A recent child trafficking scandal in India with 580 kids illegally moved into Muslim orphanages in Kerala provoked national outrage. But experts warn this is just the tip of the iceberg with probably thousands more children lured or abducted from their homes and then sold into prostitution. Others are maimed for the purposes of begging or even killed for their organs. The practise is particularly rampant in India’s underdeveloped villages where some families willingly sell their children for measly sums of cash. Poverty has been blamed as a major factor in the country of 1.2 billion people where almost 70 per cent live on less than two dollars a day.
Experts have condemned Latin America’s anti-drug laws which mostly affect poor young men, slum-dwellers and single mothers while letting major criminals off the hook. A recent conference in Costa Rica saw activists, experts and decision-makers come together to demand reforms to ease the pressure on vulnerable groups and shift the focus of law enforcement measures to those who benefit most from the drug trade. Currently, many of those in prison serving long sentences for drug smuggling are poor people who were forced into the illicit trade by poverty.
“Together with our seven children we fled into the hospital grounds and slept our first night under trees to escape the Israeli missiles that were destroying whole areas, killing entire families,” said Islam Abu Sheira, speaking about the Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip that came to an end recently after 50 days of conflict. The war is over but now thousands are without homes to return to, having fled with only the clothes on their backs. Many are still living in temporary refuges such as schools, which are overcrowded and lack appropriate sanitation. Already with a deficit of 70,000 homes following previous conflicts, Gaza now faces a catastrophic housing crisis in one the most densely populated places in the world.
The United Nations has condemned the criminalisation of homelessness in the USA in a damning new report. Homelessness in America has increased substantially in some cities in the wake of the economic recession leaving thousands more people on the streets. Yet, in many places the authorities have responded by cracking down on activities such as sleeping, loitering and eating in public while simultaneously defunding social services. There was also criticism from the UN that homelessness has disproportionately affected ethnic minorities. In recent years, street papers have been at the forefront in exposing the criminalisation of homeless people across the world. IPS reports.
“My husband was shot with a poisoned arrow, and my children hacked to death. Everything was burnt to ashes, I barely escaped with my life,” says Mary Wacu. She was speaking about violence in Kenya that erupted after a disputed general election in 2007 that left 1,500 people dead and resulted in the rape of 3000 women and the displacement of 300,000. Top government leaders, including President Uhuru Kenyatta, have since had charges of crimes against humanity levelled at them. However, a new law that will grant immunity from prosecution to heads of African states has been condemned by human rights campaigners. Miriam Gathigah of IPS reports.
Pacific Island states are surrounded by the largest ocean in the world, yet many living there struggle to get enough water to meet basic needs. People living in small villages on islands such as Upolu, the main island of Samoa, are dependent on rainfall because they have no money for water tanks or pipes. In the dry season they struggle with sanitation, washing, cooking and drinking and when droughts occur, as they did in 2011 and 2012, they can be left with no water at all. Inadequate water sources and climate change are both major problems, as is poor infrastructure. IPS reports.
Despite new laws and campaigns in Lebanon to change prejudicial public opinion about members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, experts say they are still under threat. The recent arrest of 27 LGBT people at a popular public bath in Beirut is testament to this, with 14 people still held in detention despite a judge ordering their release. Human rights advocates have also reported the continued use of anal probes – viewed internationally as a form of torture - to ascertain whether a person is homosexual in the Middle Eastern nation where simply being gay can result in a year’s imprisonment.
A new law in Pueblo, Mexico, dubbed the “Bullet Law”, allows police to break up violent protests using force including rubber bullets and tear gas. A small town in the state recently found out that these so-called “non-lethals” can indeed be deadly, after a thirteen year old boy was killed during a police crackdown in response to a local protest. One young boy lost three fingers in the violence while another teenager had his jaw broken and several teeth knocked out. No one has been held accountable and human rights activists have condemned attempts by Mexican authorities to use such force to clamp down on all protests.
Football, traditionally a man’s sport in Uganda, is becoming increasingly popular with the African nations’ young women. Indeed, there are now 64 girls’ schools competing up and down the country with many young players aspiring to become the next Majidah Nantanda – a star player who became the Ugandan women’s team first ever female coach. However, a governing body threatens to dash the hopes of Ugandan women wanting to compete at an international level. Controversy arose after a trip to Canada for the women under-20s World Cup was cancelled due to lack of funds, while at the same time money continues to be ploughed into the men’s team.
After being successful in a decade long struggle to prevent five hydroelectric dams being built on rivers, Chile’s Patagonia region is gearing up for another battle as plans have been drawn up for another dam on its Cuervo River. Experts have warned that the new project will pose more than just an environmental risk, as it would be built on a fault line – an area of active volcanoes prone to earthquakes. IPS reports.
Whaling in Iceland has come under scrutiny last year, meeting with increasing opposition both at home and abroad. Defenders of the practise say it is a big part of the country’s economy, but strangely enough there are no figures to support or refute this claim. IPS investigates what actually happens to the whale meat when it is brought back from the sea – with the only country accepting it being Japan, where some reports say it sits rotting away in customs – and asks whether it benefits Iceland financially at all. International condemnation has seen not just whale meat being banned in most of the world, but other meat produced by Iceland being removed from shelves because of the country’s bad image.
Children’s rights activists in Pakistan are fighting a losing battle to end child marriages in a country where around 35 per cent of people are married before the legal age of 18. In some parts of the country early marriage is a deeply engrained cultural tradition, with some communities ruling that a girl is ready to marry as soon as she is able to carry a full pitcher of water on her head. Critics have blamed weak penalties for families marrying off young children – currently just a small fine – and the influence of religious groups in the 97 percent Muslim country. Early marriage has been blamed for high school dropout rates as well as maternal and new-born deaths.
The Upper Bonda tribe of India have long been resistant to contact with the outside world and are fiercely sceptical of modern development. However, a dwindling population and a younger generation increasingly frustrated with living in poverty are pushing the tribe towards greater interaction with modern society. IPS reports on how these changes pose questions about the tribe’s future.
Violence in South Sudan is set to plunge the world’s newest country into famine and lawlessness. The conflict between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader Riek Machar has raged for eight months now and has cost some 10,000 lives and left 1.5 million displaced. The country is already struggling for food and with more harvests and crop planting being missed things will only get worse. Andrew Green of IPS analyses the situation with experts pointing to horrific human rights abuses (such as patients being shot in hospital beds) as a common hallmark of the war.
The new official secrets law in Honduras has been lambasted as unconstitutional by human rights experts who say that it gives the government a stranglehold on freedom of expression and investigative journalism. In a confidential report seen by IPS, the law is seen not only to attack the freedom of the press but to cover up government corruption by being able to classify public information “ultra secret” and hidden for up to 25 years.
Chile is hoping to alleviate its current energy crisis by building Latin America’s first solar thermal power plant. The plant will be built in the Atacama Desert, the most arid place on Earth where the sun shines year round. The billion-dollar installation will store heat from the sun, as well as solar power, to provide clean energy to the Antofagasta region where the country’s constantly growing mining industry absorbs 90 percent of the power supply.
Sand harvesting in Kenya is a complex and arduous job which involves working in deep pits with no protective gear. It is incredibly dangerous and a somewhat deadly occupation but has become ubiquitous in Kenya because of a recent boom in construction in the African nations’ cities. Sand harvesters are paid meagre wages and the industry has been accused of massive exploitation of children, many of whom are drawn to the dangerous work because they have few if any other options to get money for food.
Environmental experts have warned that climate change is behind a rising sea level in Cameroon that is destroying beaches, reducing tourism and bankrupting businesses. In the town of Kribi, the coastline has eroded from 100 metres to 50 metres since 1990, and erosion, as well as waste being swept in from the Atlantic Ocean, has reduced its once sandy-white beaches to narrow muddy paths. The subsequent decline in tourism – as holiday makers head inwards to spend time in forest attractions – has already been felt, with bars, restaurants and hotels on the coast closing down.
Thousands of people took to the streets of New York, USA, in multiple protests against the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has left at least 1049 Palestinians dead and over 6000 injured since July 8th. Among the demonstrators’ many demands is that America stop supplying Israel with aid and arms – with the Campaign to End Israeli Occupation estimating that America has shelled out some 100 billion dollars’ worth of military and economic aid to the country since 1949. Israel has faced heavy criticism after many Palestinian children were killed during recent bombing.
The Ebola virus has recently killed 99 people in Sierra Leone, with another 315 people testing positive as the scourge also spreads into Guinea and Liberia. However, many people are not seeking treatment, further spreading the deadly virus which causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and diarrhoea. Horrific stats show that Ebola kills 90 percent of those infected. Critics have blamed government misinformation for turning patients against doctors trying to treat the disease, with some members of the public denying the outbreak while claiming medics have been murdering patients to either sell their organs or reduce population numbers. Some health workers have even been attacked in the street.