I recently spent some days in Mumbai with our team there who are working to establish what will be a critical collaborative voice to help combat child sexual abuse (CSA) in India.
Aarambh will be in first order a National Resource Centre on child sex abuse and, at the same time, will have the capacity to access legal and other support for victims, as well as provide training to communities, relevant government bodies and NGOs on the topic. The Resource Centre, which will gather education materials, promote awareness and best practice, is scheduled for launch in November.
Aarambh is a joint initiative of the ADM Capital Foundation and Mumbai partner, Prerana, which for two decades has provided support to the children of sex workers and is led by Priti Patkar, who is a respected authority in the field.
We are extremely excited to have Prerana as our partner in building Aarambh in a country where a 2007 government-sponsored study that included 12,500 interviews with children in 13 Indian states said 53 percent reported having been sexually abused in some way. Only three percent of the cases were reported to the police.
Last year, a Human Rights Watch report said the government’s response to CSA has fallen short, both in protecting children and in treating victims. At the time the HRW report was released, Meenakshi Ganguly, the director of Human Rights Watch in South Asia, said in a statement: “Children who bravely complain of sexual abuse are often dismissed or ignored by the police, medical staff and other authorities.”
The government did not dispute HRW charges that India’s child protection system was flawed. The head of one government agency was quoted as saying at a news briefing that frequently police or court officials didn’t accept that rape or incest had occurred.
Besides Prerana’s deep knowledge of CSA in India, Aarambh builds on ADMCF’s long partnership with Philippines-based Stairway Foundation, which has produced excellent training materials and animated films on such topics as incest, trafficking and sexual abuse more generally.
ADMCF helped Stairway foundation translate the films and other materials into several Thai languages and facilitated trainings of NGOs and other groups there before turning most recently to India, where education, discussion and action on the topic is equally critical. The moment for change seems particularly right given India’s two-year old law on CSA known by the acronym POCSO. There exists confusion related to how to implement that law nationwide.
Uma Subramanian, who has led ADMCF in India over the past few years, is leading Aarambh with Prerana. She is building a team and the network of partners that will form the initiative. Indeed, the vision for Aarambh is that it is a collaborative effort, bringing together organizations working on the topic of child sex abuse from many perspectives, beginning with the Mumbai Child Safety Network.
In terms of helping to implement the law, for example, there ought to be specific medical units within hospitals set up to receive children who have been victims of abuse. There also needs to be training and special provision within the courts and police force nationally. At the same time, there will be space to comment on aspects of the law to make sure it functions effectively to protect children.
Some of this work is ongoing regionally, but the Aarambh National Resource Centre hopefully will help to spread best practice throughout the country.
Recent news articles, including in Newsweek and the The New York Times, recently have exposed the false stories told by prominent Cambodian anti-trafficking activist, Somaly Mam, to generate funds for her US-based Somaly Mam Foundation and it’s Cambodian NGO, AFECIP.
For some time, Mam was Cambodia’s best known orphan, with an autobiography that detailed her own trafficking into sexual slavery. She recently stepped down from the U.S.-based charitable foundation named after her amid charges that her stories of destitution and trafficking were largely untrue.
Mam, sadly, is one of several NGO leaders in Southeast Asia in recent years caught in deception that seems to plague the orphanage industry in particular. And it has become an industry, with children often sought from parents with promises of education and a better life inside, much to the detriment of the institutionalized child.
In these instances, more children of course mean more money for the orphanage operator and a profitable business is born on the backs of children who often otherwise would be at home. Some orphanages hand out flyers or post signs outside their doors welcoming tourists – and their donations. Some keep children in poverty in order to keep the flow of donations coming.
The corollary to this, of course, is the profitable Western volunteerism business that feeds students, gap year teens and anyone else wanting a developing world experience often into orphanages, where it is perceived that the only skills needed are an ability to cuddle. These companies have proliferated in recent years, with volunteers in the hundreds of thousands heading abroad to boost their cvs, justify a foreign trip and sometimes even “make a contribution.”
According to a 2011 UNICEF report, since 2005 Cambodia has seen a 75 percent increase in the number of residential care facilities, with 269 of these centers housing 11,945 children. Of these, 44 percent were taken to the centres by parents or extended family and 61 percent, upon departure, were reunited with their families.
Over the same period, poverty has declined In Cambodia and life expectancy has risen sharply so the numbers of orphans should be falling, not rising. In Cambodia, there are only 21 state-run orphanages, with the rest being privately managed and dependent on foreign funding.
“Sixty years of global research details the adverse impact of residential care on the physical and emotional development of children,” the report states. “Residential care has also been shown to place children at risk of physical and sexual abuse.”
As was the case with Mam and her organization, children who were not necessarily even orphans, were coached in heart-wrenching personal histories that they were encouraged to tell to those who would listen in the hopes that tales of sadness and destitution would bring more funds.
As the UNICEF report says, “residential care appears to be the first-stop solution of individual overseas donors who, with the best intentions, provide support and funding to children in orphanages.” Orphanages are also the easiest sell for businesses built on the burgeoning trade in gap year occupations for Western students, often known as “guilt trips.”
Usually students have no skills to offer the local organization, don’t speak the local language and have no knowledge of what would be required in a real job. As a result, the work is usually unnecessary and at its worst, harmful.
The funding the volunteers bring with them, either directly, or as a result of an assignment from a Western placement agency, is what the orphanages seek.
“Since almost all residential care centers are funded by individuals from overseas, many turn to tourism to attract more donors,” The UNICEF report says. “…this becomes the basis for an “orphanage tourism” business in which children are routinely asked to perform for or befriend donors and in some cases to actively solicit funds to guarantee the residential centers’ survival.”
Rarely have volunteers been subjected to a background check or arrive with any training – the assumption being that what would not be ok in a Western context is fine in the developing world? Indeed the reality is that these experiences are much more about the Western student than making any real contribution.
At the same time, the high turnover of volunteers who offer their love to children and then leave, is seen to negatively impact children who have been institutionalized when often they should have not been in the first place.
The situation has become so bad that the long-time Phnom Penh based NGO, Friends International, has started a campaign entitled “Children are not Tourist Attractions” and FI Executive Director, Sebastien Marot, has been writing on the topic here.
Of course, the interest on the part of Western students in connecting abroad is praiseworthy, if it is real and not just an excuse for a Southeast Asia drinking binge.
Without real skills to offer, there are, however, better ways to contribute, including monetarily to organizations that have long and solid reputations for work they are doing helping to protect children living on the streets, provide free medical care, reintegrate them with their families and provide education or vocational skills while keeping the child at home.
Among Asia’s most discriminated people are the Rohingyas. About 1.33 million of the Muslims of South Asian descent live in Myanmar, where all but 40,000 are stateless. Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law considers Rohingyas illegal Bengali immigrants – despite the fact that many have lived for generations in the western state of Rakhine, which borders Bangladesh.
Fortify Rights, a human rights organization, said recently in a new report, Policies of Persecution , that restrictions placed on Rohingyas by the Burmese government are presented officially as a response to an “illegal immigration” problem and threats to “national security”. Yet Rohingyas as a group live in unimaginable poverty due to deprivation and displacement.
Since 2012, with easing of political restrictions in Burma, there have been several bouts of violence between the Rohingya and the Buddhist ethnic-Rakhine, who claim to feel threatened by the muslim population. Both sides have sustained casualties in the fighting but, according to Fortify rights, several hundred men, women and children have been killed and muslim communities razed.
As a result, tens of thousands of Rohingya now live in crowded camps in Burma, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand, where they haven’t faired much better. Just to reach their new destination, they risk death at sea in overcrowded and unstable transport arranged by human traffickers who take advantage of their poverty and statelessness, often forcing them into bonded servitude. Killings and other ill-treatment is also not uncommon, Fortify Rights and others have said.
The most recent example of egregious discrimination against Rohingyas started with the latest census, data collection for which began on March 30th. The census, however – a first since 1983 for the population estimated at 60 million – makes use of a list of 135 recognized nationalities yet excludes Rohingyas. Initially, they were told they could write in their ethnicity but later the government backtracked and said they should self-identify as Bengalis, according to news reports.
This census simply compounds what is already an untenable situation in Burma for the Rohingya population, which suffers Burmese policies that Fortify Rights describes as, “designed to make life so intolerable for Rohingya that they will leave the country.”
Among the restrictions enshrined in state policy that the Rohingya face in Burma are those on movement, Fortify Rights said in its report. They cannot travel within or between townships without authorization and only under exceptional circumstances travel outside the state, according to 12 internal government documents obtained by the rights group. Among other restrictions are those relating to marriage, childbirth, home repairs and construction of houses of worship. There are severe criminal punishments for Rohingyas who violate restrictions, including often years in jail and fines, according to Fortify Rights.
The report calls for the Myanmar government to abolish its discriminatory policies and accord Rohingya full rights under Burmese law, including the right to protection from violence. The international community should not sit by and watch the persecution of Rohingya ahead of next year’s critical election when the military generals are expected to cede power. All Burmese, regardless of ethnicity, should share in the government’s promised reforms.
In the future, no one will be untouched by climate change, according to a new report from Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group, released on Monday in Japan. Compiled by more than 300 authors from 70 different countries and including contributions from thousands of global experts, the report, the second of three, paints a frightening account of our future,
The impacts of global warming will be “severe, pervasive and irreversible,” the report says. And whereas in the past the increasing levels of carbon dioxide emitted by transport, power stations, of methane from deforestation and farming, have largely impacted our natural systems, in the future the impact will be felt by humans.
Consequently, rather than considering climate change an environmental risk, the report discusses rising temperatures as a series of global and material risks in the form of storm surges, flooding, droughts and heat waves amid rising temperatures. The consequences and additional risks could be in the form of conflict over resources, food shortages, particularly in poorer countries, and infrastructure damage, among others.
The scientists also pointed to expected higher levels of marine and animal extinctions. In parts of the tropics and Antarctica, fish species are expected to fall of dramatically, with catches dropping by as much as 50 percent.
The report discusses adaptation and mitigation amid the inevitable changes that we face from a dramatically warmer planet and supports decision-making from global leaders that takes into account climate change and its risks.
Many of the most compelling risks associated with climate change are concentrated in urban areas, according to the report, and an emphasis on sustainable development and resilience in cities is critical to withstand change. Risks for those without critical infrastructure or adequate housing are, of course, amplified significantly.
Will our policy makers finally take note? Certainly, the message here is urgent and should leave no doubt regarding the need for swift, collective action to stem climate change.
The European Parliament Fisheries Committee could in the next days quite irresponsibly kill proposed legislation to phase out the use of deep-sea bottom trawls and other destructive fishing gear in the Northeast Atlantic.
Predictably, many of the committee’s 25 members causing the most problem represent districts with deep-sea fishing interests, according to Bloom’s Claire Nouvian and an Oc. 2 New York Times Op-ed written by marine scientists Les Watling and Giles Boeuf.
According to scientists, 90 percent of the ocean is below 200 meters but not much is known about life there, expect that it is home to countless species, many of them as yet undocumented. Research covers only about 1 percent of the vast area.
As fisheries have collapsed in shallow waters, the industry has looked to the deep for new species and have found only a few there that can be sold for human consumption or processed for fish meal. Yet trawls with gear heavy enough to reach 2,000 meters below the ocean’s surface have scooped up everything in their path, palatable or not, and thus reduced fish biomass by 80 percent over an area about the size of Britain.
According to the Op-Ed, in 2011, vessels from eight EU countries landed 15,000 metric tons of four species of marketable deep-sea fish, which represents only 0.4 percent of Europe’s fish haul. Because of the fragile and adverse conditions in the deepest areas of our oceans, the fish are slow reproducers so this sort of fishing causes irreparable harm.
There exist many fragile species in the deep that are simply swept up or smashed by the trawl gear, which can leave the bottom or mid-areas of the ocean completely bereft of life. A declaration by 300 global scientists has urged that this type of destructive fishing be eliminated from the deep sea – now!
The deep sea battle is just part of the ocean tragedy, described well in the latest audit by an international team of marine scientists from the International Programmed on the State of the Ocean (IPSO). Released earlier this month, the report showed that the world’s oceans and marine life face unprecedented threats from industrial pollution, global warming and rampant overfishing.
The IPSO paper calls for “urgent remedies” because the “rate, speed, and impacts of change in the global ocean are greater, faster and more imminent than previously believed.”
The battle over deep sea trawling then is over “a small fishing area that produces a diminishing number of fish for a handful of companies , who despite massive subsidies from the EU and their own states are not profitable – all the while destroying countless organisms that represent the library of life on Earth,” according to the Op-Ed
Clearly, Trawling should be eliminated from the depths of the Northeast Atlantic. Yet legislators, backed by industry, are staging an irresponsible fight in the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament that is against all of our interests and the real tragedy is that they could win.