By Andre Damon:
A “great leap backwards”
UNICEF report: 2.6 million more children in poverty in developed countries since 2008
29 October 2014
The number of children in poverty in developed countries has increased by 2.6 million since 2008, according to a report published Tuesday by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). The report, titled Children of the Recession, states that there are 76.5 million children in poverty in the 41 countries surveyed by UNICEF.
The study documents the devastating impact that the 2008 financial crash and subsequent austerity measures have had on the well-being of children, and makes clear that despite official proclamations of economic recovery, the most vulnerable sections of society are far worse off now than they were before the crash. Young people have been made to bear a disproportionate burden of the economic crisis, with poverty rates increasing more rapidly for young people than for other age groups.
Between 2008 and 2013, the rate of child poverty increased by 2 percentage points in the United States and by 3 percentage points in France. But even these substantial increases were dwarfed by the increase in countries such as Spain, where the rate of child poverty grew by 8 percentage points; Ireland, where it grew by ten percentage points; Greece, where it grew by 17 percentage points; and Iceland, where it more than doubled, surging from 11.2 percent to 31.6 percent.
The report notes that, “rising numbers of children and their families have experienced difficulty in satisfying their most basic material and educational needs.” It adds that, “unemployment rates not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s have left many families unable to provide the care, protection and opportunities to which children are entitled.”
“The stock market may be going up, but the social safety net has not recovered,” said Alexandra Yuster, chief of social inclusion and policy at UNICEF, in a telephone interview Tuesday. “The fact is that the economic recovery has not resulted in declines in joblessness, which affects both young people and their parents,” she added.
As an example, Ms. Yuster noted that the budget for the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program in the United States was slashed both before and after the 2008 financial crash. “The program had a budget of $30 billion in 1994, reaching 5 million people,” she said, “but its funding had been reduced to $10 billion, allowing it to reach only 2 million people, by 2010.”
The report states that the ability of governments to provide social services in some of the countries most affected by the 2008 crash has been “hindered by the weight of the conditions imposed on them by the financial markets and the providers of financial assistance.” As a condition for emergency funding by the International Monetary Fund to pay for their massive bank bailouts, countries such as Greece, Portugal and Cyprus were forced to slash spending on social services. The cuts have had a dramatic impact on the well-being of children.
Since 2008, the share of households with children that are not able to afford one meal with meat, chicken or fish every other day has more than doubled in Estonia, Greece, Iceland and Italy. Jeffrey O’Malley, UNICEF’s head of global policy and strategy, said these findings reflected a “great leap backwards.”
“Twenty-five years after the Convention on the Rights of the Child became international law, many of its commitments remain unrealized, and the developed countries most capable of delivering on them are losing ground,” notes the report. “The Great Recession… has inflicted the economic crisis on children.”
The report adds that, “the gap between rich and poor families has widened in an alarming number of industrialized countries. For many of these children, once again place of birth may determine their rights and opportunities in life.”
UNICEF found that the share of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) has risen dramatically. Some 7.5 million young people in the European Union were not in education, employment or training in 2013–nearly a million more than in 2008.
In the United States, the share of NEETs has grown by 3 percentage points, putting the US squarely in the company of the countries most severely affected by the crisis. In Italy, NEETs have increased by 5.6 percentage points; in Greece, by 8.9 percentage points; and in Cyprus, by 9 percentage points. The percentage of NEETS in these latter countries has grown by 30 percent or more.
In the countries most exposed to the economic crisis, “The number of 15- to 24-year-olds in part-time work or who are underemployed has tripled,” the report states.
These changes have had a dramatic impact on the individual well-being of young people. The report notes that in Greece, the share of young people surveyed who said they “experienced stress today” jumped from 49 per cent in 2006 to 74 percent in 2013. In the United States, “the share of respondents that have experienced not having enough money to buy food doubled, from 10 per cent to 20 percent.”
The growth of social misery has not been confined to the countries most associated with austerity programs. The report states that between 2008 and 2013, “the use of food banks by families in Canada increased by 23 percent.”
Six years after the 2008 crash, there has been no recovery for the great majority of the world’s population. Even as the wealth of the super-rich continues to soar, tens of millions remain unemployed in North America, Europe and Japan. Wages continue to be driven down and social services slashed.
There is supposedly no money to feed, house or educate children, but unlimited funds are made available to the financial markets by the world’s central banks. More and more billions are being squandered on imperialist wars and rearmament, as the major powers, led by the United States, hurtle toward a new world war.
This video from the USA says about itself:
17 August 2014
In the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, John Oliver explores the racial inequality in treatment by police as well as the increasing militarization of America’s local police forces.
From the Huffington Post in the USA:
As the Ferguson police force gears up in preparation for a grand jury decision regarding Darren Wilson, school district superintendents have asked the lead prosecutor to announce the decision on a Sunday so children can get home from school. And Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson denied a CNN report that said his resignation was imminent.
From the BBC:
29 October 2014 Last updated at 01:37 GMT
Switzerland’s shame: The children used as cheap farm labour
By Kavita Puri, Switzerland
Thousands of people in Switzerland who were forced into child labour are demanding compensation for their stolen childhoods. Since the 1850s hundreds of thousands of Swiss children were taken from their parents and sent to farms to work – a practice that continued well into the 20th Century.
David Gogniat heard a loud knock on the door. There were two policemen.
“I heard them shouting and realised something was wrong. I looked out and saw that my mother had pushed the policemen down the stairs,” he says.
“She then came back in and slammed the door. The next day three policemen came. One held my mother and the other took me with them.”
At the age of eight, he was in effect kidnapped and taken away to a farm. To this day he has no idea why.
For the first years of his life, he and his older brother and sisters lived alone with their mother. They were poor, but his childhood was happy until one day in 1946, when he came home from school to find his siblings had disappeared.
A year later it was his turn.
He was taken to an old farmhouse and became the farmhand. He would wake before 06:00 and worked before and after school. His day finished after 22:00. This physically imposing man in his 70s looks vulnerable as he remembers the frequent violence from the foster father. “I would almost describe him as a tyrant… I was afraid of him. He had quite a temper and would hit me for the smallest thing,” Gogniat says.
On one occasion, when he was older, he remembers he snapped, grabbed his foster father, pushed him against the wall and was about to hit him. The man threatened him: “If you hit me, I’ll have you sent to an institution.” David backed off.
His siblings were living with families in the nearby village, though he rarely saw them. He missed his mother desperately. They wrote and there were occasional visits. One day his mother made an audacious attempt to get her children back. She came up with an Italian couple in a Fiat Topolino and said she was taking his siblings for a walk. David wasn’t there but it was the talk of the village when he came back that night. The police brought the children back three days later.
“The fact that my mother arranged to kidnap her own children and take them back home to Bern with her just goes to show how much she was struggling against the authorities,” Gogniat says. On his mother’s death he made a shocking discovery. He found papers which showed she had been paying money to the foster families for the upkeep of her four children, who had been forcibly taken away from her and were working as indentured labourers.
Gogniat, his brother and two sisters were “contract children” or Verdingkinder as they are known in Switzerland. The practice of using children as cheap labour on farms and in homes began in the 1850s and it continued into the second half of the 20th Century. Historian Loretta Seglias says children were taken away for “economic reasons most of the time… up until World War Two Switzerland was not a wealthy country, and a lot of the people were poor”. Agriculture was not mechanised and so farms needed child labour.
If a child became orphaned, a parent was unmarried, there was fear of neglect, or you had the misfortune to be poor, the communities would intervene. Authorities tried to find the cheapest way to look after these children, so they took them out of their families and placed them in foster families.
“They wanted to take these children out of the poor family and put them somewhere else where they could learn how to work, as through work they could support themselves as adults,” says Seglias.
Quote: “It was like a kind of punishment. Being poor was not recognised as a social problem, it was individual failure.”
Dealing with the poor in this way she says was social engineering. If a parent dared to object, they could face measures themselves. “They could be put in prison or an institution where you would be made to work, so you could always put pressure on the parents.”
Mostly it was farms that children were sent to, but not always. Sarah (not her real name) had been in institutions from birth, but in 1972, at the age of nine, she was sent to a home in a village, where she was expected to clean the house. She did that before and after school, and at night cleaned offices in nearby villages for her foster mother. She was beaten regularly by the mother, she says, and at the age of 11 started being sexually abused by the sons at night.
This is the first time she has spoken about her story and her hands shake as she remembers. “The worst thing is that one sister, their daughter, once caught one of those boys… while I was asleep and she told the woman… [who said] that it didn’t matter, I was just a slag anyway,” Sarah says. A teacher and the school doctor wrote to the authorities, to express concern about her, but nothing was done.
There was no official decision to end the use of contract children. Seglias says it just naturally started to die out in the 1960s and 70s. As farming became mechanised, the need for child labour vanished. But Switzerland was changing too. Women got the vote in 1971 and attitudes towards poverty and single mothers moved on.
I found an exceptionally late case in a remote part of Switzerland. In 1979, Christian’s mother was struggling. Recently divorced from a violent husband she needed support.
Instead, the state took her seven and eight-year-old sons to a farm many hours away by car. Christian remembers getting out of the car and watching his mother and the woman from social services driving off.
“My brother and I stood in front of the house feeling very lost and didn’t know what to do… it was a strange moment, a moment you never forget,” he says.
On the first day they were given overalls and perfectly fitting rubber boots, “because before the placement the woman from social services had even asked what size shoes we wore… When I think back I do believe there was an awareness that my brother and I would be made to work there.”
There was work before and after school, at weekends and all year round. He remembers one incident, at a silo where cut grass was kept to make into silage. “In winter it was pretty frozen and I had to hack quite hard with the pitchfork and I was put under pressure and then this accident happened and the fork went through my toe.”
Christian says work accidents were never reported to his mother or social services. And if the boys didn’t work hard enough there were repercussions. Food was withheld as a form of punishment.
“My brother and I just went hungry at the time. When I think back there were five years during which we constantly went hungry. That’s why my brother and I used to steal food,” Christian says. He remembers they stole chocolate from the village shop – though he now thinks the owners knew the boys were hungry and let them take the goodies. A former teacher of Christian’s at the local school says with hindsight he looked malnourished.
But there were also more serious consequences if Christian didn’t work hard enough, including violence. “We were pretty much being driven to work,” he says. “There were many beatings, slaps in the face, pulling of hair, tugging of ears – there was also one incident involving something like a mock castration.”
Christian has no doubt why he and his brother were placed with the farmer. “I believe it was about cheap labour… we were profitable,” he says. “They expanded the farm… it was five years of hard work.”
When I visited Christian’s mother, Svetlana, she took out a letter he had written to her during his time with the foster family. Christian himself hadn’t seen it for nearly 30 years.
“It’s a very strange letter. It’s my handwriting but not my words,” he says. It’s a rhyming poem in German, sent to her on Mother’s Day, and it accuses her of failing to look after her children. Svetlana cries as Christian translates it into English. “We are never washed and usually not combed, the socks had holes and the shirt was dirty,” he says.
For Mother’s Day: We would never be washed, and mostly not brushed, our socks would have holes, our shirts were dirty, we would eat fish with honey, and cauliflower with cinnamon if you didn’t take care of us. We would have wet feet, and black teeth like soot, and would be covered up to our ears in prune mousse. We couldn’t sleep if you didn’t come and take us in your arms before we slipped into our dreams. And still we are sometimes a burden, but what would you be without children? Be glad you have us.
His mother has been unable to read this for decades. “I was being humiliated, portrayed as a bad uncaring mother without a heart or soul,” she says.
“We were forced to write these letters,” Christian remembers. “There was constant control… no boy could have written that.” Around the borders of the letter are Christian’s childlike drawings. And there is a sticker of a heart with the word “love” written across it.
Quote: They came as babies… and the bigger they grew the more work they would do.
From daily The Independent in Britain:
Tuesday 28 October 2014
However you spin it, the story of British intervention in Afghanistan is a tragedy
It’s strange how 13 years after we went to war on Afghanistan, the actual reasons for doing so seem to be almost entirely obscured. ‘Leaving the country in better shape’ seems a favourite – if anodyne – description, or perhaps making it ‘more stable’. Beyond that, we have assisting in nation-building, tackling the drugs trade, improving gender equality… the list of constructive and humanitarian-sounding tasks is a long one.
Does anyone now remember or refer to the actually stated reason – the War on Terror – declared by President Bush in the days following the 9/11 attacks on the United States? The war on Afghanistan was its first manifestation, inflicted on the people of Afghanistan by Bush and Blair on 7 October 2001. This was Operation Enduring Freedom – launched on the grounds that the Taliban government refused to hand over Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda operatives.
The stated goal was to continue the War on Terror until every terrorist group had been found, stopped and defeated. Whilst this goal may have found emotional resonance with many shocked by the terrible attacks on innocent civilians there were also many at the time who argued against the collective punishment of an entire people because of the actions of a foreign-originated terrorist cell. Tens of thousands of innocent civilians have died as a result.
But the arguments made for alternative courses of action to bring the criminals to book fell on deaf ears. And though targeted alternatives were derided at the time, Bin Laden was eventually killed in Pakistan in 2011 by a team of US navy seals.
This was not so surprising as it turned out, for as time passed it became clear that the US had actually decided to overthrow the Taliban before the 9/11 attacks and spoke of regime change in other countries too. The tragedy of 9/11 was an opportunity to bring about the change in the region that the Bush administration sought. In that context, the illegal war on Iraq – following hard on the heels of Afghanistan – was made all of a piece in Bush and Blair’s War on Terror narrative. Many at the time rightly observed that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq but that war would be the midwife of terrorism there. Over a decade on, that couldn’t be clearer as the region is engulfed in catastrophic and brutal conflict and attendant humanitarian crises. The shocking and seemingly unstoppable events of the last months are indeed part of the legacy of that opportunist and disastrous ‘War on Terror’.
The rebranding began some years ago. In April 2007, the British government announced that it was no longer using the term ‘War on Terror’. President Obama abandoned it in favour of ‘Overseas Contingency Operation’ as he sought to distance himself from the most extreme and unpopular policies of his predecessor, without making significant changes to the policy direction. In Britain, the shift was not surprising given the shattering impact of popular opposition to Blair’s War on Terror at home. The consequences of Blair’s lies continue to reverberate around the corridors of power and they have reshaped the politics and practice of military intervention for a generation.
In the meantime, the way we talk about our military intervention in Afghanistan has gone through a number of rationalisations. But whether we were supposed to be there to counter terrorism, to help the Afghans build a new society and democratic infrastructure, to support and advance the rights and opportunities of women and girls, or to tackle the drugs trade as it re-emerged post-Taliban, the reality is, we weren’t equipped for any of it and we just shouldn’t have been there.
In the thirteen years of our military involvement in Afghanistan, the sorry truth is that tens of thousands of innocent civilians were killed and the lives of 453 British troops were lost. Opium production is at record levels, providing around 90% of global supply. There has indeed been a rise in women’s rights – around 3 million girls now attend school – but these advances have been offset by a rise in gender specific violence including rape and acid attacks. These results have cost us anything between £20-£40 billion.
Whatever the narrative, however you describe it, the story of British intervention in Afghanistan is a tragedy – for our troops whose lives have been lost needlessly and for the people of Afghanistan who once again have to start rebuilding their lives. Let us hope that the lessons will be learned.
This video is called The Cut; 2014 German Film Trailer in English.
By Hiram Lee in the USA:
The Cut, a story of the Armenian Genocide
28 October 2014
Beginning in April 1915, the Ottoman Empire, which had entered the war on the side of the Central Powers, launched a campaign of extermination against its Armenian population. The bourgeois nationalist Young Turks, who had come to power in 1908, now found themselves surrounded by the Allied powers. They had suffered significant defeats at the hands of Russia in the Caucasus Campaign of 1915, thwarting attempts to reclaim territories previously lost along the Ottoman Empire’s eastern borders.
Claiming the defeats were the result of support given to Russia by the predominantly Christian Armenian population within the Empire, the Young Turks set out on a program of mass murder and forced relocation of the Armenian people. As many as 1.5 million Armenians are believed to have perished.
Akin’s film opens in Mardin, a city in southeastern Turkey. It is 1915, and the first imperialist war is raging. We are on the eve of the Armenian Genocide. Upon returning home from work one evening, blacksmith Nazaret Manoogian (Tahar Rahim) and his family worry that the violence of the war will finally reach them. They hear news of Allied forces arriving in Gallipoli. That night, their worst fears are realized.
Turkish soldiers round up the men of Mardin and march them into the desert. Told that all men over the age of 15 have now been conscripted into the military, they are forced into slave labor and made to build roads. Many are worked in the hot sun until they collapse and die.
The worker-prisoners witness large groups of women and children from the city of Kharput, in eastern Anatolia, marched away in front of them, part of the forced deportations carried out through death marches into Mesopotamia.
Nazaret and the other captive Armenians work until they are, one day, led away from their camp. Tied together and forced to kneel, all but Nazaret are executed. He is only spared because the soldier chosen to murder him hesitates and cannot bring himself to kill his prisoner. A wound in his neck, however, will prevent Nazaret from speaking for the remainder of his life.
Taken for dead, Nazaret is able to escape his captors and begins a long journey to reunite with his twin daughters, believed to be the only remaining survivors of his family. His search will take him to Syria, Lebanon, Cuba and the United States.
Akin’s film is a kind of Odyssey of the Armenian Genocide, in which a lone hero floats from episode to episode within the horrible event. This leads to many significant moments, but on the whole the different parts of his film don’t feel entirely connected or worked through. One is given glimpses of things, but a fuller picture remains somewhat hazy. It is a sometimes moving but often disappointing work.
Among the most disturbing sequences in Akin’s film is Nazaret’s journey to the death camps of Ras al-Ayn (on the Syrian-Turkish border today), where those who have not yet been killed lie starving to death. Such moments are brutal and at times difficult to watch. One does not feel, however, that Akin has filmed them in an exploitative manner. His approach during these sequences is generally sympathetic and sensitive. The performance of Tahir Rahim is also quite strong. The actor is able to communicate a wide range of emotions though he does not speak during the second half of the film.
Sequences depicting genuine warmth and even humor between survivors of the genocide, as they gather together to watch a showing of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid in Aleppo, Syria, make a strong impression. This is also true of the scenes inside a soap factory used as emergency housing for Armenian refugees. In their own way, these scenes bring out the horror of what was done to these people far more than the scenes of brutality and violence could alone. One feels the liveliness, the culture, the different attitudes and sensibilities of people.
To his credit, Akin has also not simply made all the Turkish citizens depicted in the film into monsters or supporters of the genocide. In one scene, after witnessing the anguish in the faces of a Turkish mother and her young child being cursed and stoned by a bitter group of survivors, Nazaret decides he can take no part in the violence against them.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film, following Nazaret’s search for his daughters, is considerably weaker than the first. While there are moving moments to be found, one senses the scope of the film growing increasingly narrow. The story gradually becomes more and more a tale of one man’s determination to find his children, a tribute to the spirit of a strong-willed individual up against tremendous odds. The genocide and its meaning drift more and more into the background.
Akin is perhaps overwhelmed by the history involved and the scale of the horror produced during the genocide. He has tried to include a great deal in his film, but he also passes over too much too quickly. The fate of Armenian survivors across the world, their experience as immigrants in new and different countries is a worthwhile and interesting theme. But these later sequences, in which Nazaret travels from country to country, don’t carry the weight of the events in the film’s first half. Here one tends to feel as if one were peering at an historical event through a keyhole. Too much is left out.
Many of the more interesting threads from the film’s first half are also left dangling. Nazaret had earlier expressed his anger over the gap between the rich and workers like himself. Nothing comes of it; yet it is a central question. What was lurking behind the brutality of Turkish nationalism and behind the First World War itself? What forces and social pressures set all of this into motion? Why, in other words, did all of this happen? The questions one is left with at the end are those the filmmakers did not themselves begin to address.
In the end, behind Akin’s epic of the Armenian Genocide, there is just too much conventional thinking and storytelling.
This video is called Migrant Workers Dying In Shocking Numbers In Qatar.
From daily The Morning Star in Britain:
Tuesday 28th October 2014
BRITISH trade unionists called on David Cameron yesterday to take a stand against modern-day slavery when he lunches with the emir of Qatar this week.
The TUC issued an open letter to the Prime Minister pointing out that conditions for foreign workers — including those building the infrastructure for the 2022 World Cup — continued to be of “grave concern.”
It continued: “Figures confirmed by Qatar show that 964 workers from India and Nepal alone died between 2012 and 2013, a rate of 40 every month.”
The TUC called on Cameron to swing behind union demands for an end to the kafala system — which effectively indentures foreign workers to a Qatari employer if they want to enter or remain in the country.
British workers also urged the PM to push the emir on allowing workers their internationally recognised rights to collective bargaining and trade unions and ensure World Cup workers are paid fairly.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Silence from David Cameron will be taken as support for what is effectively slavery in Qatar.
“Britain must be part of the international campaign to ensure that Qatar improves living and working conditions for migrant workers.
“The World Cup should a symbol of global friendship, not smeared with the blood of those who build its stadiums.”
Cameron is also under pressure to tackle Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on the emirate’s alleged blind eye towards funding of terror groups such as Isis and al-Qaida during their Downing Street luncheon.