 per cent of sexual assaults in the world take place against girls who are under 16 years of age, 603 million women live in countries where domestic violence is not considered a crime, between 15 and 76 per cent of women are targeted for physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, and 60 million girls are married before they are 18 years old.
On the positive side, a significant change in the last 10 years has been the increasing focus on involving men as partners in gender equality. The MenEngage programme and the HeforShe movement are some of the initiatives by UN Women to rope in men to speak up against violence and be partners rather than adversaries in the process. Many countries in the Asia Pacific region are only now conducting studies and coming up with policies. Nicolas Burniat, deputy representative at the Multi Country Office for the Pacific at UN Women, says, "There is a recognition that we need to spend much more energy on this issue. There is a broader community realisation that gender equality cannot be achieved without involving men and boys, and in the last ten years the region has seen laws passed against violence and for stronger political commitment."
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, one of the two intergovernmental bodies, elected a woman as a secretary general. The Pacific region, which has reported a high rate of violence against women, is now realising the power of its collective voice on gender.
Speaking in a collective voice
However, attitudes to violence in a region where communities are matriarchal are hampered by kinship ties. Abacca Anjain-Madisson, chief of the community division from the government of Marshall Islands, says even recognising that violence exists is a challenge. The first study of women and violence in the Islands reported that one in two women experienced partner violence and only ten per cent were able to seek help. When women complained to the police or the church or community leaders, it was found that the violence was related in "some way to their husbands and [the leaders] refused to take cognisance of complaints." She added: "We are taking ownership of the data and will soon have a gender policy."
Climate change impacts, the rights of indigenous people and the vulnerability of women emerged as major issues at the conference. Land grabbing by corporates and struggles over land ownership were also identified as critical areas. There is a recognition that the region can speak in a collective voice on gender just as it did on climate change as part of the Alliance of Small Island States, Mr Burniat said. Even while there is progress in addressing violence against women in the region, promoting leadership and political participation of women, improving gender parity in primary school net enrolment and attendance rates and parity in secondary school education, high rates of violence, lower work participation, and threats to health and maternal mortality also persist. Roberta Clarke, UN Women regional director, asks, "Why are we underachieving so consistently?" She called for a reaffirmation of political will and financial commitment to deal with gender inequality.
According to ESCAP, for every hundred employed men, there are only 62 employed women in the Asia Pacific region, the average wage gap is 10 to 30 per cent, and women are still concentrated in low-paid, low-status and low-skilled work. The Asia Pacific region's child sex ratio, which is in favour of boys, is one of the highest in the world. As a result of this, gender-biased practices including prenatal sex selection exist. Yet, comprehensive sex education is nonexistent in many countries and the ministerial declaration took a retrograde step by not recognising the sexual rights of women, which was an important right contained in the Beijing Declaration. In 17 Asia Pacific countries, less than 10 cent of seats in Parliament are held by women.
As the world is looking to set new goals post 2015, financial and political commitments assume more importance than ever. Governments have to step up investment in gender equality and do more than recognise that it is an important area for improvement. As Laisema Ralika, an official from the Fiji Ministry of Education asks, "If it's not now, then when?"
Women in the region and in the rest of the world are demanding their rights, already guaranteed to them in various global and national instruments of law. Instead of strengthening that, governments are whittling them away in some cases. "A very big part of the women's agenda is that financing is the key to the post-2015 development goals and there is a need to step up existing commitments. Gender inequality is the scourge of the 21st century, and it is a systemic change that is called for," says Noelene Nabulivou from Diverse Voices and Action for Equality. Women, as Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil Kjiner aptly sums up, "need to do more than just survive, we deserve to thrive."
America ~ Sunday January 4, 2015
Six women murdered each day as femicide in Mexico nears a pandemic by Judith Matloff
The carnage isn't just in border town Juarez, with the largest number of victims in province of Mexico state
A shrine dedicated to Rosa Diana Suarez Torres in the home of her father, Jose Diego Suarez Torres, Dec. 11, 2014. (Alicia Vera for Al Jazeera America)
ATIZAPAN DE ZARAGOZA, Mexico: Jose Diego Suarez Padilla has converted his home into a shrine to his daughter, Rosa Diana. Windows fashioned after her blue eyes stare out on the street. A painting of the girl in a white party dress covers a living room wall, overlooking an altar with offerings of chicken and chewing gum. The food has lain there so long that the red chili sauce has congealed.
Suarez Padilla explains to a visitor that he normally puts out fresh food but lately hasn't had time. That's because he's busy all day consulting with lawyers and politicians to seek justice for her death.
Four years ago on New Year's Eve, a jealous ex-boyfriend stabbed to death the 22-year-old secretarial student and bashed her face into a purple pulp. Suarez Padilla spent 10 months hunting down the youth when he went on the lam - authorities would not make the effort. Even though the young man confessed, he has not been sentenced. Suarez Padilla wants to see him behind bars, alongside the police who denied a restraining order two months before the murder when the youth burst into the house, stole her cell phone and threatened to kill her.
"They said it wasn't a crime. What are public servants for if they don't serve justice? They could have prevented her death," says the anguished father, showing a file of documents a foot high that he has assembled to press his case.
His anguish resonates across Mexico, which local United Nations officials say ranks among the world's 20 worst countries for violence against women. Newspapers routinely report "crimes of passion" or unidentified female body parts floating in sewage canals. Misogyny and corruption prevent most cases from seeing justice.
According to the National Citizen Femicide Observatory, a coalition of 43 groups that document the crime, six women are assassinated every day.
Yet only 24 percent of the 3,892 femicides the group identified in 2012 and 2013 were investigated by authorities. And only 1.6 percent led to sentencing.
"Femicides are a pandemic in Mexico," asserts Ana Guezmes, the local representative of United Nations Women, the agency devoted to gender issues.
The word "feminicidio" first entered the vernacular in the 1990s, with explosive rates of disappearances and murders of women in the border town of Ciudad Juarez. In fact, more women have been killed in the state of Mexico, which surrounds the capital city of the same name. The number doubled from 2005 to 2011, when the current national president, Enrique Pena Nieto, was governor of the state. Today he has pledged to combat drug violence overall but has not spoken out against femicides.
Impunity is the main motor of the gender crime, Guezmes says, as well as social norms that allow the violence to be ignored or accepted as a normal part of life. She describes femicides as the extreme end of a society where 63 percent of women have suffered abuse by male hands. She estimates that maybe a third or half of the cases involved sexual partners. The balance - abductions, rapes and discarding the bodies like garbage - are probably linked to the generalized drug violence that is tearing Mexico apart.
Guezmes says the government needs to put more effort toward prevention, and improve access to justice. "These are the biggest problems."
To counter the lack of reliable government statistics, the Observatory trawls through press clips and conducts interviews door-to-door in marginalized neighborhoods, like this one on the edge of the capital city, where cases normally take place.
Newspaper clippings related to the killing of Mariana Lima Buendia are kept by her mother. (Alicia Vera for Al Jazeera America)
The group issues regular reports and provides pro bono lawyers to relatives seeking to prosecute killers. They also erect pink crosses at death scenes, but these rarely last more than a day before
unidentified men take them down.
Most of these cases get lost in Mexico's dysfunctional justice system, where police officers can't be bothered to probe, or claim it's the woman's fault, or can be bought off by criminal gangs, says Maria de la Luz Estrada, head of the group. When the murders are investigated, incompetence and failure to follow due process often allow murderers to escape punishment.
Activists say the distinction of femicide in the law is important, because the sexual nature distinguishes the killings from ordinary homicide.
"Hate is what marks these crimes. The bodies show 20 or 30 blows," de la Luz says. "They slice off breasts and faces and throw the fragments in the garbage. In a macho society like Mexico, authorities are always questioning what the women did. What was she wearing? Was she sexually active? This helps the impunity and lack of action."
The victims are generally vulnerable young women, impoverished single mothers or teens. Attackers frequently seize victims on empty streets as they leave school or work, force them into cars, and then rape and torture them and dispose of the bodies.
Families in poor areas like this one generally lack the money or clout to seek legal action, says de la Luz. "The parents are scared to give photos and details to the police, because that can make them vulnerable to extortionists, who say, 'We have her,' when in fact they don't. Corrupt authorities often say, 'If you speak out, your case won't advance.'"
Suarez Padilla is one of the few parents who have pressed charges, but he has had to confront misogynist cops, who implied that his daughter was responsible for her own death because her cell phone contained 200 nude photos taken by the killer.
He takes solace in the international pressure that convinced Mexican lawmakers in 2007 to approve new laws aimed at preventing violence against women. The law called for a data bank and gender violence alerts, to encourage national, state and local governments to catch perpetrators and prevent murders. Yet neither has been activated effectively.
The special prosecutor for violent crimes against women, Nelly Montealegre Diaz, admits that no femicides were prosecuted in 2014. She blames impunity and corruption, but says the government is addressing the problem in a gradual overhaul of the legal system.
Harder to combat, she says, is social acceptance of gender violence. "If a worker sees a [female] colleague with a black eye or the father hitting the mother, they think it is normal. Women are seen as objects."
Irinea Buendia demonstrates the thickness of the rope her daughter supposedly used to hang herself. (Alicia Vera for Al Jazeera America)
This brings no hope to Irinea Buendia, one of many mothers who has carried a pink cross on marches in her rough neighborhood of Nezahualcoyotl. Her daughter, Mariana, died in June 2010. The husband, a police officer, had beaten her repeatedly during two years of marriage, and tried to shoo away colleagues who arrived to investigate her death. The body lay prostrate on the bed covered in bruises. After 10 minutes, the inspectors bought his story that she had committed suicide with a thin cord, sitting down across the room.
Buendia holds out a red silk string of the type allegedly used. "How could this flimsy thing sustain her weight?"
The Observatory's lawyers have taken up the case, and are seeking a hearing at the Supreme Court. But the family is not hopeful. The husband has been promoted to police commander.
Tuesday January 6 2015, page 11
By Vandana Shiva
As the New Year begins, I feel compelled to reflect on how fictions and abstract constructions are ruling us; the nature of being and existence is being redefined in such fundamental ways that life itself is threatened. When corporations that were designed as legal constructs claim "personhood", then real people who stand in line at polling booths, eke out livelihoods, and raise families lose their rights.
- To claim that by adding one gene a corporation creates the seed and all future generations of that seed is an ontological flaw, a scientific outrage and an ethical violation
This has happened recently in Vermont and Maui. Residents of Maui County, Hawaii voted on November 4 to ban the growing of genetically modified crops on the islands of Maui, Lanai, and Molokai until scientific studies are conducted on their safety and benefits. Monsanto and Dow Chemical's unit Mycogen Seeds have sued the county in federal court to stop the law passed by the people. And Vermont, which passed a GMO labelling law through a legal, democratic process, is being sued by a conglomerate of corporations on the false premise of corporate personhood, and the influence of money as corporate "free speech".
This is at the heart of new free trade treaties based on "investor rights". Denying citizens the right to know violates the fundamental principles of food democracy. Dow and Monsanto sued Maui, thus subverting the democratic process that rests on the will of people, not on the power of corporations. This corporate jurisprudence needs to be reversed if human rights and the rights of Mother Earth are to be protected.
Corporate fictions that have already had disastrous impacts on the biodiversity of the planet, nations and on farmers whose time immemorial rights to save and exchange seeds are being criminalised under patent law and new seed laws.
When biotechnology corporations claim to have "invented" the seed and courts and governments uphold this fiction, millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of agricultural history gets erased.
Seeds are not automobiles or circuit boards; life cannot be manufactured. It is not an invention. It is not engineered, piece-by-piece, by a worker on an assembly line. Living organisms are self-organised complexity. Chilean scientists Maturana and Varela differentiated between two kinds of systems autopoietic and allopoietic. Autopoietic systems are self-organised and make themselves. Allopoietic systems are put together externally. A seed is an autopoietic system constantly self-organising, evolving and adapting to changing contexts. To claim that by adding one gene a corporation creates the seed and all future generations of that seed is an ontological flaw, a scientific outrage and an ethical violation.
India's laws have a clear articulation that biological and living systems are not inventions. Article 3(d) of India's patent laws states clearly that the discovery of a new property or a new use of a known substance is not an invention.
When corporations claim ownership of a seed that contains a gene from a Bt-bacteria, it is, in fact, a new use of a known substance. When they introduce the gene into a plant by "shooting" the gene through a gene gun into the cell of a plant, the reproduction of the cells and the life cycle of the plant is a biological process. The biotech industry is not assembling the organism, nor are they assembling future generations of seeds.
Section 3(j) of Indian Patent Act is a legal interpretation of the scientific principle of the self-organisation of life. That is why the Appellate Board of the Indian Patent Office ruled in the case of Monsanto's climate resilience patent application: "the claimed method is considered as a series of generic steps modified by the plant cell... In the case like the present which does not involve a simple leap from prior art to the invention but rather entails a journey with many generic method steps that are essentially biological taken in sequence and we have found the invention is not involving inventive step, mere fact of human intervention would not change the position as we have otherwise found it not patentable in view of obviousness and new use of known substance."
While the Indian law recognises that seeds make themselves, including future generations of transgenic seed, which have a gene introduced from an unrelated organism, the American laws treat the transgenic seed as a "machine" invented by corporations. This position of seeds as machines and corporations as inventors was elaborated in the US Supreme Court case of Bowman vs Monsanto. Bowman had bought mixed soyabean seeds from a grain elevator and planted them. Monsanto claimed that the seed being planted to get a crop was not the natural reproduction of a seed sprouting into a plant, which then produced the next generation of seed. The US Supreme Court upheld Monsanto's claim that the reproduction of the plants in Bowman's fields was a "replication of a machine" invented and patented by Monsanto.
From the very beginning, Monsanto's push for GMO seeds has been for claiming creation and ownership of seed.
India's Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001, has a clause on farmers' rights, which states, "a farmer shall be deemed to be entitled to save, use, sow, re-sow, exchange, share or sell his farm produce including seed of a variety protected under this act in the same manner as he was entitled before the coming into force of this act."
The US would like to force India to adopt a false science and laws that dictate that seeds have been created by Monsanto and are therefore Monsanto's property.
US President Barack Obama will be the chief guest at our Republic Day celebrations. It is time to start a planetary dialogue and a civilisational exchange based on us all being part of the Earth family; and based on our inalienable right to Swaraj, including "bija swaraj" (seed democracy).
We hope Mr Obama's visit will enhance and deepen the common freedoms of the people of India and the US, and not just the freedoms of corporations, which are undermining the freedoms of citizens in both countries and across the world.
The writer is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
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