Thursday, September 20, 2007

Insecure Children

Dionne Bunsha
Vol. 24, No. 8, 21 April -
4 May 2007

HERE is something that threatens to shatter the picture of the big, happy Indian family. Children are safer at school than at home, says a study on child abuse conducted by the Central Government's Ministry of Women and Child Welfare. Every second child in India has faced sexual abuse, and two-thirds of children have been physically abused, the survey estimates.

The study was conducted in 13 States and based on interviews with 12,447 children. It is a damning indictment of Indian society's cruelty to its young and most vulnerable. One-fifth of the world's children live in India. Forty-two per cent of India's population is under 18 - that is 440 million people, a number greater than the population of the United States. Despite the fact that India has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the country has dozens of child welfare schemes, a large portion of the child population remains neglected and exploited.

Over half of the children interviewed (53 per cent) had been sexually abused. More boys than girls were harmed. And, 21 per cent of the children reported severe abuse. Children at home and not going to school were more at risk than those attending school. The most affected were children at work (61 per cent reported sexual abuse). Street children (54 per cent) were only slightly more vulnerable than children at home not attending school (53 per cent). More than 70 per cent of children had not told anyone else about their abuse. Of the young adults (aged 18 to 24) who were interviewed, 46 per cent reported that they were sexually abused as children.

Parents and family members were the people most likely to abuse children physically. Around 48 per cent of children said they were physically abused by family members, while 34 per cent were beaten by others. "Considering that the family is supposed to provide a protective atmosphere for the child, especially during the formative years, the high percentage is both surprising and alarming," the study says. But severe abuse was committed mostly by outsiders. Every sixth child faced severe thrashing by people outside the family.

Children are routinely hit at school as a form of disciplining. The survey estimates that 65 per cent of children get beaten in schools across the country. Boys are more vulnerable than girls in this regard. "In States like Delhi, Maharashtra, Goa, West Bengal and Gujarat, which are also sample States in the study, corporal punishment has been banned by State governments. Yet, some of the highest percentages of corporal punishment can be seen in these States," says the study, authored by Loveleen Kacker, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Women and Child Welfare; Srinivas Varadan and Pravesh Kumar, with assistance from Dr. Nadeem Mohsin and Anu Dixit.

A reason for the alarming findings could be the fact that the study has focussed on the most vulnerable groups of children and has not taken a sample that is representative of the total child population. Essentially, five groups of equal sample size were interviewed for the survey - children in school, children out of school and at home, street children, working children and children in institutions. As it gives equal weightage to each, the survey cannot apply the findings to the entire population. Three of these are vulnerable groups that do not form a large proportion of the population, which may be why the results are startling. For instance, all over India more than 60 per cent of children are in school, but schoolchildren constitute only 20 per cent of the survey's sample.

However, the survey has been path-breaking because until now the main source of information on child abuse was the National Crime Records Bureau, where only registered cases are counted. Most incidents of child abuse are not reported to the police. Moreover, several forms of abuse are not reflected in the crime statistics.

"We did this study because a lack of data was one of our major constraints in pushing for greater resource allocation for child protection schemes. There was a conspiracy of silence, and people did not feel that child abuse was such a major problem," said Loveleen Kacker. "The results are shocking but confirm that there is more abuse than we tend to accept."

"It is very commendable that the government has done this survey and acknowledged the magnitude of the problem," says Vidya Reddy, from Tulir Centre for the Prevention & Healing of Child Sexual Abuse. "They are also proposing the Integrated Child Protection Scheme and an Offences Against Child Bill. If these are implemented properly, it will be a big step towards tackling child abuse."

Child workers formed one-fifth of the children interviewed and are among the most exploited. Of all child labourers, 56 per cent were employed illegally or in hazardous industries - domestic work; roadside restaurants, or dhabas; construction work, beedi-rolling; lock-making; embroidery; and zari weaving. More than half of child workers laboured seven days a week, without holidays. Of all working children, 23 per cent were domestic workers, of whom 81 per cent were girls. Fourteen per cent of the domestic child workers said they were abused by their employers.

Street children survive in the most inhuman living conditions. The survey found that two of three street children lived with their parents. Only 17 per cent slept in a night shelter. Hygiene conditions were miserable. More than 70 per cent defecated in the open, and 50 per cent did not have access to a municipal tap to bathe. The survey found that they were often not able to meet their basic needs for food.

The report recommends setting up a state commission for the protection of the rights of the child and implementing `action plans' for child protection. "We will introduce an Offences Against Children (Prevention) Bill in Parliament. There are many things not considered an offence under current law," said Loveleen Kacker. "We need to spend more on child protection. Right now it is only 0.03 per cent of the budget. The Ministry is introducing an Integrated Child Protection Scheme soon. It is disturbing that 40 per cent of our children are at risk."

Creating outreach services for street children and child workers and strengthening support services under the Juvenile Justice Act are also included in the report's recommendations. More public awareness about child abuse is necessary to acknowledge and tackle the problem. Children, too, have to be aware of their rights.

"This survey highlights the urgent need for sex education, not only for pre-adolescents but even younger children. How else will children learn to be strong and understand how to protect themselves?" asks Ingrid Mendonca, from Terre des Hommes, a child rights organisation. "Unfortunately, the most progressive States are moving backwards by trying to ban sex education. It is urgently needed."

The entire system has to be made more child-friendly, says Vidya Apte from the Forum Against Child Sexual Exploitation. "The issue is swept under the carpet. Most doctors, psychologists, lawyers, judges and police officials don't know how to handle such cases. It is not part of their training," she says. "It is time to remove the taboo around this issue. We have to help children to protect themselves. If we feel embarrassed to talk about it, how can we advise our children?"

The government report also stresses the importance of education. "Beyond doubt, schools, as compared to other situations, are the safest place for children, and therefore efforts should be made to increase the enrolment and retention of children by adopting innovative, child-friendly methods of teaching," says the report. "Adequate infrastructure including sanitation facilities, keeping in mind the special needs of the girl child, will encourage enrolment and retention of girl children in schools," it says. "Schools must have proper facilities in place, teachers who work diligently, and midday meal schemes in order to get kids back into school. There should be a school within 5 km of every village or settlement. Then, a total ban on child labour is more likely to be effective. Right now, there isn't enough political pressure to ban child labour," says Mendonca. India has 110 million child workers - double the total population of Italy.

What is needed is not just a few new laws but an entire overhaul of the system and better awareness within society. The State will have to invest a lot into protecting and promoting child rights to restore the image of the happy Indian family.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Writer's Block


Starting to get pissed of this writer's block thingy that I have been stuck with for so long... i write for a living but I can't write anything for fun/pleasure. looks like i will keep posting interesting news articles etc for a while. I hope I get over this soon.

Anyways, until then I will bore my few readers with these articles from other newspapers etc ha ha..

Take care ya'll.


Saturday, September 15, 2007

Using Rape As A Weapon

Diane E. King*
International Herald Tribune
July 8, 2007

Iraq's diverse cultures share a way of understanding the family,"patriliny," in which identities ranging from religion to ethnicity to clan are conferred by fathers alone, not mothers. Understanding patriliny can help shed light on inter-group conflict in Iraq, specifically on the inter-sectarian rapes and killings that take place every day.

In the cultural logic of patriliny, a child receives social and legal categories from his or her father. The child of a Kurdish mother and an Arab father, for example, is regarded as 100 percent Arab.

There are not any Iraqis who are legally regarded as belonging to two different parentally conferred categories. The categories are thus sealed off from each other by the conventions of kinship, and there are no people who share multiple categories. While that alone might be regarded as giving rise to the perfect inter-sectarian storm, it is not the only facet of patriliny that may contribute to conflict.

In the kind of patriliny found in Iraq, procreation is imagined via a seed and soil metaphor. During ethnographic research I have carried out since 1995, Iraqi Kurds have explained to me their understanding that, during sex, a man "plants a seed" in a woman. This seed is then nurtured in the "soil" of the womb. Only the seed is seen to contribute the essence of the child. I once heard it explained by a proponent of this cultural theory that a child who bears resemblance to his or her mother is a product of a seed that failed to fend off permeation by some of the soil during gestation. This could lead, I was told, to ridicule of the child's father for producing weak seed.

Rape is always humiliating, always a violation, always awful. But under patrilineal cultures, it can also be a tool of sectarian discord and even genocide. This is the case in Iraq, where rape is frequently used as a weapon of sectarian conflict. When a Shiite militiaman rapes a Sunni woman, for example, he is seen as potentially implanting a Shiite individual into her womb. He is causing her to suffer dual humiliations: She is sexually violated, with all of the personal implications that that would carry in any culture. But the rape further serves like a Trojan Horse: hereafter, an offspring bearing the rapist's identity may well be hidden inside her body, an enemy who will emerge in nine months.

So cross-sectarian rape as a weapon of political conflict hypothetically can force a woman to nurture her own enemy. But in actual practice, this rarely happens. Rather, the tragedy of rape is compounded when a member of that woman's group eliminates her and any enemy offspring through an "honor killing." Honor killings are usually carried out by the father or brother of the victim, although they may be committed by others from the group. Alternatively, the woman herself may commit an "honor suicide."

Honor killings have been on the rise in Iraq. The connection these killings have to a corresponding rise in rapes has not been documented, but there seems to be every reason to assume a connection.

Women are not the only ones whose victimization in warfare takes on richer meaning in light of patriliny. In patrilineal logic, a man is not simply an individual with the ability to wage conflict; he is the sole bearer of seed, the sowing of which adds greater strength to his group. A man who is killed is eliminated from producing any further members of his group.

In patriliny, the stage is set for one patrilineal group to inflict maximum harm on another: Rape the women, and thereby inflict one of the awful options of bearing enemy children or killing their own. Kill the men, and thereby eliminate not only combatants, but those with power to produce more members of the enemy. No people with hybrid identities exist.

Inter-group enmity driven by patrlineal logic has already given rise to genocidal conflict from Bosnia to Rwanda, Kosovo to Darfur. Iraq may already justifiably be placed on this list. Who will speak up for the victims? All those in power in Iraq bear a responsibility to stop the madness.

Diane E. King, a cultural anthropologist whose research focuses on Iraqi Kurdistan, is a researcher at Washington State University.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

An intelligent approach to intelligent design

Michael Balter*
International Herald Tribune

January 31, 2007

In January, Britain's Qualifications and Curriculum Authority issued new guidelines for teaching about science and religion. They include some excellent ideas. For example, the guidelines encourage teachers to stage historical debates between science and religion, with students taking the roles of Charles Darwin, Galileo and even Richard Dawkins, the Oxford University scientist and outspoken atheist.

In another exercise, students are asked to write an essay on the following topic: "The world is very complex. Does this mean that it must have been the work of a creator God?"

These suggestions, which are designed for 14-year- old students, are intended only for religion classes, and not the science curriculum. That is a pity, because a confrontation between scientific and religious views of the universe would be an ideal way to teach science — especially a subject as contentious as the theory of evolution.

So far, however, British scientists and their supporters have managed to keep creationism out of the classroom, along with its latter-day incarnation, intelligent design (the "thinking man's creationism," as Science magazine put it recently.)

In the United States, despite strong pressure from religious groups, a 1987 Supreme Court decision banning classroom teaching of creationism has held up.

Given the theory of evolution's monopoly in the classroom, one might think that it has gained a steady stream of converts over the years. But a recent poll taken for the BBC found that the British public was split on the issue: Only 48 percent of respondents thought evolution best explained the development of life on earth, while 22 percent chose creationism, 17 percent intelligent design, and the rest said they did not know.

As depressing as those figures might be to scientists, they are pretty good compared to the results of similar surveys in the United States. A Gallup poll in November 2004 found that only 13 percent of respondents thought that God had no part in the evolution or creation of human beings, while 45 percent said they believed that God had created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years or so.

To be sure, this chronic skepticism about evolutionary theory reflects the continuing strong influence of religion. Yet it also implies that scientists have not been persuasive enough, even when buttressed by strong scientific evidence that natural selection alone can account for life's complexity.

Could it be that the theory of evolution's monopoly in the classroom has backfired?

For one thing, this monopoly strengthens claims by creationists and intelligent-design proponents that scientists don't want to be challenged. More importantly, it shields Darwinian theory from
challenges that, when properly refuted, might win over adherents to evolutionary views.

A few years ago, a biology instructor at a university in Washington State set out to test this idea.

First-year biology majors were divided into four sections. Two groups were assigned portions of Dawkins' "The Blind Watchmaker," a pro-evolution book, as well as a book advocating intelligent design called "Icons of Evolution." These groups also viewed a short animated creationist film and read an online rebuttal of creationist ideas, as well as materials on the nature and history of science. The other two groups read only evolutionary materials.

At the end of the course, the students were invited to take a voluntary, anonymous survey about possible changes in their outlooks. The results, published in the November 2005 issue of the journal BioScience, found that 61 percent of students exposed to both creationism and evolution changed their outlooks, while only 21 percent of students exposed only to evolution did so — and nearly all of the changes were from the creationist to the evolutionist direction.

The instructor concluded that directly and respectfully engaging with students' beliefs, rather than ignoring them as most science teachers are forced to do, could be a more effective way to teach evolution.

Soon after this study was published, I got into a ferocious debate with commentators on a pro-evolution blog, who argued that this approach was all fine and dandy for university students but too advanced for high school students.

Yet the first-year students in Washington were just out of high school, and the new British guidance for religion classes — which uses a similar strategy — is aimed at 14-year-olds.

The polls show that scientists and science teachers have little to lose and everything to gain by bringing creationism into the classroom, where it can be critically debated and its merits compared to those of evolutionary theory.

The history of the theory is one of bitter debates between science and religion. In "On the Origin of Species," Darwin refuted the arguments for intelligent design put forward by the 18th century English philosopher William Paley, who had greatly influenced Darwin until he visited the Galapagos Islands and saw natural selection at work. Over the ensuing decades, Darwin's theories were rigorously tested and criticized before they won over even the majority of scientists.

The best way to teach the theory of evolution is to teach this contentious history. The most effective way to convince students that the theory is correct is to confront, not avoid, the continuing challenges to it.

*Michael Balter writes for the magazine Science. The views expressed here are his own.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Myth of Sisyphus - Albert Camus

(Just an essay from a writer who has influenced me a lot)

Translation by Justin O'Brien, 1955

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than fu tile and hopeless labor.

If one believes Homer, Sisyphus was the wisest and most prudent of mortals. According to another tradition, however, he was disposed to practice the profession of highwayman. I see no contradiction in this. Opinions differ as to the reasons why he became the futile laborer of the underworld. To begin with, he is accused of a certain levity in regard to the gods. He stole their secrets. Egina, the daughter of Esopus, was carried off by Jupiter. The father was shocked by that disappearance and complained to Sisyphus. He, who knew of the abduction, offered to tell about it on condition that Esopus would give water to the citadel of Corinth. To the celestial thunderbolts he preferred the benediction of water. He was punished for this in the underworld. Homer tells us also that Sisyphus had put Death in chains. Pluto could not endure the sight of his deserted, silent empire. He dispatched the god of war, who liberated Death from the hands of her conqueror.

It is said that Sisyphus, being near to death, rashly wanted to test his wife's love. He ordered her to cast his unburied body into the middle of the public square. Sisyphus woke up in the underworld. And there, annoyed by an obedience so contrary to human love, he obtained from Pluto permission to return to earth in order to chastise his wife. But when he had seen again the face of this world, enjoyed water and sun, warm stones and the sea, he no longer wanted to go back to the infernal darkness. Recalls, signs of anger, warnings were of no avail. Many years more he lived facing the curve of the gulf, the sparkling sea, and the smiles of earth. A decree of the gods was necessary. Mercury came and seized the impudent man by the collar and, snatching him from his joys, lead him forcibly back to the underworld, where his rock was ready for him.

You have already grasped that Sisyphus is the absurd hero. He is, as much through his passions as through his torture. His scorn of the gods, his hatred of death, and his passion for life won him that unspeakable penalty in which the whole being is exerted toward accomplishing nothing. This is the price that must be paid for the passions of this earth. Nothing is told us about Sisyphus in the underworld. Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them. As for this myth, one sees merely the whole effort of a body straining to raise the huge stone, to roll it, and push it up a slope a hundred times over; one sees the face screwed up, the cheek tight against the stone, the shoulder bracing the clay-covered mass, the foot wedging it, the fresh start with arms outstretched, the wholly human security of two earth-clotted hands. At the very end of his long effort measured by skyless space and time without depth, the purpose is achieved. Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain.

It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! I see that man going back down with a heavy yet measured step toward the torment of which he will never know the end. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that can not be surmounted by scorn.

If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy. This word is not too much. Again I fancy Sisyphus returning toward his rock, and the sorrow was in the beginning. When the images of earth cling too tightly to memory, when the call of happiness becomes too insistent, it happens that melancholy arises in man's heart: this is the rock's victory, this is the rock itself. The boundless grief is too heavy to bear. These are our nights of Gethsemane. But crushing truths perish from being acknowledged. Thus, Edipus at the outset obeys fate without knowing it. But from the moment he knows, his tragedy begins. Yet at the same moment, blind and desperate, he realizes that the on ly bond linking him to the world is the cool hand of a girl. Then a tremendous remark rings out: "Despite so many ordeals, my advanced age and the nobility of my soul make me conclude that all is well." Sophocles' Edipus, like Dostoevsky's Kirilov, thus gives the recipe for the absurd victory. Ancient wisdom confirms modern heroism.

One does not discover the absurd without being tempted to write a manual of happiness. "What!---by such narrow ways--?" There is but one world, however. Happiness and the absurd are two sons of the same earth. They are inseparable. It would be a mistake to say that happiness necessarily springs from the absurd. discovery. It happens as well that the felling of the absurd springs from happiness. "I conclude that all is well," says Edipus, and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted. It drives out of this world a god who had come into it with dissatisfaction and a preference for futile suffering. It makes of fate a human matter, which must be settled among men.

All Sisyphus' silent joy is contained therein. His fate belongs to him. His rock is a thing Likewise, the absurd man, when he contemplates his torment, silences all the idols. In the universe suddenly restored to its silence, the myriad wondering little voices of the earth rise up. Unconscious, secret calls, invitations from all the faces, they are the necessary reverse and price of victory. There is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night. The absurd man says yes and his efforts will henceforth be unceasing. If there is a personal fate, there is no higher destiny, or at least there is, but one which he concludes is inevitable and despicable. For the rest, he knows himself to be the master of his days. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.