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Studying and Working Poses New Challenges for Argentina’s Youth

Mar, 23/06/2015 - 18:52

A boy helps his mother, Graciela Ardiles, do chores on their small farm in Arraga in the northern Argentine province of Santiago del Estero. Thanks to a rural development programme that has boosted the family’s income, she says her children will be able to continue studying, and even go on to university, unlike her parents. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, Jun 23 2015 (IPS)

Until not too long ago, youngsters in Argentina faced a choice: whether to study or drop out and go to work. But now most children and adolescents in Argentina who work also continue to study – a change that poses new challenges for combating school dropout, repetition and truancy, as well as the circle of poverty.

The change is revealing, according to Néstor López at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation’s International Institute for Education Planning (IIEP UNESCO), which together with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) produced the report “Trabajo infantil y trayectorias escolares protegidas en Argentina” on child labour and education, launched this month, which discusses the new situation.

“When you analysed what was happening with teenagers 20 years ago, you saw two different situations,” López said in an interview with IPS. “There were adolescents in school and adolescents who worked.”

“But what you see now is that school enrollment rates have gone up significantly, which has meant to some extent a reduction in their rates of participation in the labour market, but has also meant an increase in the proportion of adolescents who both study and work,” he said.

In 2013, practically all children in Argentina between the ages of five and 14 and 84 percent of adolescents between 15 and 17 were in school, the study says.

Gustavo Ponce, an ILO expert in prevention and eradication of child labour, said measures like the 2006 National Education Law, which made education obligatory until the last year of secondary school (17 or 18 years of age), contributed to the new trend of adolescents working and studying at the same time.

“Progress has also been made in terms of legislation and regulations, with a law that raised the minimum working age to 16, which included the question of protection of adolescent workers aged 16 and 17,” Ponce told IPS.

He was referring to a law that protects young people from heavy or dangerous work, or work that makes it impossible for them to attend school or endangers their health.

He was also referring to the 2013 reform of the penal code, which made child labour a crime.

In their report, the ILO and UNESCO mentioned these measures as well as others, such as the Universal Child Allowance cash transfer programme, which have helped discourage child labour by boosting the incomes of poor families.

“Yes, you could say there has been a policy to eradicate child labour,” said Ponce.

López said that what is needed now is to continue improving school enrollment and attendance among adolescents. According to the new study, of the children between the ages of five and 13 who both work and attend school, approximately one-third repeat the year, compared to 13 percent of children who do not work.

With regard to truancy, the report cites statistics from a Labour Ministry survey of activities among children and adolescents, pointing out that 20 percent of those who both work and study frequently miss school, compared to 10 percent of those who only attend school.

And in the case of adolescents who work, 26 percent do not go to school, and 43 percent of those who do attend school are held back. Among those who only study, 27 percent repeat the year.

“It’s better than if they were just working,” said López. “It’s good for kids who are working to also be studying, preparing for their future. You could say it’s a positive thing if the kids who have to work can also go to school.”

Overall, though, “it’s negative because what the statistics, studies and common sense show is that these kids have a lower quality educational experience, because they don’t have time to do their homework, they don’t have time to study, they go to school tired, they miss school more, and they get less out of the educational experience for different reasons,” he added.

According to the Labour Ministry, child labour was reduced 66 percent from 2004 to 2012 – from 450,000 children working in 2004 to 180,000 in 2012.

But another concern are less visible forms of child labour, such as unpaid housework and caregiving, which especially affect girls and young women, including caring for younger siblings, cleaning the house, fixing meals, and taking care of small barnyard animals.

“Educational level is one of the main mechanisms used by the labour market to select workers. Access or lack of access to formal education is one of the aspects most heavily associated with the process of intergenerational accumulation of social disadvantage,” says the report.

Among the measures to encourage school attendance, the ILO proposes improving the network of free public services that support caregivers, including childcare centres, preschools, and double shifts in schools. In Argentina, schoolchildren attend either the morning or the afternoon shift. But full-day schools are becoming more common in low-income areas, enabling mothers to work.

The ILO also proposes campaigns to combat certain beliefs or customs, especially in rural areas.

“When we interview parents, for example, it’s clear that they think it’s normal to feed and milk the livestock before going to school, as if it were a way to help out at home and a positive learning experience rather than work that children do at home,” the report says.

The trade unions, meanwhile, say the concept of eradicating child labour should also be included in the educational curriculum.

Hernán Rugirello, with the Confederación General del Trabajo central trade union’s social research centre, told IPS about an initiative carried out by the union in Mar del Plata, a city 400 km south of Buenos Aires. With the help of the teachers’ union, the issues surrounding child labour have begun to be taught in schools there.

“It’s important to put this problem on the agenda, so that young people will also start understanding it and will become agents of transmission of knowledge, bringing the issues home with them,” he said.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Take Good News on Afghanistan’s Reconstruction With a ‘Grain of Salt’

Sáb, 20/06/2015 - 00:09

Students at the Afghanistan National Institute of Music. Credit: Shelly Kittleson/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

Since 2002, a year after it invaded Afghanistan, the United States has poured over 100 billion dollars into developing and rebuilding this country of just over 30 million people. This sum is in addition to the trillions spent on U.S. military operations, to say nothing of the deaths of 2,000 service personnel in the space of a single decade.

Today, as the U.S. struggles to salvage its legacy in Afghanistan, which critics say will mostly be remembered as a colossal and costly failure both in monetary terms and in the staggering loss of life, many are pointing to economic and social gains as the bright points in an otherwise bleak tapestry of occupation.

“Much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.” -- John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
Among others, official groups like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) say that higher life expectancy outcomes, better healthcare facilities and improved education access represent the ‘positive’ side of U.S. intervention.

From this perspective, the estimated 26,000 civilian casualties as a direct result of U.S. military action must be viewed against the fact that people are now living longer, fewer mothers are dying while giving birth, and more children are going to school.

But the diligent work undertaken by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) suggests that “much of the official happy talk on [reconstruction] should be taken with a grain of salt – iodized, of course – to prevent informational goiter.”

Formed in 2008, SIGAR is endowed with the authority to “audit, inspect, investigate, and otherwise examine any and all aspects of reconstruction, regardless of departmental ownership.”

In a May 5 speech, John F. Sopko, the Special Inspector General, called the reconstruction effort a “huge and far-reaching undertaking” that has scarcely left any part of Afghan life untouched.

Poured into endless projects from propping up the local army and police, to digging wells and finding alternatives to poppy cultivation, funds allocated to rebuilding Afghanistan now “exceed the value of the entire Marshall Plan effort to rebuild Western Europe after World War II.”

“Unfortunately,” Sopko said, “from the outset to this very day large amounts of taxpayer dollars have been lost to waste, fraud, and abuse.

“These disasters often occur when the U.S. officials who implement and oversee programs fail to distinguish fact from fantasy,” he added.

‘Ghost schools, ghost students, ghost teacher’

In one of the most recent examples of this disturbing trend, two Afghan ministers cited local media reports to inform parliament about fraud in the education sector, alleging that former officials who served under President Hamid Karzai had falsified data on the number of active schools in Afghanistan in order to receive continued international funding.

“SIGAR takes such allegations very seriously, and given that they came from high-ranking individuals in the Afghan government, and also that USAID has invested approximately 769 million dollars in Afghanistan’s education sector, SIGAR opened an inquiry into this matter,” a SIGAR official told IPS.

Submitted on Jun. 18 to the Acting Administrator for USAID, the official inquiry raises a number of questions, including over widely cited statistics that official development assistance has led to a jump in the number of enrolled students from an estimated 900,000 in 2002 to more than eight million in 2013.

While USAID stands by these figures, sourced from the Afghan Ministry of Education’s Education Management Information System (EMIS), it is unable to independently verify them.

Faced with allegations of “ghost schools, ghost students, and ghost teachers”, SIGAR has requested an immediate response from USAID as to whether the agency is able to investigate allegations of fraud, and verify that it is receiving accurate data, in order to ensure that U.S. tax dollars are not being wasted, the SIGAR official explained.

This is no easy undertaking in a place where students are spread out over an estimated 14,226 schools primarily in rural areas, and where even the education ministry does not keep tabs on security threats, or the literacy of teachers, let alone the particulars of curricula.

Last year SIGAR reported that the education ministry continues to count students as ‘enrolled’ even if they have been absent from school for three years, suggesting that the actual number of kids in classrooms is far below the figure cited by the government, and subsequently utilised by U.S. aid agencies.

In his May 5 speech Sopko claimed that a top USAID official believed there to be roughly four million children in school – less than half the figure on which current funding commitments is based.

There is no question that continued funding is needed to bolster Afghanistan’s education system.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) office in Kabul, the country continues to boast one of the lowest literacy rates in the world, standing at approximately 31 percent of the population aged 15 years of age and older.

There are also massive geographic and gender-based gaps, with female literacy levels falling far below the national average, at just 17 percent, and varying hugely across regions, with a 34-percent literacy rate in Kabul compared to a rate of just 1.6 percent in two southern provinces.

These are all issues that must urgently be addressed but according to oversight bodies like SIGAR, they must be addressed within a system of efficiency, transparency and accuracy.

Furthermore, discrepancies between official statistics and reality are not limited to the education sector but manifest in almost all areas of the reconstruction process.

Take the issue of life expectancy, which USAID claimed last year had increased from 42 years in 2002 to over 60 years in 2014.

If accurate, this would represent a tremendous stride towards better overall living conditions for ordinary Afghans. But SIGAR has cited a number of different statistics, including data provided by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook and the United Nations Population Division, which offer much lower numbers for the average life span – some as low as 50 years.

Although the original data comes directly from the USAID-funded Afghanistan Mortality Survey, conducted in 2010 by the Afghan Ministry of Public Health, and would therefore appear to pass the reliability test, SIGAR is concerned that “USAID had not verified what, if anything, the ministry had done to address deficiencies in its internal audit, budget, accounting, and procurement functions.”

While SIGAR is not able to put a concrete number on losses resulting from poorly planned programmes, theft and corruption by both American and Afghan elements, and weak administration of monies placed directly in the hands of Afghan ministries, a SIGAR official told IPS it is hard to imagine that the overall cost to U.S. taxpayers “is not in the billions of dollars.”

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: 2015 and Beyond, Young Voices, Loud Demands

Ven, 19/06/2015 - 13:44

Daniele Brunetto is Youth Amabassador for The ONE Campaign in Belgium.

By Daniele Brunetto
BRUSSELS, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

As a young person interested in development, my heart beats a little faster when I look at the potential of 2015. There has never been so much at stake as this year for the future of our planet.

Courtesy of Daniele Brunetto.

2015 is full to bursting with game-changing moments for development. The recent G7 summit got the ball rolling on the post-2015 agenda, while other key moments of the year include the United Nations General Assembly in September, when the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be agreed on, and the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, which will close this pivotal year.

However, the number one moment for me this year is the Third International Conference on Financing for Development, from July 13 to 16. Here, world leaders, civil society and relevant actors from the private sector will gather in Addis Ababa and set out a path for financing the next 15 years of international development.

Why is Addis such a momentous opportunity? Firstly, it is about learning from the past and looking to the future – working out where the Millennium Development Goals succeeded, and where they fell short – and most importantly, how this can be rectified in the future.We want to see ambitious, concrete and measurable commitments to end extreme poverty by 2030, making sure the poorest are put first and that no-one is left behind.

Secondly, Addis provides a crucial opportunity to move the discussion beyond aid, and to engage with private sector investment and increase domestic resource mobilisation, through fighting corruption and curbing illicit financial flows.

Thirdly, it allows for a reassessment of what exactly aid is for, and whom it should be directed to over the next 15 years and beyond. Embracing alternative sources of financing for development is vital, but this must be coupled with the mapping out of aid flows to where it is most needed.

Seeing as the Least Developed Countries have limited means to generate domestic revenue and attract foreign investment, and that these countries have far greater proportions of people living in extreme poverty, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that it is those countries which should be prioritised when it comes to aid flows.

So, how are things looking? Are world leaders ready to come to Addis and to ensure that the new Goals are well financed, well tracked, and that they meet the basic needs of all?

Let’s look at the European Union. It’s the world’s largest provider of Official Development Assistance (ODA), and its overall levels of spending are increasing year after year. However, its own target of spending 0.7 percent of its collective GNI on ODA remains decidedly unmet.

Although EU leaders have recently reaffirmed their commitment to reaching this target as part of the post-2015 agenda, they have not set out a clear roadmap on how and when this will be implemented, which brings their commitment into question.

Among the European countries who could take the lead on this, I would like to see my own country, Italy, stepping up. Although Italy’s investment in ODA leaves a lot to be desired (Italy gave just 0.16 percent of its GNI in ODA in 2014), it has demonstrated a clear ambition to reach the goal soon and to ensure an increasing amount of transparency in investment in developing countries.

It was indeed under the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union that new anti-money laundering rules were approved, something which can help combat illicit financial flows from developing countries. While the rules leave it up to member states to render this information public, this is undeniably a step forward, and I can only be happy about this achievement of my country!

So, what can I do, as a young ‘development geek’, a ‘factivist’, in order to make sure this year doesn’t pass in vain? Lots, as my time campaigning with ONE has proven!

As a young anti-poverty activist, I have learned that world leaders are not as distant to young voices as I expected, and that our demands do not fall on deaf ears. With my fellow Youth Ambassadors, for example, I was able to convince over half of the Members of the European Parliament to publicly commit to do everything in their capacity to end extreme poverty by 2030.

We, as young people, must show leaders how important it is to us to bring about the end of extreme poverty within a generation. Supported by powerful data and irrefutable facts, we must push our representatives to stand up for the world’s poorest and seize the opportunities this year offers with both hands.

We want to see ambitious, concrete and measurable commitments to end extreme poverty by 2030, making sure the poorest are put first and that no-one is left behind. This year we can shape a better future, and we, as young people, must play our part and make our voices heard.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Building Civil Service Excellence in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Ven, 19/06/2015 - 11:35

Ambassador Kairat Abdrakhmanov is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations.

By Kairat Abdrakhmanov

This September, we usher in the post-2015 development agenda with a set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed upon by Member States, with civil society participation, based on national, regional and global consultations.

These goals are transformative and their impact goes far beyond the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in vision, complexity, outreach and implications.

Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Permanent of Representative of the Republic of Kazakhstan to the United Nations. Credit: UN Photo/Mark Garten

Amongst them is Goal 16, according to which countries will “promote peaceful and inclusive societies with justice for all and build effective, accountable and transparent institutions at all levels”.

Building civil service excellence will therefore certainly be critical to achieving this goal. Likewise, the proposed Goal 17 on means of implementation calls for institutional capacity building in developing countries to support national plans to operationalise all the SDGs, including through North-South, South-South and Triangular cooperation.

Both of these gave birth to the idea of creating the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana, at the initiative of the Republic of Kazakhstan with a view to seek innovative mechanisms to ensure equitable, effective and efficient delivery of public service to its people.

But the intent was also for the wider region of Central Asia and CIS countries to gain from it through advancing “the knowledge base, evidence-informed solutions, practical tools and guidance, and pursuit of emerging and innovative public administration and management models and thinking”.

The idea of setting up this Hub arose from the struggles of a country in transition. Kazakhstan, since its Independence, just like other newly independent nations in the region witnessed profound political, socio-economic and administrative transformations.This scholarship scheme has been serving to level the playing field by providing access to quality education and developing capable and well qualified human capital.

In the early nineties, the economic linkages of Kazakhstan with other 14 republics were abruptly discontinued which led to increased unemployment, devaluation of savings and galloping inflation of up to 2500 per cent.

Against this backdrop, the President of Kazakhstan, H.E. Mr. Nursultan Nazarbayev, first of all, initiated socio-economic reforms, followed by innovations and reforms in the administrative sphere, which the evolving times demanded.

Having no experience of market economy, the Government had to implement reforms with the available personnel. However, the President’s long term vision of subsequent reforms required a new generation of public sector leaders and technocrats which resulted in a generous scholarship programme offered by the Government.

The objective was to provide talented youth with free access to education in leading universities globally. Since 1993, about 10,000 Kazakh students gained degrees in the best universities and joined the job market at home, including the civil service.

This scholarship scheme has been serving to level the playing field by providing access to quality education and developing capable and well qualified human capital.

Having stabilised economic growth in the 1990s, Kazakhstan went further and was first among the CIS countries to significantly modernise its civil service with meritocracy as the key principle.

We acknowledged that the sustainability of reforms was heavily dependent on the quality of institutions, and of the civil service, in particular.

Importantly, the key characteristics of reforms in Kazakhstan have always been logical consistency and continuity. A clear indication of this is the set of five institutional reforms recently announced by our President, the first of which is improved civil service modernisation.

The aim here is to form a professional, accountable and transparent state apparatus in order to ensure sustainable development of the country. The responsible body for this is the National Commission on Modernisation headed by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan.

Under this process of transformation, criteria will be established to monitor activities and evaluate the efficiency of each Government agency, concerned minister or local governor.

The role of communities in state bodies and local administration will also be strengthened by allowing them to participate and monitor results of strategic plans and development programmes. Civil society will also be engaged in the process of identifying budgets, relevant laws and regulations.

In this endeavour, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) as a trusted partner has been continuously supporting the reform efforts in Kazakhstan since our Independence. Now, we count on the longer term strategic partnership with UNDP all the more, particularly with regards to all the five institutional reforms.

Clearly, Kazakhstan believes in sharing accumulated experience and knowledge, as well as promoting cooperation among the countries and institutions in its region and beyond. Therefore, Kazakhstan’s initiative of the Regional Hub of Civil Service in Astana was founded by 25 countries and five international organisations, at a founding conference in 2013, with UNDP as the key partner.

The aim of the Astana Hub is to facilitate regional, as well as inter-regional professional dialogue in order to promote civil service excellence. This idea has resonated with the Hub today comprising more than 30 countries in 2014, including OECD and EU member countries, as well as China, India, Turkey, and CIS countries. The Hub is thus fostering dialogue between countries of Europe and Asia.

Last year also saw the Hub taking concrete shape with an agreement between the Government of Kazakhstan and UNDP, by which Kazakhstan agreed to make considerable resources available to support the Hub and thus expand its scope and gains to enhance the field of civil service in the region and beyond.

As Helen Clark, the Administrator of UNDP, noted, “establishment of the Hub and its success has been made possible because countries like Kazakhstan are ready to share their experiences with reforms…such as the introduction of meritocracy into professional civil service”.

According to UNDP, “the Hub also offers the potential for continuing Kazakhstan’s emerging global role in providing official development assistance (ODA) to other countries”.

Kazakhstan, with guidance from UNDP, has established its national agency for international aid, called KazAID, which marks an important evolution and achievement in the country’s significance regionally and globally. The support and partnership will focus on Africa, the landlocked countries and small island developing states.

Kazakhstan will continually aspire to serve as an active contributor to the global development agenda. Our efforts will add practical solutions for implementing the post-2015 phase most effectively, with particular relevance to Sustainable Development Goal 16, which calls for inter alia promoting accountable institutions and ensuring responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

To conclude, Kazakhstan, stands ready and is fully committed to help facilitate regional and interregional initiatives in civil service excellence, and contribute concretely to the achievement of the SDGs in the coming years.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Farmers Find their Voice Through Radio in the Badlands of India

Ven, 19/06/2015 - 06:57

Radio Bundelkhand, based in central India, has about 250,000 listeners, of whom 99 percent are farmers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
TIKAMGARH, India, Jun 19 2015 (IPS)

Eighty-year-old Chenabai Kushwaha sits on a charpoy under a neem tree in the village of Chitawar, located in the Tikamgarh district in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, staring intently at a dictaphone.

“Please sing a song for us,” urges the woman holding the voice recorder. Kushwaha obliges with a melancholy tune about an eight-year-old girl begging her father not to give her away in marriage.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region." -- Naheda Yusuf, head of Radio Bundelkhand
The melody melts into the summer air, and the motley crowd that has gathered around the tree falls silent.

“Thanks for so much for singing to ‘Radio Bundelkhand’,” says Ekta Kari, a reporter-producer at the community radio station based in this predominantly farming district, before switching off the device.

With a listenership of some 250,000 people spread across over a dozen villages in Bundelkhand, an agricultural region split between the states of Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, the station is lifting up some of India’s most beaten down communities by getting their voices out on the airwaves and bearing good tidings in a place long accustomed to nothing but bad news.

Endless hardships

Some 18.3 million people occupy this vast region. The majority of them are farmers, and the list of hardships they face on a daily basis is endless.

According to the Planning Commission of India, a loss of soil fertility caused by erratic weather, coupled with severe depletion of the groundwater table, has made life extremely hard for those who work the land.

Crop losses due to unseasonal rains and recurring heat waves have also become common over the last decade. Last year, a majority of farmers lost over half of their winter crop due to unexpected heavy rains.

Two out of every three farmers interviewed by IPS concurred that extreme weather has made farming, already a backbreaking occupation, something of a nightmare in these parts.

Recurring droughts between 2003 and 2010 forced many people to abandon traditional mixed cropping of millets and pulses and switch to mono-cultures like wheat, which require heavy inputs.

NGOs have also pointed to unequal land distribution policies in the region as a major cause of farmers’ strife, with millions of families unable to practice anything beyond very small-scale, subsistence agriculture given the paltry size of their plots.

Earlier this year, plagued by poor weather, miserable harvests and alleged apathy to their plight by both state and federal government bodies, scores of starving and debt-ridden farmers threw in the towel.

In the first two weeks of March, roughly a dozen farmers in Bundelkhand had committed suicide.

This follows a pattern in the region that speaks to the desperation these rural communities face – according to India’s National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3,000 farmers in Bundelkhand committed suicide between 1995 and 2012.

While this represents only a fraction of all suicides across the country’s agricultural belt, which is now approaching 300,000, Bundelkhand’s death toll is no trifling number.

Given this harsh reality, an outsider might find it hard to fathom how an intervention as simple as a community radio station could make a difference. But for the listeners who toil here daily, the radio has become something of a lifeline.

“Our station, our issues”

Naheda Yusuf, a senior programme manager at the Delhi-based media non-profit Development Alternatives, which helped launch Radio Bundelkhand back in 2008, tells IPS that 99 percent of the listeners are farmers.

Although the villages that make up the bulk of the audience lie in different states, they all fall into the larger Bundelkhand region and so share a distinct culture, traditions and dialect.

“The radio station is by, of and for the people of this region,” Yusuf explains. “It connects with them in their Bundeli dialect, and provides information on issues that concern them.”

Over 75 percent of the shows are dedicated to agricultural issues including farming techniques, pest control practices, market prices, weather forecasts, and climate change updates.

While some of the information is sourced daily from government agencies like the departments of agriculture and meteorology, most of it comes from six reporter-producers who interact directly with the community to gather news and views most relevant to their listeners.

Every day, each of them produces at least one live show, during which the audience is asked to call in with their questions and comments.

“It’s your show,” one commentator announces on the air, “so if you don’t share your opinions, we can’t get it right.”

One of the most popular shows on Radio Bundelkhand is ‘Shuv Kal’ meaning good tomorrow. Its central theme is climate change and its effect on the farming community.

One of the show’s two producers, Gauri Sharma, says they discuss water access, deforestation and solar energy. They also pay homage to the river Betwa, a tributary of the Yamuna that waters these lands, and encourages farmers not to waste the precious resource.

“We discuss planting trees around the farms, so excess water from irrigation pumps can be utilised,” Sharma tells IPS. “We also spread awareness about renewable energy.”

The response from the audience has been encouraging, she adds, especially among the youth who call and write in to share how the station has shaped their practices.

In one such letter, an 18-year-old farmer from the village of Tafarian shared that he had “planted 22 fruit trees around his farm, stopped using polythene and begun vermicomposting” as a result of listening to the show.

Portable, affordable, accessible

Another listener, Jayanti Bai of Vaswan village, says the radio station literally saved her entire crop. “The leaves of my okra plants were turning yellow,” she tells IPS. “Then I heard of a medicine on the radio, which I sprayed on the leaves – it saved me.”

She now wants to buy a radio for the entire community and tie it to a tree so the women in her neighbourhood can listen to it together. It will take some saving – the most popular device used here costs about 1,000 rupees (about 15 dollars) and that is more than she can afford in one go.

But in a region that experiences eight to 10 hours of power cuts a day, and where only 48 percent of the female population and just over 70 percent of the male population is literate, a radio is a far more viable option than a television, or newspapers.

Farmers also tell IPS a radio’s portability makes it a more attractive choice since it can be taken to “work” – meaning carried into the fields and played loud enough for workers to hear as they go about their tasks.

Because the station caters to a largely female audience, it tackles issues that are particularly relevant to women listeners. One of these is the question of suicide, which many women see as a male phenomenon.

“Have you ever heard of a woman farmer committing suicide?” asks 46-year-old Ramkumari Napet, of Baswan village. “It is because she thinks, ‘What will happen to my children when I am gone?’”

Women contend that men require more help in understanding their relationships both to themselves and their families. And indeed, the radio station is helping them determine these blurry lines.

“Last week an anonymous caller said his brother was thinking of committing suicide,” Sharma tells IPS. “He [the caller] said he was going to try to talk his brother out of it.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Opinion: The University for Peace, Chronicle of a Death Foretold

Xov, 18/06/2015 - 18:52

Oliver Rizzi Carlson holds an MA in Peace Education from the UN-mandated University for Peace and is Editor of the Global Campaign for Peace Education Newsletter. He facilitates learning spaces with youth on the culture of peace and infrastructures for peace, and is Representative at the U.N. for the United Network of Young Peacebuilders.

By Oliver Rizzi Carlson
EL RODEO DE MORA, Costa Rica, Jun 18 2015 (IPS)

You’ve probably never heard of it. When, in 2007, I tentatively searched the web for “peace education” and Google told me that a U.N.-mandated University in Costa Rica was offering a master’s degree in precisely that, I was dumbfounded. As soon as I set foot on campus, I fell in love with UPEACE.

Now that you know about it, 35 years from its creation, the University for Peace as we know it may disappear. The U.N., which picks unfit foster parents for the University’s Council, over the years has, through neglect and negligence, denied it its life-giving source: dialogue.Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

Things have degenerated to the point that one Council member this year ended up stepping on students staging a peaceful sit-in – in order to avoid dialogue.

With the latest slash of principles, the University for Peace may well die a death by a thousand cuts.

The University was founded via the U.N. General Assembly in 1980, and 40-some States are signatories to the International Agreement establishing UPEACE. Its Mission is “to provide humanity with an institution of higher learning for peace … [to] promot[e] among all human beings the spirit of understanding, tolerance and peaceful coexistence … contribut[ing] to the great universal task of educating for peace … [for] the full development of the human person … through the interdisciplinary study of all matters relating to peace.”

The Charter further highlights its “autonomy and academic freedom” and “its profoundly humanistic purpose.”

These guiding precepts are visionary and exciting, and UPEACE is a uniquely important institution for the progress of peace. But the University’s governance structure is grossly inadequate to fulfill its grand Mission.

Like an engineering school building crumbling under the weight of its own tectonic deficiencies, the University for Peace is dying of its own, festering conflicts.

UPEACE has always had many problems, but they have continued only because of UPEACE’s inability to leverage its rich talent pool through dialogue.

This year, instead of finally addressing these long-standing issues meaningfully, Council members used them as a pretext to impose a radical curriculum change, delivered by fiat, and without justification, deepening the lack of dialogue that is eating away at the fabric of the University. What’s more, this deeply misguided curriculum would do away with UPEACE’s competitive advantage and set the University a couple of generations back in peace scholarship.

The issues that precipitated this situation are old. The lack of institutional accreditation, very short MA programmes, haphazard academic quality, aging campus facilities, high tuition fees, financial difficulties and the absence of an endowment fund have made UPEACE hardly competitive and unable to fulfill its Mission.

However, the reason these problems have not been tackled is mismanagement, bolstered by an absolute lack of transparency or accountability, inexistent job security, and the absence of continuity, institutional memory, alumni relations or a unifying alumni network.

This structural paralysis, in turn, is due to a tyrannical concentration of power in the hands of a few, the Rector and Council members, who generally have no personal experience with, ties to or interest in the University or the field of peace studies.

Ultimately, since UPEACE is unknown globally or even in Costa Rica, its obscurity has allowed its many problems to intensify.

At this point, we need a robust, public conversation.

Over the years, there has been no lack of people within the UPEACE Community who have tried to contribute their rich expertise and promote dialogue to address all of those issues, especially this year. However, the job insecurity and lack of continuity have not allowed people to speak up or have an impact, and UPEACE’s problems have only worsened.

The real, predominant issue is structural – the lack of a standing infrastructure for dialogue.

Through such an infrastructure, the amazing potential of the University could become apparent to its biggest critics.

This would require the Council to empower those who have the knowledge, experience, expertise and interest in UPEACE necessary to make it flourish, allowing UPEACE to become the inspirational example it can be. Instead, egos battle for power and UPEACE’s budding potential withers away because of a lack of proper attention to dialogue.

The tension between those attracted to UPEACE by its Mission and those involved with it because of its U.N. origin becomes apparent.

Some of us even wrote our MA theses on the need for an infrastructure for dialogue at UPEACE, and proposed Charter amendments as early as 2009, but those efforts, too, fell on deaf ears.

What has happened in the past academic year is perhaps the last straw in a continual process of neglect of the principle of dialogue that should instead be at the core of UPEACE as an organisation.

Consistent with each graduating class, last year’s students expressed their frustrations with UPEACE through a 63-page report and delivering scathingly honest speeches at graduation.

Special Representative of the UNSG Judy Cheng-Hopkins, Council member Graciana del Castillo and Max Bond of the United Nations University (UNU) unilaterally decided the UPEACE academic programme was to blame.

Admittedly without any background in academia or personal knowledge or experience of UPEACE, Cheng-Hopkins and del Castillo secretly put together a single MA programme to replace all existing MA programmes. They tried to impose this on faculty, shunning any dialogue and threatening to close down the University by depriving it of its U.N. affiliation.

The putative new and unsubstantiated curriculum was leaked to the alumni in July 2014. Numerous letters, online petitions and meetings followed, calling for an open dialogue and decision-making process on an equal footing with other members of the UPEACE Community.

In November 2014, Cheng-Hopkins, a former Assistant U.N. Secretary-General, came to campus unannounced and avoided answering any of the important questions posed by students who went to meet her. She remained so far removed from reality that when students decided to organise a peaceful sit-in to ask for dialogue, she literally stepped on them instead, even kicking one in the head as she forced her way through.

A video documents her two-day visit, and much more has happened since, all of which has been gathered on this website.

Calls for dialogue intensified. Even as the video was sent to all Council members, they continued to ignore our letters. Those mentioned above also failed to respond to a request for comment on the present article.

In January 2015, some Council members finally came to campus. They indulged us in our little game of “dialogue” and ignored, yet again, our comprehensive plan for University-wide dialogue on institutional as well as academic reform.

Instead, they eventually decreed an unclear and largely redundant set of committees to steer a process of input-giving that they had devised before the January meeting. Although the radical academic changes looming on the horizon would now be postponed until the 2016-2017 academic year, the “dialogue” would only focus on academic matters. The outcome of what has been a haphazard and disappointing process will be pitted against the initially secret curricular reform, with one of the two chosen at the Council meeting taking place June 18 and 19.

The only Council member who seems to have an understanding of the need for institutional reforms to sustain dialogue is Mercedes Peñas. Unsurprisingly, she is the only alumna on the Council – and she is not on it because of her alumna status, but because she happens to be the First Lady of Costa Rica. Not everyone is so fortunate.

Instead of politically appointed figures, the Council should have many more alumni, who know and care about this unique institution and can understand and devise ways of facilitating dialogue thanks to which all UPEACE Community members can engage in collective decision-making for the good of the institution.

Having too heavily relied on its U.N. origin in the past, UPEACE has now been given an ultimatum by its wardens. It will either have to give its last breath to the U.N., or it may have to lose that august logo and start the slow, gradual path of real work to academic redemption.

I think it’s a false choice; but I believe UPEACE would be much better off disowned and free rather than slave to a bureaucratic logic that is incompatible with the real, hard work of dialogue essential to innovation, peace, and education. After all, that is its Mission. If nothing changes in its structure, the University for Peace as we know it will be gone.

Given the importance of education for peace, this would be a unique loss to the field of peace studies and the development of the new and innovative approaches to peacebuilding we so desperately need.

To know more or get involved, please write to upeacers@gmail.com

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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When a Kid With Low Self-Esteem Dreams of Becoming the President

Lun, 15/06/2015 - 23:08

Students at a pre-school for the children of estate workers pose for a photograph in their classroom, which overlooks a large tea estate in central Sri Lankan. Credit: Kanya D’Almeida/IPS

By Kanya D'Almeida

You may have heard of Global Citizenship Education (GCED), but unless you move in international development circles, chances are you’re not entirely sure what the acronym means.

Speaking at a seminar on this very issue at the United Nations headquarters on Jun. 15, Sofia Garcia-Garcia of SOS Children’s Villages, a care organisation striving to meet the needs of over 80,000 children in 133 countries worldwide, provided an excellent summary.

Recounting a recent project undertaken by the Global Movement for Children in Latin America and the Caribbean, of which Garcia’s organisation is a member, she explained what happened when 1,080 kids and adolescents from 10 Latin American countries were consulted about their own priorities for the U.N.’s post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education. It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity." -- Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria.
“SOS works with children without parental care, and they are usually children with very, very low self esteem,” Garcia told a packed conference room Monday.

“But within 10 minutes of us explaining the initiative and saying, ‘We want to hear your voice, you are the agent of change’, children who didn’t even consider themselves as speakers were suddenly wanting to be the president of the country.”

The exercise concluded with the publication of ‘The World We Want’, an illustrated, child-friendly version of the 17 proposed SDGs.

“This is the real power of global citizenship education,” Garcia-Garcia asserted.

Backed by several missions including the Republic of Korea and the United States, and co-sponsored by civil society groups like CONCORD – an alliance of over 2,600 NGOs across Europe – as well as the 12-million member Soka Gakkai International (SGI) and the Inter Press Service news agency (IPS), the panel served as a knowledge platform to share some of the key components of GCED.

“Next to the right to life and the right to liberty should be the right to education,” stressed Usman Sarki, deputy permanent representative for Nigeria. “It is the key to all freedoms and the foundation of dignity: all other rights should be contingent on the right to education.”

But our current reality does not reflect his convictions. We are living in a world where 58 million children are out of school and a further 100 million children do not complete primary education, according to the latest Education for All global monitoring report published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisations (UNESCO).

Add to this the fact that there are 168 million child labourers, as well as 200 million jobless adults, and the urgency of the situation becomes clear.

All told, some 781 million people globally cannot read or write, a staggering statistic in a world where not only basic literacy but also, increasingly, computer literacy, forms the fine line between a decent life or one of poverty.

However, GCED goes beyond the simple metrics of more bodies in the classroom. In short, the concept of global citizenship refers to a “sense of belonging to a broader community and common humanity,” according to UNESCO.

It aims to transform classroom pedagogy, create bonds of cultural understanding and civic consciousness and forge a global citizenry for the 21st century based on human rights, peace and equity. While advocacy is happening on a global scale, implementation of GCED will be local in nature, undertaken in accordance with countries’ education ministries and tailored to meet the specific needs of states, or communities.

GCED recognises that basic literacy alone is not sufficient to level the playing field in a world plagued with inequalities, where the wealth gap between the richest and poorest countries has risen from 35:1 during the colonial era to 80:1 today, and where the richest 85 people own more riches between them than 50 percent of the global population.

Rather, it is the quality of education that will close wealth gaps and ensure such elusive goals as peace, security and the curbing of violent extremism.

Calling attention to the increasing number of people from the developed world heading for “theatres of war in the Middle East”, Nigerian Ambassador Sarki asked, “Can we really say these people are not educated? Many of them are. Indeed, masterminds of terrorist activity are highly educated people – the question is, what kind of education have they had? We can be educated, and remain narrow-minded,” he stated.

The concept of GCED dates back to 2012 when U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the Global Education First Initiative, and after much advocacy in which the Republic of Korea has played a major role, the initiative has been incorporated into the Zero Draft outcome document for the post-2015 agenda, to be finalized during negotiations at the end of the month.

Already, scores of international and grassroots initiatives centered on GCED are springing to life, or bearing fruit.

For instance, global citizenship education is one of the key strategic areas in UNESCO’s 2014-2017 education programme, while groups like SOS Children’s Villages have put the concept at the front and centre of their work by undertaking unique forms of education in order to include some of the most vulnerable groups.

Garcia-Garcia, SOS’s post-2015 advisor, told IPS that the organisation works very closely with families at risk of separation or with children who have lost parental care so, “for us, non-formal education is as essential as formal education”.

“There are lots of places to learn,” she told IPS on the sidelines of Monday’s event, “and the classroom is just one of them.”

This kind of thinking will be vital to extending the boons of GCED to the world’s indigenous people who number some 370 million and many of whom are locked in a struggle to preserve ancient forms of knowledge sharing, from local languages to oral histories.

With indigenous communities pushing hard for a place in the post-2015 agenda, global citizenship education could offer the out-of-the-box strategies needed to bring hitherto marginalized peoples into a more inclusive and sustainable framework.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Kidney Disease Treatment Not For All in Uganda

Lun, 15/06/2015 - 09:27

Patient undergoing dialysis treatment at Mulago Hospital in Kampala. Credit: Rebecca Vassie

By Wambi Michael
KAMPALA, Jun 15 2015 (IPS)

Vincent Mugyenyi, a 65-year-old retired pilot from the Ugandan Air Force, has lost count of how many dialysis treatment slots he has had to attend in the eight years he has been fighting chronic kidney disease.

He spends eight hours a week on a dialysis machine in Mulago National Referral Hospital that filters toxins from his blood, performing the functions of healthy kidneys. The ultimate aim of dialysis is to bridge a gap until kidney functions recover or until a transplant is available for patients.

“I used to have a small farm with about one hundred animals. I sold all those animals for treatment because I still needed life. That is how this disease has affected me. It has depleted every resource of mine … land is very important but I have sold mine just to buy life,” Mugyenyi told IPS.

Mugyenyi is both luck and unfortunate. He is one of the minority of Ugandans with chronic kidney disease who has been able to receive dialysis treatment, but he does not qualify for a kidney transplant operation because of his advanced age.“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV” – Dr Robert Kalyesubula, nephrologist at Mulago Hospital in Kampala

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a growing health burden in Uganda that is affecting the economic, social and physical livelihoods of patients and their family members.

Dr, Simon Peter Eyoku, a kidney disease specialist at Mulago Hospital’s renal unit, told IPS that CKD affects mainly Ugandan adults aged between 20 and 50, and that the commonest causes of kidney diseases in Uganda are HIV-related infections of the kidney, followed by hypertension and diabetes.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that with CKD being the 12th leading cause of deaths worldwide and its incidence growing by around eight percent annually, it is a global public health concern.

Mulago National Referral Hospital is the only public hospital in Uganda treating patients with renal or kidney-related complications and, according to Eyoku, that often places a further burden on patients who have to travel long distances to the dialysis unit.

“I have seen patients migrate from far corners of the country to Kampala because that is where the dialysis machines are. That is how costly this disease can be to patients,” Eyoku told IPS.

A further problem is that the dialysis unit only has 33 haemodialysis machines for a total population of about 36 million people.

When the unit opened almost eight years ago with four dialysis machines, a patient had to pay the equivalent of 500 dollars for a week of dialysis treatment, making the cost of treatment prohibitive.

“Those who could afford it would fall out after selling land, houses, cars and then failing to continue. And at that time, the cost of a transplant was equal to the amount of money you paid in a year for dialysis,” said Eyoku.

In March 2014, the administration of Mulago Hospital decided to reallocate its budget in order to finance the renal unit and brought the cost of a week of treatment down to 40 dollars, but that is still out the reach of most Ugandans.

The hospital is now also offering two free sessions of dialysis, and Eyoku told IPS that this has led to an influx of patients with CKD, “so now we are struggling because we are getting many more patients on dialysis.”

Uganda’s health planners are accused of not giving priority to kidney-related diseases. “I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases,” Dr Robert Kalyesubula, one of the four consulting nephrologists at Mulago Hospital, told IPS.

“I wish we had more specialists managing kidney diseases, I wish we had more awareness programmes about kidney disease so that people know about it because it is devastating. I have seen big people break down on being diagnosed with kidney disease. And the pain, because it affects a whole family. If a father gets the disease then the children will not go to school.”

One of the difficulties with kidney disease is that in its early stages it has no specific symptoms so the patients who turn up for treatment are often in the final stages of the disease.

“Patients come in the dying stage,” said Kalyesubula. “You spend 90 percent of your time struggling to keep people alive rather than making them live.”

In addition, said the nephrologist, in Uganda as in the rest of sub-Saharan Africa, the magnitude of CKD is unknown and is not given sufficient importance.

“We don’t have sufficient data on the disease. We understand more about HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, because these are diseases with lots of funding behind them. But funding for kidney disease isn’t there. Kidney disease deserves the same level of importance as HIV. We are ignoring a disease which can be treated in its early stages.”

Patients who cannot afford to pay the 40 dollars a week for dialysis are treated in ward 4C, and the impression is that they are prisoners condemned to a death sentence with no possibility of appeal.

When IPS visits the ward on a busy afternoon, the scene was one of pathetic chaos, with the few doctors and nurses available rushing round, attending to both adult males and young girls in the same ward.

A male patient in his mid-forties had just died from kidney failure, and at the entrance to the ward, IPS met Rosemary Kyakuhaire, packing the bags of a brother who had died earlier in the day. She said that he had spent three weeks in the ward receiving palliative care because her family could not afford the expensive dialysis treatment.

In Uganda, Kalyesubula told IPS, a person would rather be diagnosed with HIV than kidney disease. “I say that mainly because HIV has a lot of support systems in Uganda. But for kidney disease, you are there on your own.  I have also seen people sell their houses to go for a kidney transplant but you don’t have to do that for HIV/AIDS.”

Provision of CKD treatment in Uganda depends primarily on whether the patient has health insurance or can otherwise afford treatment through taking out loans, selling property or financial support from relatives and friends. There are two private hospitals offering dialysis but only a lucky few can afford them.

Twenty-seven-year old Benon Mulindwa is one of the lucky ones. His employer, the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF), had medical insurance cover for his treatment and transplant costs. He told IPS that without that medical cover, he could not have afforded the 20,000 dollars or so a year for dialysis and another 20,000 dollars for his kidney transplant.

However, Mulindwa received the transplant not in Uganda but in India, with his employer’s medical insurance cover paying for the costs of transport to India and surgery there. He explained that most patients have to look for their own kidney donors at home.

Unlike developed countries which run public kidney donation registries, patients in Uganda have to find potential donors and that, said Kalyesubula, is where one of the difficulties for CKD patients lies.

Because of lack of awareness about the safety of kidney donations, many Ugandans are unwilling to donate a kidney to save the life of one of the growing number of patients on the kidney donation waiting lists.

But that is not the only difficulty, as Mulindwa explained. “It is very difficult because there those who come as thieves, there those who come expecting to be paid a lot of money. I know of one who promised to donate a kidney to one of the patients, but when the money was sent the ‘donor’ disappeared.”

Edited by Phil Harris   

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Q&A: Better Students, Better Citizens, Better World: Education Is the Key to Peace

Dom, 14/06/2015 - 15:33

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Amb. Choong-hee Han. Credit UN Photo/ Mark Garten

By Valentina Ieri

In a world where high levels of social and religious intolerance, conflicts, violent extremism and environmental degradation are threatening justice and peace, the United Nations is trying to find ways to maintain world order and promote sustainable development.

This year, the drafting of the post-2015 U.N. agenda, which has set up the targets for the next 15 years of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), represents a turning point for achieving development worldwide.We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

Finding a solution to 21st century challenges requires the creation of a fresh, universally-based, inclusive and transformative paradigm. The key to this paradigm is Global Citizenship Education (GCED).

Great emphasis has been placed on the role of education since U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon launched the “Global Education First Initiative”, in 2012, which put GCED as one of its main principles.

Following the 2015 resolution adopted by the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on the necessity to conceptualise and implement policies concerning global citizenship education, and the adoption of the Incheon Declaration on the Future of Education adopted at the World Education Forum (May 19-22), hosted in Seoul, major steps forward have been made in relation to GCED.

Advocates say the next step is to include GCED within the education targets in the SDGs that will be ratified in September in New York.

A seminar to raise awareness and spread the concept of GCED will be held on Jun. 15, organised by the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the U.N., along with the collaboration of the Permanent Missions of the United States, Nigeria, Qatar, France, the UNESCO, international organisations and NGOs.

In an interview with IPS, the Permanent Deputy Representative of Korea, Choong-Hee Hahn, spoke about GCED and its relevance for building a more peaceful world.

Q: What is Global Citizenship Education?

A: Generally, education is defined in functional terms, such as access to schools and quality of education in preparation of a professional career. But the new framework of GCED should focus on orientation.

There are three main aspects that GCED should promote. Firstly, the “sense of being”, teaching students, since their early age, about what kind of citizens they should become. They should be sensitised about future challenges, such as climate change, intolerance and violent extremisms.

Secondly, the “sense of responsibility and privilege of being a global citizen.” GCED should include multicultural diversity and mutual respect, by understanding the real meaning of fundamental and human rights values, dignity and democracy.

Thirdly, “compassion and empathy”. The revolutionary aspect of GCED is its holistic approach to education, rather than advancing to next the level of education or job searching. This is the best approach to cope with our Century complexities.

Another important concept of GCED is inclusiveness.

Hatred and violence come from a sense of isolation, and a lack interconnectedness. Teaching inclusiveness, embracing different social, political and economic aspects. In this way, people will feel respected and will play an active role tin the society.

Q: Why is Korea leading GCED?

A: It is because of the rapid development Korea went through in the past decades. Thinking about the history of Korea, we experienced immense poverty. However, by investing in education, and through the promotion of democratic values we reached development.

Today, Korea is very multicultural, multiethnic and multi-religious, based on the respect of human rights. Christians, Muslims Confucians and Buddhists live cohesively together. We are a positive example of education, tolerance and peace. As a role model, we would like to contribute and raise awareness on GCED without bias nor prefixed prejudices.

Q: Why bringing GCED within the U.N. agenda post-2015 development agenda?

A: This is the right time to think about how and why the U.N. is pursuing the new SDGs. The U.N. first priorities are now dignity of people and the planet, along with justice and prosperity. These are value oriented goals and objectives. The U.N. agenda is based on three main pillars: peace and security, sustainable development, and human rights. I think all those issues are intertwined with education, and GCED is the solution to peace and security – by promoting tolerance and responsibility – sustainable development –  through inclusiveness and equity – human rights – understanding the privilege of being a human being and democratic values.

Q:What is GCED methodology?

A: Global education should be based on the participation of multiple stakeholders. Not only teachers and students, but also worldwide social, economic, cultural experts, NGOs and youth groups.

GCED should be built on a methodological paradigm, not based on textbooks, but on discussions and participation of all students in the class. New audio-visual methods, and participatory discourses, through fieldwork and exchange programmes. We need a new system that revitalises the classrooms and contributes substantially to peace and security.

GCED is not about replicating the paradigm of “Enlightenment and Western” values. On the contrary, by focusing on inclusiveness, it aspires to find a world denominator common to developed and developing countries.

However, given that many children still have no access to education, GCED should mobilise funding and concrete means of implementations. GCED should also be participatory and content-sharing.

To do so, it is important to develop Information and Communication Technology (ICT) through the use of internet, computers, and mobile phones, even in the remotest areas of the planet, along with the support of the private sector. For instance, in Korea, we are leading several educational projects with private companies such as Samsung .

Q: What are the main challenges to GCED?

A: Unfortunately there are still huge financial gaps and inequalities among countries.

Recently, a proposal for a global fund for education was put forward, but it is not easy, as there are already many other funds, such as funds to finance development or the Green Climate Fund.

There is the Global Partnership for Education, the existing global fund which helps developing countries to get access to education for all.

However, we need more financial resources, improved capacity building, and more ICT equipment to deploy in developing countries.

An additional challenge is the fact that education is not yet perceived as a top priority in many government agendas. This is the real problem. As long as there are not enough investments by local authorities in national education, Global Education will be impossible to achieve. Therefore, it is fundamental the collaboration of the private sector in developing an ethical Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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U.N. Urged to Put Global Citizenship at Centre of Post-2015 Development Agenda

Ven, 12/06/2015 - 16:09

A peace sign formed by people in Croatia. Credit: Teophil/cc by 3.0

By Thalif Deen

When Denmark hosted the World Summit on Social Development (WSSD) in March 1995, one of the conclusions of that international gathering in Copenhagen was to create a new social contract with “people at the centre of development.”

But notwithstanding the shortcomings in its implementation over the last 20 years, the United Nations is now pursuing an identical goal with a new political twist: “global citizenship.”“Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.” -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Reaffirming the opening line of the U.N. Charter, which says “We the Peoples”, the United Nations is adding the finishing touches to its post-2015 development agenda – even as there are increasing demands from civil society organisations (CSOs) to focus on issues relating to people, including poverty, hunger, unemployment, urbanisation, education, nuclear disarmament, gender empowerment, population, human rights and the global environment.

Addressing a star-studded Global Citizen Festival in New York City’s Central Park last September, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon declared: “Our world needs more solar power and wind power. But I believe in an even stronger source of energy: People power.”

Speaking at the 20th anniversary of WSSD, Ambassador Oh Joon of the Republic of Korea and Vice President of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) said while one of the three major objectives of the Copenhagen Social Summit – poverty eradication – was incorporated into the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in 2000, the other two – productive employment and social integration – were not.

“An integrated approach advocated at the Social Summit to simultaneously pursue the three key objectives was left behind,” he told an ECOSOC meeting last week.

“There was a need to re-examine where the new United Nations development agendas would come from,” the Korean envoy said.

Economic growth in itself, while necessary, was not sufficient to reduce poverty and inequality, he said, stressing the need for strong social policies, as well as inclusive and sustainable development.

Similarly, there were many links among social, economic and environmental fields that must be effectively addressed, he added.

Meanwhile, the concept of global citizenship has taken on added importance, particularly on the eve of the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda which is expected to be approved at a summit meeting of world leaders in September.

Asked how relevant the concept was in the post-2015 context, Roberto Bissio, executive director of the Third World Institute, a non-profit research and advocacy organisation based in Uruguay, told IPS: “If by citizenship we mean rights, and in particular the right to bring governments to account, and decide how taxes are used, we are very far from global citizenship.”

In fact, he said, there is little talk of citizenship in the current discussions around the Financing for Development (FfD) conference in Addis Ababa in July and the September summit of world leaders on a new development agenda.

Instead, he said, there is a lot of attention being given to “multistakeholderism”.

The notion of “stakeholder”, as opposed to “shareholder,” was originally a way to make corporations more accountable to the people affected by their actions.

Now “multistakeholder governance” in the Internet or in “partnerships” with the United Nations means that corporations will have a role in global governance, without necessarily becoming more accountable in the process, he pointed out.

“This means less rights for citizens, not more,” said Bissio, who also coordinates the secretariat of Social Watch, an international network of citizen organisations worldwide.

On the other hand, he said, if the FfD conference approves a U.N. mechanism for tax collaboration between countries to counter widespread tax evasion by multinational corporations, citizenship (including the elusive ‘global citizenship’ concept) may emerge strengthened.

Pointing out the successes of people-oriented policies, Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle, former president of Chile, said when he was the leading his country in 1995 he had supported several initiatives to promote democracy and social justice.

Over the last 25 years, he said, Chile had succeeded in drastically reducing poverty to 7.8 per cent from 38.6 per cent, with extreme poverty reduced to 2.5 per cent from 13 per cent.

The WSSD, he said, was the largest meeting of heads of state that resulted in shaping a new model of development that would create progressive social equity that addressed imbalances around the world.

“The human being was placed at the centre of development, as reflected in the World Summit action plan,” he said.

Highlighting achievements resulting from implementing the plan, he said Chile had increased investments in social development and was, under current President Michelle Bachelet, continuing to do so in order to address inequality.

While Latin America had reduced poverty, it remained “more unequal” than other regions and currently, 28 per cent of its population of 167 million lived in poverty, with 71 million living in extreme poverty, he said.

But some of the pressing tasks, he said, included thinking about a new fiscal pact and tax reform that would improve income distribution in order to avoid “false” development. Corruption and institutional reform also needed to be addressed.

“As such, the World Social Summit remained as valid today as in 1995,” he said.

Going forward, combatting poverty and inequalities required an ethical foundation and a sustained effort. At this crossroad, it was time that governments gave more impetus to that “moral movement”, the former Chilean president said.

Juan Somavia, a former director-general of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and ex-Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations, told the ECOSOC meeting the yet-to-be-finalised “zero” draft of the new post-2015 agenda recovered the spirit and dynamism of the 1990s and was a good basis for negotiations.

“The document reflected a supremely ambitious vision, with its 17 goals and 69 indicators focused on a people-centred poverty-eradication sustainable development concept,” he noted.

With regard to challenges, he said, policy support from the United Nations would be critical.

Since the world had discussed the three elements of sustainable development but had not yet implemented them, the basic challenge ahead was to ensure integrated thinking and to shape methods for using it to clearly explain the types of interactions between the agenda’s three pillars that were needed to fulfil commitments, he declared.

That difficult task required an initiative from the U.N. secretariats in New York and Geneva, its Funds and Programmes and the multiple networks in regions in which the organisation operated, he said.

Unless that process began immediately after the new agenda was adopted, the “goods” would not be delivered, Somavia warned.

That initiative would also require the recognition of the balance between markets, the State, society and individuals. “In recent years, people’s confidence in the United Nations had dropped.”

The manner in which the United Nations presented the new agenda was essential in addressing that issue.

As the Social Summit’s Programme of Action had recognized the importance of public trust, he emphasized that the new development agenda must acknowledge and address that current lack of confidence, Somavia declared.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Opinion: Journey Towards an African Taxation Renaissance

Ven, 12/06/2015 - 08:42

Sipho Mthathi is Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

By Sipho Mthathi

Africa is known as the ‘paradox of plenty’. How can a continent so rich in natural resources be so poor?

Economic growth is predicted to increase by 4.5 percent across the continent this year, despite falling oil prices and the Ebola crisis. South Africa’s economy, the second biggest in Africa is expected to continue to grow by 3.5 percent this year; Nigeria will grow by an enviable 5.5 percent.

Sipho Mthathi, Executive Director of Oxfam South Africa

However, millions across Africa are struggling.  Economic inequality is on the rise, and public coffers are insufficient due to an increasing demand for public services like health, education and housing.

Recently, Thomas Pogge and other distinguished academics have written about the cost of progress. Surprisingly, history provides us with examples of countries where, if there is a balance between economic growth and public spending, it is possible to address inequality.

There is no time to waste in looking for ways to address this widening gap across Africa.

It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging.

In January, the report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) from Africa, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, contended that IFFs from Africa increased from about 20 billion dollars in 2001 to 60 billion in 2010 in the merchandise sector alone.

According to Global Financial Integrity’s 2014 report on IFFs from developing countries, South Africa alone may have lost more than 122 billion dollars between 2003 and 2012 in IFFs.

This is a lost opportunity for money that could have been reinvested in advancing Africa’s development and increased access to public goods for her Africa’s people.“It is urgent that, collectively, African nations look at the billions of dollars flowing out of the continent every year, most of which can be attributed to corporate tax dodging”

But this is only the half of the story. Multinational companies are gaining at the expense of African people through other ‘legal’ forms of corporate tax dodging, and through negotiated tax breaks. This is happening because of a lack of fair global tax rules, and behind-closed-door deals between corporations and governments, rushing to seal deals under pressure.

Africa’s astounding growth is affecting human development. And these losses in tax revenue come at a time when the role of official development assistance to Africa is declining.

Fair and progressive tax systems should be providing financing for well-functioning government programmes to enable governments to uphold citizens’ rights to basic services (such as healthcare and education), and cement trust between citizens and governments.

Establishing an effective tax system is critical if Africa is going to mobilise the resources it needs to tackle poverty and inequality.  Africa is home to six out of ten of the world’s most unequal countries – South Africa, Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Central Africa Republic.  Some estimates on Africa’s financing needs include 40-$60 billion dollars per year to finance the post-2015 development agenda.

This is not just Africa’s problem. Around the world, many lower-income countries have been subject to harmful tax practices, including transfer pricing, whereby a transfer price may be manipulated to shift profits from one jurisdiction to another, usually from a higher-tax to a lower-tax jurisdiction.

After revelations of how multinational enterprises (MNEs) such as Starbucks, Google and Apple deliberately structured themselves to minimise their tax bills, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) launched an effort to reform this base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) practice. This reform is expected to wind up by the end of 2015.

However, since the launch of the BEPS Action Plan, developed countries have not had a real voice or influence in the process.  Just four African countries, including South Africa as a G20 member country, have been invited to participate as observers.  These countries are bringing attention to the many mining corporations which are offered lucrative tax incentives which must be addressed in the BEPS plan.

The African Tax Administration Forum (ATAF) is a regional tax body that has been invited by the OECD/G20 to participate in the BEPS reform process.  This should provide further scope to influence the BEPS process with an African perspective.

At the same time, the South Africa Revenue Services (SARS) is going after billions lost through wasteful incentives and trade mispricing. SARS has recovered 5.8 billion rand (460 million dollars) over the three-year period 2011-2014, 55 percent (3.4 billion rand or 274 million dollars) of which is attributed to the mining industry.

South Africa’s membership in the G20 (and its role as co-Chair of the G20 Development Working Group) provides an enormous opportunity to insist on broad inclusion of all nations in the BEPS reform process.

At a recent conference convened by ATAF, South African Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene called for “Africa to protect its own tax base, and advance domestic resource mobilisation through a common voice, a common concern and a common action plan.”

It is time that all African finance ministers wake up to the possibility that tax revenues for financing essential services for their citizens, or investment in small-holder agriculture or infrastructure, could come from the recovery of billions of dollars lost from corporate tax dodging and unfair tax competition.

Tax breaks provided to six large foreign mining companies in Sierra Leone, for example, are equivalent to 59 percent of the total budget of the country – or eight times the country’s health budget.

It is time for a global inter-governmental body on international tax cooperation to allow for a more inclusive and coordinated approach to ongoing tax reform, beyond BEPS.

All countries should be able to participate in tax negotiations on an equal footing, which guarantees one country, one vote, and where representatives will have the political mandate to speak on behalf of their governments.  Simply relying on the BEPS process to re-write tax rules will not be enough to end international tax dodging.

Through the BEPS reform process and this new tax body, there would be real potential for an African taxation renaissance.

Edited by Phil Harris

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, IPS – Inter Press Service. 

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India Erupts Over Loopholes in Child Labour Law

Mar, 09/06/2015 - 06:41

Child rag pickers earn up to five dollars daily recycling rubbish and scrap, contributing to household income at the expense of going to school. Credit: Neeta Lal/IPS

By Neeta Lal
NEW DELHI, Jun 9 2015 (IPS)

In a bid to overhaul the country’s child labour laws, the Indian government has banned the employment of children below 14 years of age in various commercial ventures, while permitting them to work in family enterprises and on farmlands after school hours and during vacations.

“In a large number of families, children help their parents in occupations like agriculture and artisanship. And while helping the parents, children also learn the basics of occupations,” stated a note by the Union Cabinet, which approved an amendment to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1986.

"The new amendment will push millions of innocent children into forced labour and deprive them of education and a normal childhood." -- Rakesh Slenger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan
The Act defines 64 industries as hazardous, deeming it a criminal offence for children to employed in any of them. While parents or guardians will not face any punishment for the first offence, a maximum fine of about 150 dollars will be levied for the second and subsequent offences.

The new amendment will, however, permit kids to work in “non-hazardous” businesses, the entertainment industry (including films, advertisements and TV serials) and sporting events from the 18 occupations and 65 processes specified under the 1986 law.

The government’s directive has triggered a raucous debate on the subject in India at a time when public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of a complete ban on all types of employment for children.

Indian Nobel laureate Kailash Satyarthi, who helms the child rights non-profit organisation Bachpan Bachao Andolan, has been calling for a ban on every form of child labour in India for kids up to 14 years of age.

Activists fear that the provision allowing children to help out in domestic or family-based occupations will enable families to flout or skirt the new law.

“The new amendment will push millions of innocent children into forced labour and deprive them of education and a normal childhood,” Rakesh Slenger of Bachpan Bachao Andolan told IPS. “The girl child will be particularly disadvantaged as she will be denied education while being stuck with all the household work.”

Experts also fear this loophole violates the spirit of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which India signed and ratified in 1992.

The worst off will be kids from marginalized backgrounds who need to equip themselves with an education and job skills in Asia’s third largest economy to brighten their employment prospects.

The government’s contention that once the law is changed it will help impoverished families earn a living while equipping children with job skills is also myopic, say child rights crusaders. They emphasize that India’s poor law enforcement system and weak policing standards will hinder efforts to keep tabs on exploitative families.

Others say this gap in the law will reverse India’s gains in moving children from workplaces into classrooms in line with the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) target of achieving universal primary education by the end of 2015.

It will also contravene the Right to Education Act (RTE) 2009, which guarantees a child the right to complete his or her elementary education even after the age of 14.

Experts also allege the government is overlooking the fact that even in household enterprises, children still remain vulnerable to exploitation and health hazards, which impacts their education.

Others have raised a red flag about the possibility of children being pushed into work in the entertainment or sporting industry by ambitious parents.

Activists in India are up in arms over the government’s amendment to the country’s child labour law, which allows children under the age of 14 to work in certain designated ‘family businesses’. Credit: Manipadma Jena/IPS

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says child labour is “a violation of fundamental human rights”, which impairs a child’s development, potentially leading to lifelong physical or psychological damage.

The organisation’s comprehensive research on the subject demonstrates that eliminating child labour can help developing economies generate economic benefits nearly seven times greater than the costs incurred in better schooling and social services.

India would do well to heed this warning. The country has the dubious distinction of hosting the largest number of child labourers in the world.

The 2011 census puts the number at 4.35 million working children in the 5-14 age bracket. One in every 100 full-time workers in India is under the age of 14, and a third of those child workers are under the age of nine.

This augurs ill for a country of 1.25 billion people, 42 percent of whom are children. Already, many kids are at risk of languishing in an endless cycle of poverty – an estimated 23 percent of the population survives on less than 1.25 dollars a day – particularly since the government slashed the budget allocation for the ministry of women and child development by 1.5 billion dollars this year.

Activists say this move could deprive millions of marginalised Indian kids the chance to turn their lives around.

According to a report by the Ministry of Labour, Indian child workers are engaged in a wide range of hazardous and stressful occupations.

Kids in the agriculture sector are made to carry heavy loads and sprinkle harmful pesticides on crops. Last October, a blast at a cramped firecracker-manufacturing unit in the East Godavari district of the southeast state of Andhra Pradesh left almost a dozen people dead, including many children.

India’s beedi (cigarette)-making industry is particularly notorious for employing kids as young as seven years old. While government figures put the total number of workers engaged in this informal industry at 4.4 million, activists claim the real number is nearly double that, totaling roughly 10 million labourers.

Worse, production of beedis involves prolonged exposure to tobacco leaves, which can cause life-threatening diseases like tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, asthma and malnutrition among others.

So-called “family enterprises” are no better, say experts. This includes such industries as matchbox making, carpet weaving and gem polishing. In these sectors, where child labour is in high demand, police raids have highlighted inhumane conditions in which children are made to work for no pay, with scant food and no access to toilets.

“A closer scrutiny of the government’s [amendment] reveals that children of all ages may in fact be used for labour in some of the most hazardous industries in the country. The Cabinet’s idea of striking a balance between the need for education for a child and helping parents to earn better incomes makes no sense,” says Amod Kanth, founder of Prayaas, a non-profit working for children’s welfare.

According to the social activist, relaxing legislation on child labour as a means of alleviating poverty is a deeply flawed strategy. “The move will nullify whatever progress the country has made in getting children out of forced labour and into school. As it is government surveys are known to under-report child labour. If child labour is legalised, the situation will spiral out of control,” Kanth told IPS.

Even a report by the Parliamentary Standing Committee On the Child Labour Amendment Act underscores the fallacy of the government proposing to keep a check on children working in their homes.

“The Ministry is itself providing loopholes by inserting this proviso since it would be very difficult to make out whether children are merely helping their parents or are working to supplement the family income. Further, allowing children to work after school is detrimental to their health, as rest and recreation is important for fullest physical and mental development in the formative years, besides adversely affecting their studies,” states the report.

Rather than going in for piecemeal amendments to current laws, activists say the government should revamp the flagship 1986 Act itself, which has failed to curb child labour effectively.

A new beginning will also pave way for the rehabilitation of millions of children rescued from exploitative industries or households, they say.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Israel, Hamas Escape U.N.’s List of Shame on Attacks on Children

Mar, 09/06/2015 - 00:59

A Palestinian student inspects the damage at a UN school at the Jabalia refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip after the area was hit by Israeli shelling on July 30, 2014. Credit: UN Photo/Shareef Sarhan

By Thalif Deen

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, reportedly under heavy pressure from the United States and Israel, has decided not to blacklist the Jewish state in an annex to a new U.N. report on children victimised in armed conflicts.

Perhaps in an apparent attempt to be even-handed, he has also excluded Hamas, the Palestinian militant organisation which battled Israel in a 50-day old conflict in Gaza last July.“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed." -- Philippe Bolopion of HRW

But an Arab diplomat told IPS any subtle attempt at comparing the two is “far off the mark.”

According to the United Nations, some 557 Palestinian children and four Israeli children were killed, while 4,249 Palestinian children and 22 Israeli children were wounded in that conflict in Gaza.

“It is inconceivable why the secretary-general should be caving in to political pressure, and more so, since he is on his way out,” said the Arab envoy.

“Is he planning to run for a third term in office?” he asked sarcastically.

Ban ends his second term as secretary-general in December 2016 and is rumoured to have plans to run for the presidency of his home country, South Korea.

Nadia Hijab, executive director of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told IPS that Ban Ki-moon clearly succumbed to U.S. and Israeli pressure by not naming Israel or Hamas in the so-called “List of Shame” despite urging by rights groups such as Human Rights Watch.

What this whole episode demonstrates, however, are the limits of the “both sides” approach when applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, she said.

“Yes, absolutely, both sides violate international law in their indiscriminate attacks on civilians, with the harm done to civilians far greater on Israel’s side. But only one side is occupying the other,” she pointed out.

It is ironic to reflect that had it not been for the Israeli occupation, said Hijab, Hamas would not exist today; it only came into being in 1987, after 20 years of Israeli occupation.

“In short, there would be no list of shame at all on this issue without Israel’s occupation,” she declared.

James Paul, who monitored U.N. politics for over 19 years as executive director of the New York-based Global Policy Forum, told IPS the U.N.’s human rights programmes and policies have often been subject to pressures and censorship by powerful member states.

He said reports concerning Israel or referring to abuses by Israel have been especially exposed to such pressure from Washington.

The latest example, the report on ‘Children and Armed Conflict’, confirms this sorry pattern and damages still further the U.N.’s reputation in the turbulent Middle East, he added.

In spite of well-documented and consistent rights abuses of children, taking many forms, it appears that the secretary-general has decided to censor the draft and let Israel off the hook, said Paul.

“No wonder High Commissioners for Human Rights have had such short tenures, while the whole human rights enterprise at the U.N. is tarnished,” Paul said.

He asked: “Who is thinking about the ability of the U.N. to take leadership in the Middle East conflicts or to defend children in other sensitive zones?”

Luckily, he said, the truth is now well-known and Washington’s censorship will no longer keep it from the attentive global public.

When Ban decided to remove Israel and Hamas from the list, he was rejecting a recommendation by his Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Leila Zerrougui of Algeria, who included both in the annexed list of non-state actors and rebel groups accused of repeated violations against children.

Philippe Bolopion, U.N. & Crisis Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch, expressed disappointment over Ban’s decision to override the advice of his special representative by removing Israel and Hamas.

It is a blow to U.N. efforts to better protect children in armed conflict, he said.

“Facts and consistency dictated that both be included on the list, but political pressure seems to have prevailed. We expected better from a Secretary-General who promised to put ‘human rights up front’,” Bolopion said.

In the body of the report itself, Ban was critical of Israeli actions, specifically during the Gaza conflict.

“I urge Israel to take concrete and immediate steps, including by reviewing existing policies and practices, to protect children, to prevent the killing and maiming of children, and to respect the special protections afforded to schools and hospitals,” Ban said.

“An essential measure in this regard is ensuring accountability for perpetrators of alleged violations. I further urge Israel to engage in a dialogue with my special representative and the United Nations to ensure that there is no recurrence in grave violations against children,” he added.

At a press conference Monday, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric faced a barrage of questions on the secretary-general’s decision to exclude Israel and Hamas from the list.

“Was he under pressure from the United States? What is the rationale for keeping Israel and Hamas out of the list? Does the annex carry the same weight as the report itself?

Dujarric told reporters: “I don’t think anyone was taken on or off.”

The report, he said, is the result of a consultative process within the house. Obviously, it was a difficult decision to take. The Secretary‑General took that decision, he said.

“But, I think what’s important to note is that the report that was shared today is much more than a list.

“It has a large… large report outlining issues raised [like] the shocking treatment of children and the suffering of children that we’re seeing throughout conflict zones including what happened in Gaza and other parts of the State of Palestine.”

“I think in the body of that report, the Secretary‑General expresses his deep alarm at the extent of grave violations, unprecedented and unacceptable. So, I think I would just… I would encourage everyone to not focus so much on the list, but on the report as a whole. And the report, as I said, is much more… much more than the list,” Dujarric said.

Responding to the charges in the report, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, said Ban was right “not to submit to the dictates of the terrorist organizations and the Arab states, in his decision not to include Israel in this shameful list, together with organisations like ISIS, Al Qaeda and the Taliban.”

However, the United Nations still has a long way to go, he said.

Instead of releasing thousands of reports and lists against Israel, the U.N. must unequivocally condemn the terrorist organisations that operate in the Gaza Strip, he added.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

The writer can be contacted at thalifdeen@aol.com

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Countries Commit to Protecting Education During Conflict

Mar, 02/06/2015 - 01:19

A school girl during a class break at the school run by the by the Hawa Abdi Centre for displaced Somalis. Credit: UN Photo/Tobin Jones

By Roger Hamilton-Martin

With thousands worldwide being denied education due to attacks on schools and universities, and the use of school buildings by armed groups, 37 countries have committed to protecting students and their education during armed conflict.

An international Safe Schools Declaration was the result of a process initiated in 2012 by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, and led by the governments of Norway and Argentina since 2014. The Coalition is a committee of organisations, including the United Nations Children’s Fund and Human Rights Watch, taking action on education in conflict.

“Targeted attacks on education are robbing a generation of the chance to realize their potential, with a huge long-term social cost,” said Diya Nijhowne, the director of the Coalition. “The countries adopting the Safe Schools Declaration are making a commitment to take concrete action to protect students and their education in times of conflict.”

The Coalition called for armed forces to reject the use of school and university buildings as barracks, places to store military equipment, training grounds, or detention centres. The group note that not only do these uses force students out, but they can make the buildings a military target.

The countries including Brazil, Palestine and Jordan have agreed to endorse and use new ‘Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict’.

The Guidelines say universities and schools “should not be used by the fighting forces of parties to armed conflict in any way in support of the military effort.”

Speaking at the conference was Ziauddin Yousafzai, the U.N. special adviser on global education, and the father and teacher of Malala Yousafzai. He applauded the countries that attended the conference for putting the hope generated by education ahead of the despair resulting from violence.

The countries committed to ensuring the continuation of education during armed conflict, and supporting the re- establishment of educational facilities which had been destroyed.

A recent study by the Coalition found schools and universities had been used for military purposes by government forces and non-state armed groups in 26 countries since 2005. Most of these instances were during periods of conflict in the country.

“The countries supporting the Safe Schools Declaration are making it clear that protecting education is a priority and that the work starts here to turn words into action,” said Nijhowne. The declaration is still open to those countries who have not yet joined.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Opinion: Internet Should be Common Heritage of Humankind – Part II

Xov, 28/05/2015 - 21:55

Srun Srorn, a trainer for the E-learning project, walks teachers at Koh Kong High School in Cambodia through a new online sexual education curriculum. Credit: Michelle Tolson/IPS

By Branislav Gosovic
VILLAGE TUDOROVICI, Montenegro, May 28 2015 (IPS)

The Internet – and the applications that it has spawned – is the single most important technological innovation that has brought together and interlinked humankind in a real, tangible and interactive way.

Among other benefits, it has:While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

  • Made possible instantaneous worldwide communication and interaction
  • Simplified and facilitated many previously time consuming, onerous and costly tasks
  • Enabled a networking that can serve as a means for building a global community, and developing understanding and cooperation
  • Created the “Internet dependence” for the well-being and functioning of society, economy, and daily life and existence of individuals, which has generated a common and shared interest in keeping the Internet functioning, in good order, and continuously improving it.

The Internet has meant a “great leap” forward for humankind and made it possible for it to “leap-frog” and “short-circuit” many of the obstacles and challenges that it had faced earlier on its road to a shared but uncertain future.

However, this great technological communication advance has not been accompanied by a corresponding socio-political leap of systemic change, and the Internet has been weighed down by the legacies of the past and the nature of the existing world order.

Rather than aiming to place the promise and capabilities of the Internet at the disposal of enlightened, common global objectives of humankind and to subject it to democratic multilateral governance, some of the key actors seem to view it primarily as their own property.

They want to be in charge of it and use it for their own strategic ends and objectives, for global expansion and dominance, and the exploitation of new technological possibilities to harvest the planet for what amounts to unlimited creation of wealth, including via virtual means, and massive “invisible” transfer of resources to the core countries of the North.

The resulting situation has been depicted aptly in the recent draft, “Tunis Call for a People’s Internet”, circulated at the Workshop “Organizing an Internet Social Forum – A Call to Occupy the Internet”, held at the April 2015 World Social Forum. It merits to be quoted:

“The Internet today has become an integral and essential part of our daily lives, more and more of our activities are organized through and around the virtual spaces, the networks, online services and the technology it comprises.  It has restructured the very way in which we live, work, play and organise our societies. In many aspects, this is so even for people who at present have no direct Internet access.

At the same time, we are alarmed to see how both our private and public spaces are being co-opted and controlled for private gain; how private corporations are carving the public internet into walled spaces; how our personal data is being manipulated and proprietised; how a global surveillance society is emerging, with little or no privacy; how information on the Internet is being arbitrarily censored, and people’s right to communicate curtailed; and how the Internet is being militarized. Meanwhile, decision-making on public policy matters relating to the Internet remains dangerously removed from the mechanisms of democratic governance.”

The Internet has become controversial not only because of the hegemonic attitude of the key country and because of the free hand given to its monopolistic global Internet-based corporations, but also because it is rooted in and fueled by larger controversies, including decades-old, unresolved development issues.

This includes the questions of transfer of science and technology, intellectual property regimes, and international regulation of transnational corporations, all of which have been on the international agenda for five decades without any visible progress having been made.

There is also the question of “ownership” and “participation”. There is a complete dependence on the Internet worldwide, an addiction that cannot be shaken off. While having a universal presence in each country and in the life of the majority of humankind that enjoys its amenities, the Internet is untouchable, controlled by someone somewhere who is invisible and unknown.

This dependencia when it comes to the Internet governance and control exercised by the interlinked centres in the North, which include military and security apparatus as well as cyber-corporations, produces a palpable feeling of discomfort, frustration, helplessness, exposure and loss of sovereignty, especially but not only in the developing countries.

Drawing on past experiences, principles of the U.N. Charter, and the developing countries’ initiatives for the establishment of a New International Economic Order (NIEO) and New International Information Order (NIIO), one can arrive at some conclusions and recommendations regarding a reform of the Internet and the bolstering of its usefulness to the international community and its common goals, including improved functioning of human society.

The aim should be to defuse the mounting conflict and discontent through political and conceptual liberation of the Internet by making it into a global public good and service within the U.N. framework, with specific objectives and functions directed at satisfying the needs of humankind and helping to overcome problems and challenges, including those stemming from past history and uneven progress and development of the international community.

The Internet should be declared as the common heritage of humankind, a global public good and service embedded within the framework of the United Nations.  This implies and requires, among other things:

  • That the Internet becomes part of the U.N. family by creating a UNINTERNET organization in the framework of the U.N. General Assembly, one inspired by democratic governance and solidarity of humankind
  • That the Internet management and innovation be shared and participatory, and that they involve both public and private entities in cooperative endeavours
  • That current international intellectual property regime undergoes a major review and fundamental modifications
  • That income generated by the Internet, including by global taxation of profits made by services that it enables, be used for global causes of public good within the framework of the United Nations and that in this manner the Internet becomes a major source of international funding for public purposes, including those related to overcoming poverty, sustainable development and climate change, food security, education and health, which now get a few drops from these massive global flows via philanthropic gestures of some who have become enormously wealthy thanks to the Internet
  • That the Internet global infrastructure be public property of the international community and that international non-profit enterprises be established under the U.N. auspices to provide Internet services, software and applications that would be in the public domain
  • That new modes of international accounting and regulation be evolved, as a means to obtain a global overview and control of the financial flows and services via the Internet
  • That a set of goals and objectives of the Internet be elaborated and adopted as the U.N. Declaration or Charter on the Internet, which would serve as the basic reference and guide for the Internet’s future development, management and operation.

Given the recent developments on the world scene, the overall context seems to be ripening for advocating the above approach, which implies a major departure from the present practices and would be a serious competitor to the existing North- and private corporations-dominated Internet.

It would also represent a return to the basic values embodied in the U.N. Charter and the decades-long U.N.-based efforts to evolve democratic and equitable world economic and political order.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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Sri Lankan Women Stymied by Archaic Job Market

Xov, 28/05/2015 - 21:40

The few Sri Lankan women who seek employment find that the system does not work in their favour. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
MIRIGAMA, Sri Lanka , May 28 2015 (IPS)

Wathsala Marasinghe, a 33-year-old hailing from the town of Mirigama, just 50 km from Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo, once had high hopes that the progressive education and employment policies of this South Asian island nation would work in her favour. Today, she feels differently, believing that “an evil system” has let her down.

As a young girl, she attended one of the best schools in the area and was selected to attend a state university. “I went there with so much hope,” she tells IPS – but apparently with little knowledge of her true job prospects.

"Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market." -- Anushka Wijesinha, a consultant to Sri Lankan government ministries
As an undergraduate she studied Buddhism and her native tongue, Sinhala. Her plan was to secure a government job, possibly in teaching or in the public service, and preferably close to home.

But when it came time to job-hunt, she found herself coming up against one wall after another.

“I kept applying and going for interviews but never got a job except as a secretary at a small factory,” she says.

This post did not come close to her employment aspirations, and she was forced to quit after a month. “The salary was 8,000 rupees (about 59 dollars) – I had to spend half of that on traveling,” she explains. The average monthly income in Sri Lanka is about 300 dollars.

She continued to apply, but each time she found herself sitting among a crowd of applicants that seemed to get younger and younger.

The stark reality of the situation has now become clear to her, and she has given up going for interviews altogether, embarrassed to be in the company of other hopefuls who “look like my daughters.”

Marasinghe’s conundrum is not rare in Sri Lanka, despite the country’s purported efforts to achieve targets on gender equality and visible signs of progress on paper.

In 2012, the Gender Gap Report produced by the World Economic Forum ranked Sri Lanka 39th out of 135 countries surveyed, an unsurprisingly strong placement given that the country of 20 million people has a female adult literacy rate of 90 percent. This rises to 99 percent for female youth in the 15-24 bracket.

Furthermore, girls outnumber their male counterparts at the secondary level, indicating a dedication to gender equality across the social spectrum.

However this has not translated into equitable employment opportunities, or wage parity between men and women.

Government labour statistics indicate that 64.5 percent of the 8.8 million economically active people in Sri Lanka are men, while just 35.5 percent are women. Of the economically inactive population, just 25.4 percent are men, and 74.6 percent are women.

The female unemployment rate in Sri Lanka is over two-and-a-half times that of the male rate, and almost twice the national figure. According to government data, only 2.9 percent of men entering the labour market remain unemployed, while the corresponding figure for women is 7.2 percent. The national unemployment rate is 4.2 percent.

The same government figures indicate that education and skills do not necessarily help females secure employment – on the contrary, they could result in a lifetime of frustrations.

“The problem of unemployment is more acute in the case of educated females than educated males,” said the latest labour force survey compiled by the Census and Statistics Department.

Experts say there are a multitude of structural and social reasons behind the high rate of female unemployment.

For starters while nearly three in four males enter the job market, it is the reverse for women, with just 35 percent of working-age females actually seeking employment, resulting in a skewed supply chain.

Economist Anushka Wijesinha, who works as a consultant to international organisations, says that women who seek higher education also have higher job aspirations, but the job market has not grown fast enough to cater to such needs.

“Aspirations are shifting away from working in the industrial sector as before – more women are keen to work in services like retail […] but jobs in this sector haven’t grown fast enough to cater to the changing aspirations. So we are seeing ‘queuing’, women waiting for those jobs and not getting them,” he tells IPS.

Sri Lankan women say that improved transport, childcare and crèche facilities would create a more favorable employment environment. Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Muttukrishna Sarvananthan, an economist who heads the Point Pedro Institute of Development, shares that analysis, but believes that female unemployment levels should be adjusted to include the roughly 600,000 Sri Lankan women working overseas, the bulk as domestic workers.

He is also an advocate of placing an economical value on women who are fully occupied with looking after households.

Currently, the single largest employer of women is the agricultural sector at 33.9 percent, while the services sector employs around 42 percent of women, while industries employ around 24 percent.

There are other reasons why women stay away from work. Nayana Siriwardena, a 35-year-old mother of two, used to work till she had her first child. After the government-stipulated three months’ maternity leave ran out, she had to return to work.

“What I found problematic was that the workplace could not be flexible enough to address my situation,” she said.

She worked in bookkeeping and tried to impress upon her employers that some of the work could be done from a remote location.

“But they did not understand that, which I found surprising because the company was quite progressive in other areas and also because young mothers are not a rare occurrence in any establishment.”

Wijesinha feels that maternal benefits themselves, which legally must be provided for three months, can act as a deterrent to some companies.

“Maternal benefits have to be paid in full by the employer. This means that employers may be deterred [from] hiring young women, because they know they likely have to pay maternal benefits,” he said.

Sarvananthan says that security for women – at the work place, during the commute, and for their offspring – could play a huge role in changing employment figures.

“In order to boost labour force participation by women, a carrot-and-stick approach could be pursued by the state. Paternity leave, child care, crèche services at workplaces, and better and safer public transport facilities for women could be [provided] by the private and public sectors in order to incentivise women to join the labour market,” he argues.

He also believes the government should ink an equal opportunities law that legally undermines discriminatory policies. Currently, the constitution stipulates that no one should be discriminated based on sex, but there is no law that provides for equal pay for the same work.

Having more women in the workplace is not only a current problem but could also be a future crisis, as Sri Lanka’s working population ages. Currently, 17 percent of the population is above the age of 55, while 25 percent is below 15 years, meaning only around 50 percent are believed to be in the working age group.

“Given that women comprise just over half of the population, and our working age population peak is beginning to wane, it is critical that we have maximum participation from women in the workforce,” Wijesinha states.

Many believe a higher portion of women in decision-making positions could right these imbalances.

Women’s political representation remains low, with less than 6.5 percent women in parliament, less than six percent in provincial councils, and fewer than two percent in local government.

As the country moves towards elections, activists and rights groups are calling for a 30 percent quota for women in the 20th amendment to the constitution.

If this goal is realised, it could spell change for people like Marasinghe, who, after a decade of searching for her elusive dream job, has all but given up hope.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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Q&A: Papua New Guinea Reckons With Unmet Development Goals

Lun, 25/05/2015 - 21:35

An estimated 36 percent of Papua New Guinea’s eight million people are currently living on less than 1.25 dollars a day. Credit: Catherine Wilson/IPS

By Neena Bhandari
SYDNEY, May 25 2015 (IPS)

As Papua New Guinea celebrates 40 years of independence, 2015 marks a defining year for the largest Pacific Island nation, set to record 15 percent GDP growth this year.

However, unless the government tightens up its policies, the country will likely fail to achieve any of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) despite making significant progress in the past few years.

"We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve [the] results that the international community has laid down for everybody." -- Peter O’Neill, Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea
“Even with 14 years of successive double digit growth, the challenge for PNG is to translate high levels of resource revenue into well-being for all citizens. The latest estimate of the population is now over eight million and approximately 36 percent of the people are living on less than 1.25 dollars a day,” United Nations Resident Coordinator in Papua New Guinea Roy Trivedy told IPS.

Mineral resources, including copper, gold, oil, nickel, cobalt and liquid natural gas, constitute 70 percent of all PNG exports; and mine and oil production revenues since independence have amounted to 60 billion dollars, according to the Human Development Report 2013.

Still, PNG currently ranks 156th out of 187 countries in the United Nations’ Human Development Index (HDI).

U.N. agencies have worked across different sectors to support PNG in the development of education and health, poverty reduction, and assistance with disaster risk reduction and social protection. Many of the reforms implemented by the current government over the past three years are beginning to take root.

For example, the Tuition Fee Free (TFF) education policy, benefitting students at the elementary and secondary level, is gaining acceptance throughout the country, with two million children currently enrolled in schools.

The government is also investing in higher education and vocational and tertiary education. But the country faces the challenges of tackling high student-to-teacher ratios, building and refurbishing educational infrastructure, improving quality of primary education services and scaling up the provision of secondary and tertiary education.

The government has also committed to free primary health care for all citizens, but U.N. agencies working in PNG say more needs to be done to reduce the infant mortality rate from the current 75 deaths per 1,000 live births; reduce the number of under-five children dying of preventable diseases; and reduce the maternal mortality rate, which has remained at 733 deaths per 100,000 live births over the past decade.

In addition, early childhood health is a major issue, with 48 percent of children aged five or younger suffering from malnutrition.

Infrastructure development will also be crucial to realising the benefits of the country’s mineral, energy, agricultural and tourism assets. The government is spending considerable resources to modernise and better equip the police, judiciary and corrective services critical for tackling inequality and discrimination, especially against women.

PNG will have an opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to uplifting the lives of its people as the international community moves into a new phase of its development agenda: the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Papua New Guinea is the co-facilitator with Denmark of the Global Summit on SDGs scheduled to take place later this year.

Following a decade-and-a-half of development guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the new global blueprint for poverty eradication is expected to be centred on sustainability, including combating climate change, protecting the environment, preserving biodiversity and conserving oceans, seas and marine resources: issues that are highly relevant for Pacific Island countries threatened by rising sea levels.

While the 22 Pacific island countries and territories contribute just 0.03 percent to global emissions, their collective population of 10 million people will likely suffer some of the worst impacts of climate change.

In addition to loss of human life as a result of natural disasters, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) estimates that climate change could cost the region over 12 percent of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) by the turn of the century.

Against this backdrop, IPS correspondent Neena Bhandari sat down with Papua New Guinea’s Prime Minister Peter O’Neill, to discuss the U.N.’s role in PNG’s development agenda. Excerpts from the interview follow.

Q: Has the United Nations contributed to Papua New Guinea’s economic development?

A: We have many United Nations organisations in Papua New Guinea and I would like to thank them for their contribution to the country’s development agenda. We are very happy with the work that they are doing, especially UNDP [the United Nations Development Programme], which is engaged with our department of planning [Department of National Planning and Monitoring] in setting up various programmes all around the country, including Bougainville.

Q: It seems PNG is not ‘on track’ to meet any of the Millennium Development Goals, scoring either ‘off track’ or ‘mixed’ in the latest results surveys. What is being done to fix the problem?

A: In fact, we have made significant progress in meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Two or three years ago, we would have completely missed the MDG targets. But right now on issues related to infant mortality and literacy, the progress is much better because of the education and health programmes that we are rolling out. These programmes are contributing significantly to meeting the MDG targets.

Q: What are your aspirations for the Sustainable Development Goals? What strategies would you adopt to achieve the SDGs?

A: We think that our policies today are starting to yield the positive outcomes that we want: to make sure our literacy rates are beyond 80 to 90 percent; our infant mortality rates drop down to levels that are comparable to our neighbouring countries; and our life expectancy increases. We believe that if we continue to invest in the programmes that we have today, we will achieve those results that the international community has laid down for everybody.

Q: The island nation has been the focus of Chinese investment and Australian aid. The Australia-PNG bilateral aid programme is worth approximately 577 million dollars in the current financial year. Which has been more beneficial for the country’s development?

A: Both are beneficial. The Chinese investment is not dissimilar to many of the other investments they make around the region. They make similar investments in Australia, similar investments in Indonesia and all throughout the world. But I think in terms of support in social programmes, the more beneficial investment is through the aid programme that the Australian Government continues to provide.

Now they are aligning their programmes to our priorities, which has never happened before. The aid programme is now looking towards the education problems that we have, the health, good governance and the law and order problems that we have. Those are the programmes that our government is regularly focusing on and the aid programme is partnering in achieving the outcomes that we want.

Q: In Papua New Guinea, there have been positive steps toward integrating West Papuan refugees and also lifting reservations to the 1951 Refugee Convention. What measures are being taken to rehabilitate ‘climate refugees’, for example, people residing on Carteret Islands, who are in danger of being submerged due to the rise in sea levels?

A: Climate change is global and it is not something that is unique to PNG, but we are trying to resettle many of those refugees on the mainland. Most of them have families and we are trying to get them integrated into communities that they are comfortable with. As in the case of West Papuan refugees down at Western Province, many of them are already in PNG for many, many years and we are taking steps so they can become citizens and have access to all the services that the government provides for its citizens.

Q: Will climate change be a major problem for PNG and other countries in the Pacific?

A: Yes, we are facing similar problems like some of the smaller Pacific Island countries. We have thousands of low-lying islands and as the sea level rises, these people will have to continue to move. The first step for developed countries like Australia and the United States should be to sign up to the Kyoto Protocol and then go with the rest of the international community. Climate change is a global issue where we all need to work together in reducing emissions and lowering the global warming challenge that we face.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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School Gardens Combat Hunger in Argentina

Sáb, 23/05/2015 - 08:31

Rita Darrechon, the principal at the La Divina Pastora rural school, talks to a group of schoolchildren about the garden where they are growing food for their school meals. Credit: Fundación General Alvarado

By Fabiana Frayssinet
BUENOS AIRES, May 23 2015 (IPS)

In Argentina, where millions of families have unmet dietary needs despite the country’s vast expanse of fertile land, the Huerta Niño project promotes organic gardens in rural primary schools, to teach children healthy eating habits and show them that they can grow their own food to fight hunger.

Of the 105 students who board Monday through Friday at the La Divina Pastora rural school in Mar del Sur in the municipality of General Alvarado, 80 percent come from poor families.

“Ten percent have nutritional deficiencies, from their first year of life, even from the period of breastfeeding or even the pregnancy itself. We see calcium deficiency, which can lead to cavities and affects growth,” the school principal, Rita Darrechon, told Tierramérica.

The privately run public school, located 500 km southwest of the capital, serves children between the ages of six and 14, and a few older children who have repeated grades.

The children live in rural or semi-urban areas in the eastern province of Buenos Aires. But most of them were raised without any farming culture or knowledge about or tools for agriculture.

“In places that were historically farming areas, kids do not know what to do with the land,” the general coordinator of the Huerta Niño Foundation, Bárbara Kuss, told Tierramérica. “They don’t know that if they’re hungry, the seeds in their hand can feed them.”

The aim of the non-profit institution founded in 1999 by businessman Federico Lobert is to help reduce hunger among students in rural schools.

The initiative first began to take shape when Lobert, during a trip as a young man, heard a rural schoolteacher say “the kids couldn’t study because they hadn’t eaten anything except orange tree leaves to calm their stomachaches.”

He described this as a “sad paradox” in a country “that produces so much food for millions of people around the world.”

The gardens benefit 20,000 children in 270 rural schools in low-income areas, like La Divina Pastora. The vegetables and fruit they grow are eaten by the students in the school lunchroom.

“It seems like a really good opportunity to promote, together, a healthy diet, using natural resources that are within their reach,” said Darrechon.

A boy leans against bags of onions at a farm in the town of Arraga in the northwest province of Santiago del Estero, one of the poorest parts of the country, where the main economic activity is agriculture. Credit: Fabiana Frayssinet/IPS

According to the National Survey on Nutrition and Health, 35 percent of children in Argentina live in households with “unmet basic needs”. Of that proportion, only 53 percent receive food assistance from different social programmes.

The regions with the highest percentages of children living below the poverty line are the northeast (77 percent) and the northwest (75.7 percent).

Children with serious malnutrition are more vulnerable to falling ill, and they suffer from stunted growth, with lifelong consequences, Kuss said.

Huerta Niño seeks to address these nutritional deficiencies, under the slogan “it’s not about giving people food, but about teaching them to produce their own.”

The foundation’s involvement in each school lasts approximately a year, but the impact, Kuss said, “lasts a lifetime.”

The first step is putting up a fence around a half-hectare plot of land.

“We teach them why they have to keep the fence in good repair, why it can be bad for our health if dogs or other animals get into the garden; they are taught that manure is a fertiliser but that dog feces aren’t,” she added.

Meetings are held with the students, parents and teachers to determine what is needed, depending on the climate, the quality of the soil, and the access to water.

The next step is to prepare the soil, and the students are taught how to plant and harvest, and they learn the complete cycle in both planting seasons – autumn-winter and spring-summer.

“We explain what to do step by step, because it’s really nice when the tomatoes turn red and the lettuce sprouts, but what do you do later with the lettuce? Do you just pick the leaves? Or do you pull it up by the roots? Do you plant again or do you wait till the next season?” Kuss said.

Huerta Niño has backing from the Education Ministry and receives technical support and seeds from Pro Huerta, an agroecological community programme run by the government’s National Agricultural Technology Institute.

With donations from individuals, companies and organisations, it spends some 4,500 dollars on each school garden, providing tools adapted to children, agricultural supplies and inputs, and special expenses for windmills or specific irrigation systems.

According to Kuss, community participation is essential for the project to be sustainable.

“A garden needs attention. If you don’t control the pests, you don’t irrigate, you don’t weed, you don’t rotate the crops, it dies,” she said.

“That would be a failure for the kids, which is the last thing they need, with the problems they already have,” she stressed.

The initiative promotes agroecological practices that use organic fertilisers and pesticides. For example, aromatic flowers are planted to ward off insects.

Chemical pesticides are not used, although surrounding fields are often sprayed.

“We teach them that the tomato that grows in their garden might not be as big as the ones in the supermarket, but it will be red and tasty,” Kuss said.

The garden forms part of the educational curriculum: from math (measuring the borders of the garden) to natural sciences and reading and writing (using instructional booklets).

“It’s like an open-air laboratory. Learning through hands-on experience is much easier than learning by reading a book,” Darrechon said.

Sometimes the students make their own gardens in their homes or communities, and some former students of La Divina Pastora have gone on to secondary school studies in agriculture.

The initiative also teaches healthy eating habits – but not without running into certain difficulties.

“The radishes were so nice and red, but when the kids bit into them they would throw them away,” Darrechon said. “We had to disguise them or process other vegetables like chard in tarts or pies, mixed with ground beef to hide the taste, because they come from a culture of junk food or meat and potatoes.”

In schools in poor outlying semi-urban areas in Buenos Aires, some gardens have also helped combat violence and school dropout “by keeping kids in school with something interesting that keeps them off the streets,” said Kuss.

The representative in Argentina of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Valdir Welte, told Tierramérica that school gardens are playing an “extremely important” role in improving diets and eating habits and fighting hunger.

He also said they are “an educational tool that strengthens the learning process and foments values such as solidarity, cooperation and collective work.”

“Children don’t only need to eat well; they must also learn about a healthy diet and learn how to grow their own food in case they need to,” said Welte.

He also said gardens “can be educational and training spaces for the entire community, where heads of households acquire the necessary skills for producing their own foods.”

Kuss said these benefits from the gardens are as tangible as the fruit and vegetables produced.

“We don’t only give them food,” she said. “We’re offering them different values they can touch with their hands. Helping them, and telling them: you can do it.”

This story was originally published by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramérica network.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

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Pakistan’s Streets Kids Drop the Begging Bowl, Opt for Pencils Instead

Xov, 21/05/2015 - 16:45

In Pakistan, hundreds of thousands of school-aged children live and work on the streets, earning a few rupees each day to help support their destitute families. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

By Zofeen Ebrahim
KARACHI, May 21 2015 (IPS)

Khalil Ahmed’s life story sounds like it could have come straight out of the plot of a Bollywood flick, but it didn’t. And that makes it all the more inspiring.

Residents of the sleepy town of Gambat, 500 km from the Pakistani port city of Karachi, where Ahmed was an all too familiar face, may not recognise the 12-year-old today.

“I didn’t like what I was doing. I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.” -- Khalil Ahmed, a Pakistani street kid turned star student
Wearing a clean, pressed uniform and polished shoes, his hair oiled and neatly combed, and his fingernails immaculately trimmed, he is a far cry from the scrawny, dirty, bedraggled young boy of eight who, just four years ago, could be seen clutching his grandmother’s hand, pleading for alms from passersby.

Sometimes he would even beg outside the Behram Rustomji Campus – the school where he is now enrolled as a pupil.

Currently in the fourth grade, his teachers say he is one of the brightest kids in his class of 20 students, 13 of whom are girls.

Located in Pipri village, where over 95 percent of the roughly 1,000 households earn their living by begging on the streets, this humble institution has given Ahmed a rare chance to receive an education, in a country where 42 percent of the population aged 10 years and older is illiterate.

In this remote village, 45 km away from Sukkur city, the third largest in the Sindh Province, Ahmed and scores of other children like him are moving gradually away from the begging bowl and closer to pencils and schoolbooks, implements far more suited to young children with any hope of a decent future.

Rampant illiteracy

Civil Society Cannot Substitute State Action

With a recent Oxfam study revealing that 82 percent of the richest children in Pakistan attend school while 50 percent of the poorest do not, it is plain that a kind of ‘educational apartheid’ exists in this South Asian country.

Indeed, Pakistan’s slow progress towards the U.N.’s Education for All (EFA) initiative has skewed figures for the entire region: a 2015 study by the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) revealed that over 40 percent of all out-of-school adolescents globally live in South Asia, with Pakistan alone accounting for one-half of that figure.

While lauding the efforts of independent civil society groups to change this terrible reality, experts here nevertheless insist that nothing short of massive government intervention can turn the tide.

According to Mosharraf Zaidi, who heads Alif Ailaan, a campaign that strives to put education at the forefront of public discourse in Pakistan, despite “heroic efforts that consistently produce remarkable stories […], the sum is not equaling or exceeding the parts.”

“The state keeps failing children,” he told IPS, “and keeps failing those making an effort for the children.” Until the government fulfils its duty of providing an enabling environment, “even the brightest lights will not shine to their full potential.”

To his mind the government’s entire schooling system needs to be overhauled.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a prominent educationist, goes a step further. While agreeing that those who complete 10th grade have a far higher chance of succeeding in life than those without basic literacy, he believes this is “only one step towards closing the enormous gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’.”

To him, securing a decent life often depends on factors “unconnected to learning and competence”, such as pre-existing family wealth and property, connections to powerful individuals or groups in society, ethnicity, sect, religion and gender.

This daunting catalogue in many ways represents a to-do list for the government, revealing the social, political and economic issues it must tackle in order to create a more equal Pakistan.
The school is run by a non-profit organisation called The Citizens Foundation (TCF), created in 1995 by a group of ordinary citizens who were appalled at the dismal state of Pakistan’s education system.

True to its pledge, TCF today runs 1,060 ‘purpose-built’ schools all across the country dedicated to serving the most marginalised communities and to removing class barriers that hinder opportunities for the poor, who comprise 22 percent of this country’s population of 180 million people.

Prior to enrolling at the Behram Rustomji Campus, Ahmed was both the product and the image of the vast inequalities that plague Pakistani society, hindering its efforts to reach the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), whose deadline expires later this year.

Poverty and illiteracy are among the most severe challenges to Pakistan’s development, and although some progress has been made to level the playing field and give all citizens a fighting chance, huge gaps still need to be closed.

For instance, according to the Pakistan Education for All 2015 Review Report, published in collaboration with the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), an estimated 6.7 million children are currently out of school, the majority (62 percent) of whom are girls.

Of the roughly 21.4 million primary-school-aged children currently enrolled in schools, only 66 percent will survive until the fifth grade, the UNESCO report predicts, while 33.2 percent will drop out before completing the primary level.

The situation is worse for street children, who in order to help their destitute families make ends meet, are forced to wander for hours eliciting spare change.

The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child (SPARC) believes there are about 1.5 million children living and working on Pakistan’s streets.

Few will ever see the inside of a school, or find decent work. Most are simply condemned to a life of poverty among the ranks of the 22 million people here who earn less than 1.25 dollars a day, according to the World Bank.

Experts are agreed that absent a decent education, children born to low-income families are far less likely to climb the socio-economic ladder.

Tackling inequality in the classroom

Luckily, TCF schools are helping to turn this tide by offering a “pay as you can” option for families who cannot afford school fees.

“Our minimum fee is ten rupees (about 0.09 dollars) per month, and the rationale for this is that people value a service that has some monetary cost attached to it,” Ayesha Khatib, content manager at TCF’s marketing department, explained to IPS, adding that the average monthly expense borne by a family amounts to no more than 30 rupees (0.29 dollars).

While this amount is not negligible to those living on the brink of starvation, to kids like Ahmed it is a small price to pay for the world of opportunity it allows.

“I didn’t like what I was doing,” he confessed to IPS. “I didn’t want to be seen as a beggar. It hurt when people hurled abuses, or said nasty things.”

With Ahmed now spending most of his time studying, his mother has joined his father on the streets to make up for lost income. Between them they earn a few dollars a day, money that generally goes immediately on buying food for the family.

And they are not alone in their woes.

Rabail Abbas Phulpoto, the school’s 25-year-old principal, told IPS that 85 percent of her students come from families who beg for a living and were thus reluctant to lose their breadwinners to the blackboard.

“I started engaging with the community about three years ago,” Phulpoto explained. “There was resistance at first but after eight months of persistent dialogue, I found [parents] relenting. A few sent their boys, but not their girls, and I found out that even those kids were continuing to beg after school.”

Millions of school-aged children in Pakistan drop out before completing primary education. Credit: Zofeen Ebrahim/IPS

Today, 235 of the 350 students in the school are former street children. “The importance of education has finally sunk in,” she said, “and each [child’s] story is more inspiring than the last.”

None of them has reverted back to begging. Those who are required to contribute to the family kitty do odd jobs like working at corner stores for a few hours after school, the principal said.

Ahmed, for instance, worked for a mobile phone company for a while. Now he has learnt how to fix phones, and wants to use his education to become a computer engineer when he grows up.

Perhaps most importantly, the social barriers between the well-off students and their less fortunate peers are slowly breaking down. Whereas once the more privileged kids had avoided even sitting next to children from beggar families, now there is more fluidity, and more understanding, Phulpoto said.

Baela Raza Jamil, director of programmes at the Centre for Education and Consciousness (Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi, or ITA) and coordinator of the South Asia Forum For Education Development (SAFED), referred to this initiative as transformative, both for the children and their families.

“I am sure each day they bring home newfangled ideas […],” she told IPS. “They are learning to do everyday mathematics, so they can help parents keep daily accounts.”

She hopes eventually discussions on earning options beyond beggary will ensue.

For children like Ahmed, that change has already come.

“I wish I’d grow up fast,” he told IPS, “so that my parents don’t have to work at all.”

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

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The U.N. at 70: Time to Prioritise Human Rights for All, for Current and Future Generations

Mér, 20/05/2015 - 14:23

Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Credit: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras

By Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin

Seventy years ago, with the founding of the United Nations, all nations reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.

The commitment to fundamental human rights that was enshrined in the United Nations Charter and later in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights lives on today in many other treaties and agreements, including the Programme of Action of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development.There is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

The Programme of Action (PoA) , endorsed by 179 governments, articulated a bold new vision about the relationships between population, development and individual well-being.

And it was remarkable in its recognition that reproductive health and rights, as well as women’s empowerment and gender equality, are the foundation for economic and social development.

The PoA is also rooted in principles of human rights and respect for national sovereignty and various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is also based on the human right of individuals and couples to freely determine the number of their children and to have the information and means to do so.

Since it began operations 46 years ago, and guided by the PoA since 1994, the United Nations Population Fund has promoted dignity and individual rights, including reproductive rights.

Reproductive rights encompass freedoms and entitlements involving civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The right to decide the number and spacing of children is integral to reproductive rights and to other basic human rights, including the right to health, particularly sexual and reproductive health, the right to privacy, the right to equality and non-discrimination and the right to liberty and the security of person.

Reproductive rights rest not only on the recognition of the right of couples and individuals to plan their families, but also on the right to attain the highest standard of sexual and reproductive health.

The impact of the PoA has been nothing short of revolutionary for the hundreds of millions of women who have over the past 21 years gained the power and the means to avoid or delay a pregnancy.

The results of the rights-based approach to sexual and reproductive health, including voluntary family planning, have been extraordinary. Millions more women have become empowered to have fewer children and to start their families later in life, giving them the opportunity to complete their schooling, earn a better living and rise out of poverty.

And now there is a wealth of indisputable evidence that when sexual and reproductive health is integrated into broader economic and social development initiatives, it can have a positive multiplier effect on sustainable development and the well-being of entire nations.

Recent research shows that investments in the human capital of young people, partly by ensuring their right to health, including sexual and reproductive health, can help nations with large youth populations realize a demographic dividend.

The dividend can help lift millions of people out of poverty and bolster economic growth and national development. If sub-Saharan Africa realized a demographic dividend on a scale realized by East Asia in the 1980s and 1990s, the region could experience an economic miracle of its own.

The principles of equality, inalienable rights, and dignity embodied in the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Programme of Action are relevant today, as the international community prepares to launch a 15-year global sustainable development initiative that builds on and advances the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, which come to a close later this year.

The new Post-2015 Global Sustainable Development Agenda is founded on principles of equality, rights and dignity.

Upholding these principles and achieving each of the proposed 17 new Sustainable Development Goals require upholding reproductive rights and the right to health, including sexual and reproductive health.

Achieving the proposed goal to ensure healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages, for example, depends in part on whether individuals have the power and the means to prevent unintended pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, including HIV.

Human rights have guided the United Nations along the path to sustainability since the Organisation’s inception in 1945. Rights, including reproductive rights, have guided UNFPA along that same path for decades.

As we observe the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and look forward to the post-2015 development agenda, we must prioritise the promotion and protection of human rights and dignity for every person, for current and future generations, to create the future we want.

Edited by Kitty Stapp

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