Saturday, March 14, 2009

When Layers of Stratification Pile Up, the Kids Suffer

It's almost as if these two articles were written by the same author, focusing on the same community, dissecting the same context, acknowledging the same victims, with the state making the same excuses. Thing is, Monica Ortiz's article (3/6/09, NPR) focuses on Ciudad Juarez in Mexico, and Chris Morris's article (3/13/09, BBC News) focuses on an industrial area of north Delhi, India.

Both articles describe virtually identical stories of girls, recently gone missing who represent an ongoing trend in the two locales. Only in rare cases are the missing children found.

According to the official website of the Delhi police, nearly 6,000 children have been reported missing in the city in the last two years. And only about one in 10 have been found.

Though the numbers are not as high, the situation in Juarez is strikingly similar.

There have been 347 reports of missing women in Juarez since last year. Of the 18 cases that remain unsolved, police classify six as high risk, meaning the women's lives could be in danger.

In both communities, the greatest fear is that the girls are being kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking rings.

"The child who is missing is being abused in one way or the other," says Meenakshi Kohli, from the group Child Rights and You.

"It could be for organ theft; if it's a girl child, it's probably prostitution; trafficking; begging; there are local mafia gangs who abduct children to make money out of them."

State agencies, however, point to the missing children, suggesting they may have left
voluntarily. In Delhi, "The police say many missing children have eloped." Likewise in Juarez,

Local state prosecutor Alejandro Pariente Nunez downplays the problem. He claims that the majority of women who disappear in Juarez do so willingly.

He says that of the women who disappeared last year and were found later, a large percentage had willingly gone away with boyfriends or friends.

And the bottom line is the families of these vulnerable children lack the resources to push state agencies so that they will work harder or differently to find their children.

The sad fact is that most of the missing are from Delhi's poorer communities.

That means their parents have no access to power or influence. And the authorities too often treat their complaints with indifference.

Garcia, of May Our Daughters Return Home, says that Juarez doesn't have enough personnel with the right training to deal with the missing women.

"Because of the high number of public servants and law enforcement who were murdered by organized crime last year, many cops quit out of fear," she says.

Thus, the state appears negligent in establishing safeguards that would help to prevent kidnappings from occurring in the first place, redirects blame on the victim (exonerating them from accountability), and/or may be under equipped to challenge those responsible for the kidnappings and wider crime rings.

In the end, when accounting for class, gender, and age stratification, it's the girls who face extremely high risk levels. So what can be done in societies embedded so deeply in poverty, transience, violent patriarchy, crime and other markers of social disorganization?

Speaking very broadly, we live in an increasingly individualistic and utterly indifferent world. Let's face it, if these children are being kidnapped and are not immediately killed, they are being used to turn a profit, rendering them slaves.

In order to strike out contemporary slavery, Kevin Bales in Disposable People suggests (among many other things) that government/police corruption must be ousted, and culturally, humanity needs to flip our excessive value we place on material accumulation with values placed on human rights:

Every country manifests some degree of corruption. The crucial question is: Which is stronger, the corruption or the bonds of social consent? You can ask the same questions of every government in the world: Do the people in power, from presidents down to police, work according to the rules or for their own enrichment? Are public relationships shaped by common aims or by exploitation? (p. 245).

We are back to the terms of the abolition campaigns of the nineteenth century: if we are going to stop slavery we must convince the world that human rights need even more protection than property rights. The freedom of human beings must have priority over the free market in goods. (p. 249).

Both suggestions point to a major cultural shift away from individualistic and capitalist ideals. Lofty goals indeed as the global economy moves faster with each passing decade. But it is a shift long overdue.

(Photo courtesy of BBC News)

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1 comment:

  1. More on the intersections of gender, class, displacement and violence: