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Past News Archive
December 31 2002

Hunger, War and Struggles
February 7 News

1) American Children Put on Drugs to Save Money, Study Shows (Common Dreams, USA)
2) Mexico: Babies Dying of Poverty, Medical Negligence (IPS)

Sexual Exploitation
3) Central America: Turning a Blind Eye to Child Sexual Exploitation (IPS)

Child Labor
4) Video footage shows child labour in the surgical goods industry (ICFTU)

Children at War
5) Colombia: Schools and Teachers - Targets of War (IPS)
6) NGOs Push U.N. to Punish Groups Using Child Soldiers (IPS)
7) War Would Be 'Catastrophic' for Iraqi Children (IPS)

Good Web Links on Children Issues (From Z-Net

1) American Children Put on Drugs to Save Money, Study Shows
by Andrew Buncombe in Washington

Published on Wednesday, January 15, 2003 by the lndependent/UK

The number of American children taking psychiatric drugs rather than
psychotherapy has soared in 15 years because health insurers want cheaper
options, a study says.

More than 6 per cent of children use drugs, including Prozac and Ritalin.
Between 1987 and 1996 the number of children prescribed such drugs
increased threefold and researchers say that rate of increase shows no
sign of abating. The study's authors say cost-saving techniques introduced
by insurers, and marketing by the pharmaceutical industry, push children
and parents towards the use of such drugs rather than more costly therapy.

The survey, by Julie Zito, a researcher at the University of Maryland in
Baltimore, found as many children as adults were given psychiatric drugs.

Michael Jellinek, professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and chief
of child psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, said: "The
insurance system gives an incentive for medications and a disincentive for
therapy. The medicine may ... not address issues of self-esteem,
interpersonal relationships and family relationships, all of which are
part of recovery." He said promotion of drugs was driven by the profit

Susan Pisano, for the American Association of Health Plans, caring for 160
million people, said: "The study does not say, 'There is a greater use of
drugs and that is having a deleterious effect on children'. It just says
there is a greater use of drugs."

2002 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd

2) Babies Dying of Poverty, Medical Negligence

By Diego Cevallos

MEXICO CITY, Jan 28 (IPS) - Forensic and health experts are investigating the cause of death of 20 infants in a hospital in Mexico's southernmost state of Chiapas. But the parents of the children, most of whom are indigenous, say they already know their babies' killers: medical negligence and poverty.

Teams of Mexican and Cuban doctors have arrived at the regional medical centre of Comitan, near the Guatemalan border, to delve into this public scandal that has once again cast doubts on the Mexican government's much-touted medical assistance programmes.

The bodies of 20 of the 32 infants aged one day to two months old who died in the last two months have been exhumed and are undergoing autopsies.

Mexican President Vicente Fox and Chiapas state Governor Pablo Salazar have promised to make public as soon as possible a complete report on the cause of death, and say that if anyone is found responsible, they will be penalised.

Indigenous resident Concepción Alfaro, who wept as she saw her twins exhumed on Jan 17 in Comitan, said nobody even bothered to explain to her why her babies died. She believes that the real cause of death will never be revealed.

Last month, 26 infants died in the state-run hospital, and six more expired during the first week of January. But it was only after the families reported the series of deaths to the national government that authorities decided to send special aid and launch a probe.

Alfaro and the other parents blame the deaths of their children on medical negligence and the lack of adequate medical equipment.

Poverty and the lack of basic health services are a real problem in Chiapas where the leftist Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) revolted against the government in January 1994 to demand justice for indigenous people.

Some 1.5 million of the state's four million inhabitants have no access to medical services.

Studies show that there are only 0.2 medical clinics and 0.5 doctors for every 1,000 people -- ratios that are five and two times smaller, respectively, than the national average.

In addition, there is just one operating theatre per 100,000 people, and 0.3 hospital beds per 1,000 inhabitants in Chiapas.

Furthermore, over half of the population of the state suffers from malnutrition -- a proportion that climbs to more than 80 percent in areas with the highest concentration of indigenous people.

Lawmaker Adela Granier, with the congressional Health Commission, announced that preliminary investigations indicated the presence of dangerous bacteria in the Comitan hospital which could have caused the deaths of the infants.

But Congresswoman Elias Moreno said the deaths were problably not caused by negligence, but by a lack of resources and medical infrastructure. ''The hospitals in Chiapas are obsolete,'' she observed.

A study by the Pan-American Health Organisation requested by the Chiapas state government traced the deaths of children in the state to problems in the medical infrastructure, excessive workloads for the medical staff, and the already poor state of health of most of the infants when they arrived at the hospital.

President Fox continued to assure people of the country's modern health programmes, especially in areas most neglected by previous administrations.

But critics say the deaths seem to indicate that at least in Chiapas, the public health services leave much to be desired.

According to the EZLN rebels, who are allowed by a law on ''pacification'' to remain in the state's remote jungle areas without engaging in acts of violence or being attacked, nothing has changed in Chiapas since Fox, the first president in seven decades who does not belong to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), came to power in late 2000.

Mexican Health Secretary Julio Frenk said the deaths were a serious matter that would be clarified in order to adopt the necessary measures to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Frenk, a candidate for the post of head of the World Health Organisation, whose selection is to be announced within the next few days, has drawn criticism because of the case.

Raymundo Riva Palacio, an analyst with the Mexican daily El Universal, said it was ironic that Frenk aspired to head the WHO when babies were dying in Mexico due to faulty services in the health system that he runs.

3) Turning a Blind Eye to Child Sexual Exploitation

By Néfer Muñoz

SAN JOSE, Jan 24 (IPS) - The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have shown scant interest in living up to their commitments to work to eradicate child sexual exploitation, warned a global network that fights the phenomenon.

Only two governments in the region have even drawn up the promised action plans aimed at fighting commercial sexual exploitation of minors, said End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for sexual purposes (ECPAT International), which links 71 non-governmental organisations in 62 countries.

(The Bangkok-based network changed its name in 1996 from End Child Prostitution in Asian Tourism).

Although Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala and Mexico have designed strategies to combat the problem, only two of those nations -- Colombia and El Salvador -- have actually assigned resources to implementing the plans.

''It is worrisome to us that Latin America and the Caribbean conceive of spending money on children as an 'expense' rather than an 'investment'. We calculate that every dollar invested in a minor is multiplied tenfold throughout the course of his or her life,'' British activist Bruce Harris told IPS.

In Costa Rica, ECPAT released a report on the situation in Latin America, pointing out that over 30 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean committed themselves in 1996 to drafting action plans and investing more money to combat the commercial sexual exploitation of children.

That commitment was assumed by the world's governments at the first World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Stockholm, Sweden, and reaffirmed at the second edition of the global conference, held in Yokohama, Japan in December 2001.

''In economic terms there has been a 'decapitalisation' of childhood. We are mortgaging the future of our children. We have to overhaul our priorities,'' said Harris, the director of Casa Alianza, one of ECPAT's member organisations and the Latin America branch of the New York-based child advocacy organisation Covenant House.

In recent months, officials in several Central American countries have denied that there is a lack of political will to crack down on the problem.

Although there are no reliable statistics, human rights groups say millions of children in Latin America and the Caribbean have fallen victim to the various forms of commercial sexual exploitation, such as cross-border people smuggling, child pornography or child prostitution.

''This is a problem that is related to the most invisible human rights: economic, social and cultural rights,'' human rights activist Celia Medrano told IPS.

Between 45 and 52 percent of the people of Latin America are under 18, while the total population of Latin America amounts to 497 million people, according to the regional United Nations agency, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

''We need to eliminate two elements that perpetuate sexual exploitation by local and foreign clients: impunity, which is strengthened when existing laws are not enforced, and the anonymity behind which many of the exploiters hide,'' said Milena Grillo, the president of the organisation Paniamor.

The activist underlined that the international community has recognised that far from being reduced, the phenomenon of commercial sexual exploitation of children has grown.

ECPAT said it had found a direct link between domestic labour and child sexual exploitation in Latin America. According to the report, the lure of domestic labour is often used as a cover for drawing girls (and sometimes boys) into child prostitution rings.

In Costa Rica, 76 percent of female domestics are minors, and in Paraguay, between 80 and 90 percent of young girls who are sexually exploited had worked as maids, according to ECPAT.

The report mentioned ''coyotes'' in El Salvador who travel to rural areas to recruit teenage girls and young women for the prostitution trade under the pretext of hiring them as domestic workers.

And in the southwestern Mexican resort town of Acapulco, many girls and young women who ended up being sexually exploited said they had been persuaded by family members and friends to move to the city with the promise of a job in domestic service or the tourism industry.

The Costa Rica-based Foundation for Peace and Democracy reported that 7.5 million children and adolescents in Central America work, many of them in high-risk jobs that put their development at risk.

Analysts say one of the main causes of child sexual exploitation is poverty, which affects around 43 percent of the people of Latin America.

4) Video footage shows child labour in the surgical goods industry - ICFTU Press Release (ICFTU Website)
Date: 1/17/2003 11:58:41 AM Pacific Standard Time


Brussels. May 15. (ICFTU Info): On the eve of the Second World Trade Organisation Ministerial Meeting in Geneva (May 18/19), international trade unions in Brussels are releasing video footage entitled "Under the Knife" which shows extensive use of child labour in the production of surgical goods, in Sialkot, Pakistan, where children operate heavy, dangerous metal-working equipment, without any protection.

An independent cameraman sent by the trade unions filmed children, aged eight to 14 years, crouching in cramped workshops, grinding scissors, and polishing, cutting, and filing other surgical instruments. In some of the workshops, metal dust particles fill the air, and the polishers' faces are coated in metal dust thrown up by grinding wheels, operated without using masks, gloves, or any form of protection. Workers suffer frequent injuries on this machinery, burns from hot metal, and respiratory problems from inhaling poisonous metal dust.

Most surgical instruments will be exported to industrialised countries for use in hospitals, dental surgeries and doctor's surgeries. According to the Pakistan government over 69 million units' of surgical goods were exported in 1994, with around 80% to OECD countries, with the USA as the largest importer. The surgical instruments are stamped out of sheets of steel imported from France, the United Kingdom, Germany and Japan.

"Top hospitals in the world could at this moment be carrying out operations using equipment made by underage workers in the backstreets of Pakistan," said ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan. "People will pay thousands of dollars for medical treatment. Would they be happy to know that medical work is being undertaken using equipment produced by children paid a pittance, working in terrible conditions?" he asked.

Out of a total of 50,000 workers in the surgical goods industry in Sialkot, 15% (7,700) are children, according to research by the Punjab Provincial Government and the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Child labour continues in surgical goods production even though the Pakistan government has ratified ILO Convention 59, which bans children from working in industry, says the ICFTU.

Interviews on video with the child workers, of whom all were boys, disclosed that they had had only minimal schooling, and had been working for several years. In fact, the video also shows one positive move to combat child labour - a school for ex-child labourers, set up by the local textile workers union. While this is a welcome step, say the unions, thousands more school places are needed.

At the forthcoming World Trade Organisation meeting, ministers will look at ways of easing the flow of goods and services between countries, and breaking down trade barriers. The use of child labour in this industry shows how multinational companies will seek out the cheapest labour to produce their goods, at the expense of local workers and often employers, and how countries are forced to accept this, in order to preserve the competitive edge in trade. At least 15 million child labourers worldwide are producing goods and services for international markets.

At the WTO meeting the ICFTU will be asking Ministers to look at means of linking labour standards with trade, to ensure that abuses such as the extensive use of child labour are not allowed to continue.

In Sialkot, the ILO is preparing a project for the withdrawal and rehabilitation of children in surgical instrument manufacturing. The project will be implemented in close collaboration with trade unions and employers in Pakistan, and will be financed by funds raised by Italian unions and employers. The ICFTU is asking governments in industrialised countries to support further activities needed for the total elimination of child labour in this sector.

The International Metalworkers' Federation IMF <> and its affiliates in Pakistan believe it is mainly through strong unions that workers' rights issues such as child labour and poor working conditions can be overcome. To this end the IMF and its Pakistani affiliates are discussing and planning to start an urgent organising campaign in Sialkot.

The Public Services International (PSI <> ), which represents public health workers, will be working with its health union affiliates to get agreements from the major suppliers internationally to support the ILO project and other activities to abolish child labour in this sector.

Contacts: For further information, please contact: Daphne Davies, ICFTU Press Officer on ++322 224 0202 (wk), ++322 733 0699 (hm), Alan Leather, Public Services International on ++33 4 50 40 64 64, Carla Coletti, International Metalworkers Federation on ++41 22 308 50 50.

Note: Copies of the video are available on Betacam cassette. Stills from the video for reproduction in the print media are available by e-mail. Please contact: Daphne Davies, ++322 224 0404, or ++ 322 733 0699

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU)
Boulevard Emile Jacqmain 155, B - 1210 Brussels, Belgium. For more information
please contact: Daphne Davies on: 00 322 224 0202 -

5) Schools and Teachers - Targets of War

By Yadira Ferrer

BOGOTA, Jan 20 (IPS) - Some 12,000 children in northern Colombia were unable to begin the school year Monday due to the intimidation and murders of teachers by irregular armed groups, and the destruction of schools.

Colombia's teachers' union, FECODE, said the closure of 125 schools in late December in the northern department or state of Bolívar as a result of turf wars between leftist guerrillas and right-wing paramilitary groups was just one sign of the humanitarian crisis facing the educational system across this war-torn South American country.

In Bolívar, where fighting is intense, ''schools have come to be seen as physical spaces where guerrillas, paramilitaries and the army carry out political proselytism, based on a foundation of terror,'' the technical secretary of FECODE's human rights commission, Fabio Zapata, told IPS.

Last year around 290,000 children -- equivalent to 3.6 percent of the public education system's primary school students -- had to leave school temporarily or permanently due to the forced displacement of 2,900 teachers, he added.

Zapata underlined that in 2002, 82 teachers and other public school employees were killed, twice the number of deaths registered in the education system in 2001. In addition, more than 100 schools were destroyed in attacks by armed groups.

Many of the teachers were killed in front of their students or their own children, with the consequent irreparable psychological damages. Added to that was the fact that the schoolchildren were left without the possibility of attending class, because murdered teachers are not replaced.

The complaints filed with FECODE hold paramilitary groups responsible for 95 percent of the murders, and blame the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) -- the main rebel group -- for the remaining five percent.

In many of the cases, guerrillas visit the schools, carry out ''political proselytism,'' threaten the teachers and children not to collaborate with the paramilitaries, and send the same message home to the parents, said Zapata.

Afterwards, the paramilitaries show up, set forth their own political arguments, and issue threats or directly accuse teachers of supporting the insurgents who just left the school -- a pretext for murdering teachers or forcing them to leave the area, he explained.

The trade unionist also said the army took part in the harassment, often setting up military installations or control posts in areas near schools, particularly in departments like Caquetá in the southeast.

In addition, schools in some regions are frequently used as ''human shields'' by the military, said Zapata.

FECODE's slogan this year is ''Our Schools: Neutral Territory in the Armed Conflict.''

Political analysts say the humanitarian crisis facing Colombia's public schools at the start of the current school year is worse than the problems seen in the past two years.

They point out that the safety concerns are compounded by the shortfall in educational coverage that leaves around three million children in this country of 42 million without the possibility of attending class.

The crisis in the educational system was described as part of the broader framework of violations of fundamental rights in Colombia, in a report introduced last year at the United Nations General Assembly's 57th period of sessions.

The report presented by the then-UN high commissioner for human rights, Mary Robinson, stated that the right to education in Colombia was repeatedly violated due to the violence of which teachers are frequent targets.

Teachers are among the workers who most often receive death threats or are killed or forcibly displaced in Colombia, according to the document.

The latest report by the Observatory of the Presidential Programme of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law, released in September, stated that guerrillas and paramilitaries killed 121 political leaders and public employees in the first eight months of 2002.

But the Observatory added that, despite ''the gravity and complexity of the situation of human rights and international humanitarian law in this country, there have been significant advances in a number of areas of the state.''

For example, the state has investigated and penalised people who have committed human rights violations, while it has ''fought the illegal armed groups militarily, as well as submitting them to justice,'' said the report.

According to the Observatory, the armed forces captured 1,863 guerrillas and 658 members of paramilitary groups between January and August 2002, 44 percent more than in the corresponding period in 2001.

6) NGOs Push U.N. to Punish Groups Using Child Soldiers

By Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Jan 15 (IPS) - Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and senior United Nations officials are urging the international community to move immediately to protect millions of children involved in armed conflict around the world.

Though pleased to note that the issue is being debated in the U.N. Security Council, several NGO leaders demanded at a news conference Tuesday that the Council act against governments and armed groups that use children in armed conflicts.

In December, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan released a report that ''named and shamed'' 23 insurgent groups and five countries - Afghanistan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia and Somalia - that recruit or use children as soldiers. The report is now under discussion at the Security Council.

''There's a need to translate words into action,'' said Katherine Hunt, a member of the Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, a global network of NGOs. ''The Security Council has to show its interest in implementation, not just reporting.''

The Coalition said the Council must adopt a strong resolution to set out ''a clear path'' for protecting children, and it is pressing the body to expand the list of the countries where children are used as soldiers.

Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Columbia must be added to the list, insists the Coalition. Though groups in those countries are known to be heavy users of children in armed conflict, the nations were excluded from the list because they were not already on the Council's agenda.

The Coalition's demand was backed by the executive director of the United Nations Children's Fund, Carol Bellamy.

''Can there be a more persuasive reason to act than the anguish of these children?'' she asked the 15-member Council, the U.N.'s senior decision-making body, a few hours before the debate.

''It is children who represent the succeeding generations that the U.N. was founded to save - and it's we who have the power to halt the suffering that is endured by so many children in so many countries.''

Bellamy urged the Council to establish what she called a ''culture of accountability'' by holding those who use children in armed conflicts responsible for their actions. ''Much more is required to make the protection of children an explicit priority in our efforts to build peace and resolve conflict.''

UNICEF estimates about 300,000 children across the globe are serving as child soldiers. A recent report by the Coalition lists 72 parties to armed conflicts that continue to use children in war and more than 25 others who have recruited children in the past.

Coalition leaders said they met a number of Security Council members behind closed doors on Monday, asking them to support resolutions to ensure that child protection becomes a top priority in the United Nations.

Some NGOs are lobbying member states to back a resolution that would demand an annual progress report on countries that use children in conflicts. Others suggest that imposing sanctions could be an effective tool against those who defy international opinion.

Some Security Council members appeared ready to move beyond talk.

''It is a scandal that children are used in armed conflicts,'' said Jean Marc De La Sabliere, the French ambassador, who is also Council president this month. ''It is necessary to take action.''

''The Council is one of the few bodies that does not have to confine itself to helpless outrage,'' added Gunter Pleuger, the German envoy, urging all countries to ratify a statute of the International Criminal Court that classifies as war crimes the conscription, enlistment or use in hostilities of children under age 15.

Pleuger said he fully supports U.N. monitoring efforts but added that they would only succeed if those who refused to cooperate face consequences. ''The Council should add bite to monitoring,'' he added.

Annan reiterated the call to act against those who use child soldiers.

''Those who violate standards can no longer do so with impunity,'' he warned while addressing the Council. ''It is essential that publication of the list is followed by systematic monitoring and reporting, as well as the consideration of targeted measures against those who continue to flout their international obligations.''

7)War Would Be 'Catastrophic' for Iraqi Children - Report

Marty Logan

War in Iraq would have devastating effects on the country's 13 million children, many of whom are already malnourished and living in ''great fear'' of another conflict, says a new report by a Canadian-led fact-finding team.

MONTREAL, Jan 30 (IPS) - War in Iraq would have devastating effects on the country's 13 million children, many of whom are already malnourished and living in ''great fear'' of another conflict, says the report of a Canadian-led, fact-finding team released Thursday.

The document, based on a trip to Iraq Jan. 20-26 by 10 health experts, concludes that, ''Iraqi children are at grave risk of starvation, disease, death and psychological trauma''.

They ''are more vulnerable to the adverse effects of a new war than they were before the Gulf War of 1991'' but ''the international community has at present little capacity to respond to the harm that children will suffer by a new war in Iraq'', it adds.

The report's authors, the International Study Team, call themselves an ''independent group of expert academics, researchers and practitioners examining the humanitarian effects of military conflict on the civilian population''.

They include experts in health, nutrition, child psychology and emergency preparedness.

In 1991, they produced a report on the humanitarian impact of the Gulf War, based on 9,000 interviews in 300 locations in Iraq.

The team's backers include War Child Canada, International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) and its Canadian affiliate Physicians for Global Survival (PGS), Oxfam Canada, World Vision Canada and the United Church.

The team says it received no financial assistance from the Iraqi government during the trip.

The report's findings are based on data collected in three Iraqi cities - Baghdad, Karbala and Basra - interviews with more than 100 families in their homes and previous studies.

"While it is impossible to predict both the nature of any war and the number of expected deaths and injuries, casualties among children will be in the thousands, probably in the tens of thousands and possibly in the hundreds of thousands," Canadian team leader and medical doctor Eric Hoskins said in a statement.

The report says that Iraq currently has only one month's supply of food and three months of medicine remaining.

Titled 'Our Common Responsibility: The Impact of a New War on Iraq Children', the document presents findings on children's physical and mental well being as well as on emergency preparedness in the country.

Weakened by the effects of war and more than a decade of economic sanctions, 500,000 Iraqi children are malnourished, it says. For example, the death rate of children under five years of age is already 2.5 times greater than it was in 1990, before the Gulf War.

Because most of the country's 13 million children are dependent on food distributed by the Government of Iraq, ''the disruption of this system by war would have a devastating impact on children who already have a high rate of malnutrition'', says the report.

It adds that only 60 percent of Iraqis have access to fresh water. ''Further disruption to these services, as occurred during the 1991 Gulf War, would be catastrophic for Iraqi children.''

The team's two psychologists, Atle Dyregrov and Magne Raundalen, world leaders in the impact of war on children, carried out what the report calls the first-ever pre-war assessment of children's mental health.

''With war looming, Iraqi children are fearful, anxious and depressed,'' they found. ''Many have nightmares. And 40 percent do not think that life is worth living.''

The finding ''is powerful evidence that the concern for children's well-being needs to be considered in the decision making process about to take place in the United Nations Security Council'', says the report, which was released in Ottawa.

"As medical professionals, we call on all parties involved in the conflict with Iraq to insure the safety of children and all innocent civilians and to do everything humanly possible to resolve the conflict peacefully," said IPPNW spokesman John Pastore in a statement.

The report points out that the United Nations estimates that, in the event of war, as many as 500,000 Iraqis could require emergency medical treatment but that hospitals and clinics will run out of medicines within three to four weeks of the start of a conflict.

The report was also sent to the U.N. Security Council, the government of Iraq, and the Canadian government.

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