Monday, March 19, 2007

The world of modern child slavery

By Rageh Omaar
Presenter of BBC Two documentary Slave Children

The world of modern child slavery
Via: BBC
Slavery is a word which immediately conjures up very specific images in our minds. When it is mentioned we tend to think of people, almost always black people; degraded, abused and bound in chains, and we tend to think of such images, and the word slavery itself, as belonging to another era. We do not see slavery as belonging to our world, not as something which is still happening today.

Yet the truth is that if William Wilberforce were alive today and he travelled to different parts of the world - not just in Africa, but also in large parts of Asia, the Middle East, South America and even parts of Europe - he would find children living in conditions and circumstances which Wilberforce would understand and which I am sure he would describe as slavery. It is believed there are nearly nine million children around the world today who are enslaved. There are international charters and covenants which try to come to a legal definition of what constitutes slavery.

In essence these documents define slavery in the modern world as a situation where a human being and their labour are owned by others, and where that person does not have the freedom to leave and is forced into a life which is exploitative, humiliating and abusive.

My life as a child prostitute

By Rageh Omaar
Presenter of BBC Two documentary Slave Children

My life as a child prostitute
via: BBC
Dalyn, 17, was once among the thousands of young children working as prostitutes in Cambodia. Now living in a shelter, this is her disturbing account of being a child sex slave. I was living with my grandfather in Cambodia. As a normal, happy child I did not fear anything. Then, at 12 years old, a woman asked me whether I would like to work at a garment factory. I agreed and went with her. But she sold me to the owner of a brothel in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital. I felt betrayed and cheated. I thought I was going to find work. I never thought I was going to be sold like that. There were lots of other boys and girls at the brothel. I overheard two pimps bargaining and heard one of them say my price was $150 (£78). My heart sank and I started asking myself where the hell had I ended up.
I saw many couples coming in and out of the rooms. From that moment on, I knew something was seriously wrong. I was frightened and desperately wanted to ask the children what kind of place this was. A group of men came into my room and told me to receive a client. I asked what I was supposed to do. They told me: "Don't worry, you'll know what to do. And if you don't, you'll do it until you do." I refused but they told me to shut up and said that "one way or the other" I was going to have to do as they say. They dragged me out of the room and I screamed and called out for help. They put a gun to my head. I pleaded for my life, telling them this wasn't the work I had been led to believe I would be doing. But the brothel owner said: "You didn't follow anyone here. You're here of your own free will. You are a prostitute and you came here looking to work as a prostitute." I said: "I'm young and I have my future ahead of me. Please don't make me do something like this."

But then he said I would be shot if I refused. He ordered in a group of men carrying electric cables. I cried and screamed out for help but nobody came. They starved me until I agreed to go with clients. I was locked in a cage with others underneath the brothel for entire days. I was only ever allowed out when a client came. Some clients were considerate and quite kind. Others were not. If I refused to perform particular sex acts, clients would beat me up and report me to the brothel owner. The brothel owner would also beat me and tell the other girls in the brothel to beat me too. The psychological impact was horrendous. It lives with me even to this day.
When it finally dawned on me that I was a prostitute, I felt a sense of utter disgust. I had become the very thing I most despised. It is slavery of the worst kind. They have total power over you - they get you to do anything they want. You feel like dirt and there is nothing you can do except follow orders. You could end up dead.

I was scared right up until the brothel owner was arrested. Then I realised that we were being rescued. We were rescued by the police and the AFESIP, an organisation whose founder, Somaly Mam, is a former child sex slave and famous figure in Cambodia.

"I was so relieved and happy. I do not know what the future will bring. I feel it is my obligation to tell everyone that they should do everything they can to prevent themselves and others going through prostitution and all the things I had to go through.

By the end of it, you will end up lower then you can ever imagine... in hell."

The child slaves of Saudi Arabia

By Rageh Omaar
Presenter of BBC Two documentary Slave Children

The child slaves of Saudi Arabia
via: BBC
On the wealthy streets of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, thousands of young child-beggars, under the auspices of ruthless gangmasters, are simply trying to survive. Many hail from countries like Yemen which, despite bordering one of the Middle East's richest states, is a world away in terms of economic prosperity. These children are often sold by families who are either duped into believing their offspring will get a better life or sometimes simply threatened. Once in the country, they are likely to face beatings and are sometimes even mutilated as their Dickensian masters stoop to any low to try to improve the chances of them earning more money.

The Ministry of Social Affairs in Saudi Arabia's western province has a unit dedicated to picking up children who are illegal in the country. It is tasked with taking these children from the streets and then investigating their stories. Efforts are made to try to find their families but often no relatives are found. In such cases, these youngsters are deported as illegal aliens back to their country of origin.

But to bring these children in, the unit must carry out night-time swoops to find children begging without families. When these children are found, they are often frightened and desperate to get away from the Saudi officials. One child found by the team during a raid, Ali, is a typical victim of the slavery business. Initially, he attempted to convince officials that he was in the city with his brother. However, it soon became clear that this was not the case.

Eventually, Ali revealed that he slept under a bridge or in "any house" he could find. He avoided using shoes, to boost his chances of getting money. While the details of Ali's story are sketchy, we know that Ali was smuggled across the porous border between the Yemen and Saudi Arabia. In 2005, the Yemeni Ministry of Social Affairs acknowledged that about 300 children were crossing the border every month.

It is not always possible to know the entire truth about these children but what is clear, is that they are working for others, out of education, and kept in a cycle of poverty and danger.
Ali told officials at the shelter: "I was smuggled in, in order to beg. I told him (the gangmaster) I don't want to beg, so he beat me up." The boy said he ended up begging because of physical abuse involving metal wire attacks to his back. He also said he was forced to beg all day, but claimed that he only gave some of his earnings back to his paymaster.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Waking Up: An “Authentic Moment,” joining the Human Soul to the World

by: Nasir Al-Amin

Almost a year ago, a fellow traveler gave me a book of poetry entitled “Ten Poems to Change your Life.” Due to the daily demands of life I never got around to reading this text until the other day.

It was a normal day, a million and one things to do, functioning as usual off of a coffee addiction due to sleep deprivation. However while waiting for the D train to go home before a meeting, this quite inner voice told me to ‘call it a night.’ I have to admit I was feeling drained, my first love, coffee, had let me down so I began to wrestle with myself on how I can cancel this appointment and rearrange my scheduled so that I can take care of the other things on my To-Do list.

Subsequently, I conceded to the voice, canceled my appointment, trashed the To-Do list, took a shower changed into a pair of jeans, t-shirt and blazer (one never knows who you will meet, I have 50 kids to support, I was tired but its still business first!). Still feeling out of it I left for the mosque, as my intention was to simply pray and just sit their and clear my mind, yet before I left I turned back and picked up the book of poems while thinking to myself ‘this isn’t work related I’ll read it.’ Yet what I soon realized is this collection of poems is work related, as I’m blessed in the sense that my work is my passion. It evolved out of various life altering moments, which lead to an awakening, this transformation in life and the subsequent path I’ve chosen to take.

Once in the taxi, I opened the book to the poem, “The Journey” by Mary Oliver, which begins: “One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began.” At that moment the words spoke to me as it brought me back to Mercato, this bustling market in Ethiopia when I first encountered this 5 year old girl who spent her days begging in the market; it brought me back to the grandfather I met in Maginaya who explained to me that he lost his daughter and son-law to AIDS and that he could no longer support his grandchild in their absence; it brought back to the moment when tears poured from the face of Mintesnot’s mother as she explained the pain of pulling him out of school because she could not afford to pay the school fees and afford to feed him; it brought back the conversation I had with a teenage girl in Addis whose eyes brighten when she spoke of her plan to open a clothing boutique, yet quickly became despondent when she spoke of selling her body to support herself and her son, and her fleeting dream of opening that boutique.

Also, I read “Last Night As I Was Sleeping” by Antonio Machado. Both poems speak of this “authentic moment”, this “waking up,” in which the human soul connects to the world. As Roger Housden maintains, it’s a “moment when you dare to take your heart in your hands and walk through an invisible wall into a new life.” The new life that these poets allude to is a life that is deeper than the selfishness of our desires, a life that shuns conformity to the status quo, to systems of power and inequality, while simultaneously rejecting “habitual perceptions of life” in favor of taking a journey towards the inward, beyond mere vain pursuits, conspicuous consumption and materialism. In essence, an awakening to the true self, and what that authentic self yearns for.

For me that “authentic moment,” which in previous writings I have referred to as an ‘Awakening’ when I knew what I had to do, first occurred in the streets of Ethiopia. However that clarion call to the inner self is not bound by geographical location, as it was in the streets of Harlem that I was reminded of “The Journey.”

“Beyond living and dreaming there is something more important: Waking up.”
(Antonio Machado)

SWAZILAND: Community gardens flourish to feed the vulnerable

Via: IRIN PlusNews
Picture: UNICEF Swaziland/2005

NGOs in Swaziland are shifting the emphasis of their operations from handouts of donated foodstuffs to training households and communities to set up projects that produce food and generate income, to find a lasting solution to perennial food shortages.

"AIDS has made food security more difficult to achieve. You cannot separate food from health. People living with HIV/AIDS require food to boost their strength: antiretroviral drugs must be taken after nourishment," said Sibongile Hlope, Director of the Baphalali Red Cross Society. "We do give food assistance to children: a 50kg bag of maizemeal, 10kg of corn-soya blend that is rich in protein, five kg of beans and three bottles cooking oil every month," said food coordinator Kunene.

"More people require food assistance; that is why we are also doing community gardens," said Kunene, who supervises six community gardens around the Sigumbeni settlement, about one hour's drive southeast of the capital, Mbabane. "There is a problem with irrigation affordability, especially with our communal gardens. They all depend on rain - but even with proper watering, the hot weather harms the crops. The heat brings pests, but we discourage [these by] using pesticides - we don't want people consuming chemicals."

Besides food production and income generation the gardens are also social gathering spots for HIV-positive people and AIDS-affected families, who comprise the bulk of the volunteers who till, weed, water and harvest. Until recently, HIV-positive people were stigmatised in their villages, and support organisations for HIV-positive people were located in some towns but rarely in rural areas.

"The communal gardens allow HIV-positive people to discuss matters important to them, and be with other HIV-positive people. They get out of the house, and they take charge of one part of their lives," Kunene said. Volunteers working in the gardens divide the food amongst themselves and the vulnerable children in the area. Some fields are even large enough to generate food surpluses, which are sold and the profits divided among the workers.

In Zandondo, a settlement in the northern Hhohho Region, one community donated a 28.5ha field for this purpose. "Last year one field provided school uniforms and basic school supplies to area orphans. We expect other fields to follow suit when this year's harvests come in, starting in May," said Kunene.

ETHIOPIA: Nearly half of the children orphaned by HIV/AIDS

Via: IRIN PlusNews

Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world with nearly half of the children having lost at least one of their parents.A government official said on Tuesday that HIV/AIDS, disease, hunger and poverty threatened to drive the number of orphaned children from 11 percent to 43 percent of the 45 million children in Ethiopia by 2010.

This could mean some 19 million children will have lost one or both of their parents, according to the figures, said Bulti Gutema, the head of the government's taskforce on the problem of orphans and vulnerable children. He said the figures were based on projections by the health ministry.

Bulti said antiretroviral drugs are vital in curbing the explosion but less than five percent got the drugs. Cheap antibiotics costing less than US $0.03 cents could also cut the numbers of child deaths from HIV/AIDS in the country by half but less than one per cent of the children got them, he added.The UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimate that looking after each orphaned child in Ethiopia would cost around $300 a year, totalling some $1.38 billion. But the organisation has less than $10 million available even though Ethiopia has one of the largest populations of orphans in the world.

Some 300,000 children already live on the streets, according to the UN body."It is easy to stand and look at the problem from a distance and wring our hands at how big and impossible the problem is," he said. "But we must confront this."There are currently 4.6 million orphans in Ethiopia - with around 540,000 of them having been orphaned by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Click here to read the full report!

ETHIOPIA: Inequality, gender-based violence raise HIV/AIDS risk for women

Via: IRINPlusNews

ADDIS ABABA, 8 January (PLUSNEWS) - Efforts to address the plight of women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS are lagging behind in Ethiopia's profoundly conservative society, while they continue to bear the brunt of the epidemic. "Women are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia, mainly due to a lack of know-how and control over how, when and where the sex takes place, particularly in the rural areas, where culture and religion dominate the rights of women," Alemu Anno, in the advocacy department of Ethiopia's Federal HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (FHAPCO), told PlusNews.

According to FHAPCO's latest report, of the estimated 1.32 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2005, 55 percent - or 730,000 - were women. They also accounted for 54.5 percent of AIDS deaths and 53.2 percent of new infections in that year.Women and girls often have less information and access to services, especially in rural areas. Girls make their sexual debut early - either through early marriage or sexual abuse - and their partners are typically much older men.

According to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), marriage at the age of seven or eight is not uncommon in Ethiopia.The results are usually premature pregnancies, which cause higher rates of maternal and infant mortality, and increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. Physical and sexual violence within marriage are also common, and women have little room to negotiate the use of condoms or to refuse sex to an unfaithful partner. A 2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) multi-country study on women's health and domestic violence revealed that in a one-year period nearly a third of Ethiopian women reported being physically forced by a partner to have sex against their will.

"This high rate of forced sex is particularly alarming in the light of the AIDS epidemic and the difficulty that many women have in protecting themselves from HIV infection," WHO said."Women in Ethiopia have the larger AIDS burden because of factors like economic dependence and difficulty in meeting basic needs, insufficient proper knowledge of prevention, lack of enough access to prevention, and lack of proper information about sex and sexuality," Berhane added.

Click here to read the full report!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Journey

by Mary Oliver

On the day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.