Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dowry Deaths in India

Dowry is a gift of money or valuables given by the family of the bride, to the family of the groom at the time of marriage. Though initially implemented by the wealthy, it is now a form of insurance in the case of the in-laws mistreating the wife. Though legally prohibited in 1961, dowry also known as dahej, continues to be highly institutionalized. What resulted from increased dowry demands were dowry deaths or bride burning which is the burning of women whose dowries were not considered sufficient by their husband or in-laws. Every 12 hours a dowry related death claimed to have taken the lives of over 20,000 women across India between 1990 and 1993. Most of these incidents are reported as accidental burns in the kitchen or are disguised as suicide. It is evident that there exist deep rooted prejudices against women in India. Cultural practices such as the payment of dowry tend to subordinate women in Indian society.

It is ironic that in India, dowry was originally designed to safeguard the woman in the form of money, property or gifts given solely to the woman by her parents at the time of her marriage. The abuse of this custom eroded and aborted the original meaningful function of dowry as a safety net for the woman and was corrupted to become the price tag for the groom and consequently the noose for the bride. The price of the Indian groom astronomically increased and was based on his qualifications, profession and income.

Though prohibited, dowries are commonly asked for by the families of the groom. The families of the daughter have to comply in order for families to get their daughters married. This leads to further problems like those of child infanticide which is the killing of female infants because of the problems families have to face in getting her married some day. It also solidifies the position of woman as subordinate to the man. Brides are being sold like market commodities and being tortured when the greed of the groom and his family is not satisfied. What can be done to stop such customs if the law isn’t enough? The punishment for dowry death is already 7 yrs which most certainly isn’t enough time for murder. Then again, the Indian Government does not recognize dowry death to be murder. Also, a lot of women who are subject to torture do not lodge a police complaint as it would bring dishonor to their family.

Social laws are required where culture has failed to institutionally stop injustices of dowry deaths. More importantly there needs to be a cultural rethinking on the status of women which can occur only through education. The problem is compounded by the fact that 63 percent of the female population in India is illiterate. Perhaps a good starting point is population control and compulsory education for boys and girls alike. Is education the answer? If so, how does one explain the demanding of dowry by wealthy, well educated people? When traditions are so deeply rooted, can anything be done to stop such practices?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"Raised in the Ring"

While surfing through channels during my fall break, I stumbled across a 20/20 episode entitled, "How Young is too Young?" Being that my group was dealing with the abuse of children's rights for our final paper, I decided to stay put on ABC and watch the rest of the episode. Amidst the segments on child prodigies and ever apparent child actors and actresses, there was a segment about a new documentary titled, "Raised in the Ring." Directed by Todd Kellstein, the documentary takes place in rural Thailand and focuses on two young girls, Nong Pet who is nine and Stam who is all of eight years of age. These two girls have taken up the sport of boxing and at such young ages have not only started an exhausting training program, but have also started fighting in real boxing matches. As many if not all of us know, boxing is known to cause serious injuries and can even result in brain damage. However, in places like Thailand where people are desperate for money, this new phenomenon has taken hold. Children as young as five years old are boxing and what can be even more astonishing is that their parents are not only allowing it, but encouraging it. Winning a boxing match can earn these young children hundreds of dollars which can then be used to greatly improve the family's financial needs situation. Although these children are no doubt doing a great service to their families by putting their heart and soul into winning these matches in order to win money, there is a point where one must ask the question, how young is too young? Not only do these children face an extreme risk of physical harm, there is also the mental stress of carrying such a big burden on such tiny shoulders. Here arises the question of whether someone should ban this sport because it is indeed a violation of children's rights? Or must we look at it as a voluntary action and an action that will help a family tremendously, therefore nothing should be done?

15 year old, Arigona draw's Austria’s Attention

15 year old, Arigona Zogaj was finally exposed to freedom of being able to live with her family. Arigona was an ethnic Albanian from Provost who was separated from her family after the unfortunate acquaintance with the police. Her family has been seeking asylum in Austria since 2002. Arigona’s strong determination to be back with all her family members encouraged her to record a video that would be broadcasted on Austria TV. The recorded video included her threatening to kill herself if her family was kept apart. Her father and four siblings were deported to Kosovo and her mother suffered to the extent that she was hospitalized because of the thought of Arigona’s disappearance. A law, that was adopted in 2006 in Austria prevents the possibility of immigrants ever being able to reunite with their family members and makes it harder to gain citizenship.
Austria has many asylum seekers, in return the government has made it difficult for the refugees of the war-torn Balkan’s to seek asylum.

“Cynics say this girl should be given Austrian citizenship just for showing Austrians how confused they are about immigration.”

If Immigration laws are supposed to benefit people Austiria isn’t doing a good job of it and the country is in two minds its laws. Based on this article, I would argue that : To what extent are immigration laws helpful if in some countries the only purpose of the existence of the law separates immigrants from their families and prevents the possibility of families being reunited?

Monday, October 15, 2007

Cuban Migration: New Route Increases Likelihood of Reaching America

For years Cubans have been risking their lives to migrate to the United States in order to escape the (formerly Fidel and now brother Raul) Castro regime. The voyage has not been easy as the Cubans attempt to reach Miami by way of rundown boats and rafts. The US Coast Guard has been actively working to intercept these migrants and send them back to Cuba and was recorded to intercept 2,861 out of 7,686 Cubans crossing the Florida Straits in 2005.
The Cuban migrants have now strategized a new and potentially more successful way of reaching the US. Their route has been redirected westward as they find their chances of getting intercepted significantly decreased by traveling to Mexico and then crossing the US-Mexican border. While this new route may add time to their trip, to these Cubans the time would be worth the successful escape from the Castro regime.
This new route draws many issues into question. There is controversy over the United States accepting Cubans over the US-Mexican border willingly and allowing them to request political asylum/gain US citizenship while there is clearly an issue with Mexican illegal immigrants who are not given similar rights. Due to the Clinton administration's "wet foot/dry foot" policy, if a Cuban migrating to the US is caught at sea he is to be sent back to Cuba or a third country (as the Coast guard has done) but if he makes it to the US shore he is given the chance to remain. Should Cubans be given this chance while crossing the US-Mexican border or should they be restricted to the same conditions Mexicans seeking similar entry are restricted to? Is the wet foot/dry foot policy ethical or should the US stand by one policy instead of US border officials accepting Cubans while US Coast Guard officials return them to Cuba? Are Mexicans and Cubans in Mexico helping or hurting the Cubans' chances of safely reaching the US? Has this effected US/Mexican and US/Cuban relations for the better or worse?

Putin's Russia: Human Rights Abuse?

Recently, Secretary Rice met with Russian leaders to discuss the US's new missle shield that it wishes to place in Easten Europe. However, prior to this meeting, she met with numerous human rights activists to discuss Russian politics. While Russia is officially a semi-Presidential federal republic, Putin's grasp on the country's freedoms has been gradually diminishing over time. The Kremlin has been gradually increasing its power over the country, calling into doubt many of Russia's "democratic" institutions, such as the judiciary. Putin has centralized power, even taking control of Russian television. He even plans to run for Prime Minister after his constitutionally allowed time as President expires. This way, he will be able to run for Presidential office again in 2012. These signs clearly point to the fact that President Putin is tightening his grib on the democratic ways of moden Russia.
However, a few big questions linger. Is Putin committing human rights abuses? If so, are they severe enough for us to care? If they are, why should we focus our efforts on a democratic Russia? Personally, I feel that Putin is not currently committing human rights abuses. Throughout history, the political culture of Russia has had an authoritative lean. Even when the Soviet Union fell, many older Russians were not ready for democracy, even opposing its implementation. Russia has the sovereignty to do with its democracy what it pleases. However, if Putin takes his centralization too far, we may have something to worry about. Thus, Putin is not yet committing human rights abuses and his measures are not important enough to make a fuss about. In the Bush era of US democracy, worldwide liberty and freedom are of the utmost importance (ie Iraq). However, Russia does not have WMD's and is not abusing its people. Therefore, we need to respect the sovereignty of Russia and allow its political culture to naturally work out the best form of a democratic government. After all, "Russia" is not even 20 years old.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The "Good" German Among Us

"The only thing neccesary for the persistance of evil is enough good people to do nothing"

This quote is important to keep in mind while reflecting on the this editorial by Frank Rich, who makes some pretty strong comparisons of what is going in the United States now to what happened before the Holocaust in Germany. Frank argues that the executive branch took advantage of the shell-shocked nation following 9/11 while the other branches failed to provide the necessary checks and balances of what was really happening. Now we are left in a harsh situation. It has become irrefutable that there is torture going on in Abu Ghraib but still the government does not acknowledge it. Instead of instating a draft to get a sufficient number of troops, private contractors like Blackwater are killing civilians in Iraq with no justice being served. Rich believes this is all part of “the White House’s plan to coax us into a blissful ignorance about the war.” Whether it is through prohibiting pictures of coffins or denying the facts, the White House is counting on the population to not question or be fully aware about what is happening. Like the good Germans who sat back and claimed ignorance while watching the Gestapo torture, we are sitting back and claiming ignorance by letting the government act this way. Those of us that do know are not doing enough to stop it. I know for sure I am not. Are we all just being “good Germans”? What can we really do? Does this situation have the potential to reach the level that it did in Germany? My answer would be no, but then again, I don't think the German's ever thought their situation did either.