Author: David Alton
November 26th 2014 – Debate on Pay Day Loans and the Targetting of Young people
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in returning to this issue, which I spoke to at Second Reading and in Committee, I first thank the noble Baronesses, Lady
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Neville-Rolfe and Lady Jolly, for the time that they and their officials have given to it. The meeting that they held with me, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham and the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, earlier today was certainly helpful.
As the right reverend Prelate just said, this issue has not just exercised Members on all sides of your Lordships’ House at all stages of the Bill but it has also engaged the public outside.
I am glad to speak today to Amendment 47, to which I have added my name as a cosignatory. Our amendments are a composite of the amendments which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro and I moved in Committee and build on that momentum. I hope that they become part of the Bill. However, I recognise that although legislative moments come and are the most important point for parliamentarians to insist on provisions, it is not always possible to achieve legislative outcomes. If that is the case today, I hope that when the Minister comes to reply to the debate, she will be able to say, if the Government agree, as I think they do, with the principles contained in the amendments, how they will be rigorous in ensuring that the advertising industry, the licensing authorities and, above all, the payday loan industry will act in accordance with the amendments, and how we as a House will have the opportunity in due course to hold all those bodies to account.
Lord Higgins (Con): I am looking in vain for some reference to the watershed to which the right reverend Prelate referred. I cannot see where it is in Amendment 47.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: The issue that the noble Lord rightly raises would be covered in the regulations to be laid before the House under proposed new subsection (1). There is a difference between being able to advertise to and target young people, which is the main thrust of the amendment, and the second part, which is about whether there can be regulation after the watershed. It is true that the advertising industry and payday loan lenders recognise that there is an issue about targeting young people, but up until this point, we have not heard enough from them about what they would do about advertising that might appear after the watershed. If I may, I shall return to that in a moment or two.
Lord Higgins: I am very much in favour of the amendment, but the right reverend Prelate referred to the watershed as if it were in the amendment. Am I right in thinking that in fact it does not appear in the amendment, only in a statutory instrument intended under the amendment?
Lord Alton of Liverpool: It is certainly true that it could appear in an instrument or regulations. However, subsection (1) of the proposed new clause refers to the content as well as the timing with regard to people below the age of 18. What that part of the amendment recognises is that some young people are bound to be watching television after the watershed and that would certainly need to be addressed.
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Payday loan advertising is a significant factor which contributes to the social context in which people make their financial decisions. People are endlessly blitzed by messages encouraging them to spend and to borrow, whereas there is minimal knowledge about money advice and debt help services. Our failure to develop a nationwide network of credit unions has always been a major disappointment to me and a contributory factor to the ability of these payday loan lenders to walk into that space.
With the prevalence of payday loan advertising increasing by more than 20 times from 2009 to 2012, according to Ofcom research published in December 2013, far outstripping the advertising of sound financial management or general financial education—although there is commendable and wonderful work, as the right reverend Prelate referred to, by organisations such as Christians Against Poverty, StepChange, the Children’s Society and CARE—it is hardly surprising that payday loans are increasingly being seen as a normal and responsible means of personal financial organisation. What today’s children see, hear and understand from what they are taught today, and from the advertisements that they see, will impact hugely on their future.
What is particularly concerning about the normalisation of payday loans as a means of borrowing is that it particularly manifests itself among young people, specifically, in younger parents. According to Playday not Payday, a report produced earlier this year by the Children’s Society, 39% of parents aged 18 to 24 are likely to have used payday loans at some point, compared to 18% of 25 to 34 year-olds and just 8% of 35 to 44 year-old parents. It is interesting that the same report concluded that 30% of 18 to 24 year-old parents describe payday loans as an acceptable means of managing day-to-day expenses. Perhaps we can take some encouragement in that 9% of 18 to 24 year-old parents recognise that although they have used payday loans, they do not see them as an acceptable means of managing day-to-day expenses—but that is scant encouragement.
This week, Ofcom, the regulator and competition authority for the United Kingdom’s communications industry, published results concerning children from its Digital Day 2014 research. The study found that just over three-quarters—78%—of children aged 11 to 15 and 90% of six to 11 year-olds watched live TV every day over the course of a week. With so many children consuming so much television, it is important that we ensure that they consume what is appropriate.
In our earlier debates on the Bill it was said that there is a logical inconsistency in the current approach to the advertising of payday loans. I agree with that. We properly accept certain limitations on advertising, even in a free-market economy, where it is recognised that normalising potentially harmful behaviours should be avoided, as is the case, for example, with alcohol or gambling advertisements. Payday loans should be treated in the same way. I have yet to hear a cogent argument against that.
Critics of closing the loophole note that payday loan advertising is not targeted at children and that restricting adverts until after the 9 pm watershed—the
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point made by the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, earlier on—is therefore unnecessary. I must say that I find that argument unconvincing, although I note that the noble Lord is not one of those who advance it. An advert can appeal to someone without being targeted at them. Although payday loans may not be advertised specifically around children’s programming, children do not only see programmes designed for them. They see a range of content.
In a poll conducted by YouGov and commissioned by the Children’s Society, 74% of parents across the country backed a ban on payday loan adverts from airing on TV and radio before the 9 pm watershed. We should listen to them. Parents also tell us that they feel under pressure from their children with regard to payday loans. Research conducted by the award-winning MoneySavingExpert.com website revealed that more than one in three parents with children under the age of 10 have heard their children repeat slogans from payday loan TV advertisements. In the same poll, 14% of parents said that when they refused to purchase something for their under-10 year-olds, they were nagged to take out a payday loan for it. All of us who have children know all too well the almost irresistible gut-wrenching pull of the plea of a child—especially on a sleep-deprived parent. We may reminisce with rose-tinted spectacles about this now, but the reality is that for some families this is what is called “pester power”. It is the beginning of a slippery slope, often towards indebtedness and poverty.
If there are steps we can take to avoid families slipping unnoticed into indebtedness, we must surely take them. These amendments do not represent a magic bullet. I do not think that the right reverend Prelate, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, or the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, would argue that. I accept that there is no single solution or quick fix. Whole-person financial care is vital. Financial education is crucial to prepare children for financial independence. Equipping children and young people to make financially capable choices will also help to break the sort of cycles of deprivation that many of us have seen, especially in urban areas—places like the city of Liverpool, which I represented for 18 years in another place. But preventing seductive, alluring, irresponsible advertisements can also play its part.
These amendments will therefore make a difference. They will ensure that children are less familiar with high-cost consumer credit products such as payday loans. They will ensure that adults are protected from overt pressure in the form of overbearing and intrusive unsolicited marketing. They will help families and insulate children from the subtle pressure and normalisation of payday loans as an appropriate form of financial management.
For all those reasons, I am very happy to support the amendment so ably moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, not least because of the discussion that some of us were able to take part in earlier about this very issue. However, a debate and a review, of course, are no substitute for legislation, as she will agree. Will she at least commit, not about debates or reviews but about what the Government can commit to themselves, which is legislation if the review does not bring forward the necessary mechanisms to control this disease which has been described by so many noble Lords today as affecting so many people?
Baroness Jolly: My Lords, I do not dispute for one minute that we would all like to see this problem go away. Regrettably, these decisions are made by Treasury Ministers and this is well above my pay grade.
A noble Lord: But you are a Minister.
Baroness Jolly: I am, indeed, a Minister. However, there are things to which this lowly Minister will not commit. I want to press on.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I second the amendment and support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham in moving it. My name is on the Marshalled List in support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, who tabled the amendment. I will keep my remarks brief because we exhausted many of the arguments in the previous amendment.
One figure that struck me very much is the £8.3 billion estimate of the social costs of debt problems. Putting aside such staggering figures, which are quite hard sometimes to understand, I think about the families I have met over the years who have seen their family life, community life and whole neighbourhoods broken as a consequence of indebtedness and the debt culture. The time that your Lordships spent when this Parliament was first convened considering the crisis we were facing because of the national debt is being replicated in the area of personal debt. Sometimes we overlook the latter because we are concentrating so much, rightly, on the former. However, many families are deeply immersed in debt, which is incredibly destructive of their family life. I suspect that one of the major factors in the breakdown of family life is people taking out all sorts of commitments and debts that they did not fully understand, when they entered into them, they would not be able to honour and meet. It ultimately leads to friction, disagreement, inability to pay and, then, catastrophic results. Anyone who read the front-page report in the Times newspaper this week about the effects of the breakdown of family life in this country on outcomes, particularly for young people, should surely be troubled by these things.
All of us will have experienced high-pressured, targeting salesmanship. It is incredibly frustrating to pick up the telephone and find people trying to sell you yet something else that you do not need, but many of us can easily be susceptible to it. This is a good amendment and one that I hope the Government will feel able to accept today. I am very happy to support the right reverend Prelate.
House of Lords Debate November 26th 2014.
‘RESPONSE TO CASTE & DALIT POVERTY IN INDIA’ Report of DALITAID–INDIA – 2 DAY CONFERENCE – 5th and 6th December 2014.
National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Centre (NBCLC), Bangalore]
By lightning the lamp Mr. Roshan Baig, Honourable Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Government of Karnataka inaugurated the conference. His Excellency Rt. Rev Dr. A. Neethinathan, Bishop of Chingleput, Chairman, Department of Dalits, Catholic Bishops Conference of India (CBCI) and Patron of DALITAID-India on the Dias with DALITAID office bearers, Professor Mary John [Chair], Ms. Maglin Jerry, [Treasurer] and Mr. V.J. George, [General Secretary].
‘Dalit Struggle for Equality needs recognition’
Says Mr. Roshan Baig, Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Karnataka State.
‘Dalits in India are struggling for equality and development and it is high time that society gives them the deserving recognition and acceptance that they need to be brought to the mainstream of Society. Their acceptance must come from the hearts of the civil society members’, said Mr. Roshan Baig, Minister for Infrastructure Development, Information and Haj, Karnataka State, India
He was inaugurating a 2 Day National Conference on ‘Response to Caste and Dalit Poverty’, organised by DALITAID-India, at the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre [NBCLC] Bangalore held on 5th and 6th December 2014. The conference was attended by 190 delegates from Dalit led NGOs and movements across the country.
Most Rev. Dr. A. Neethinathan, Chairman of the Department of Dalits, Catholic Bishops Conference of India [CBCI] and Bishop of Chingleput, gave the keynote address. He said there is a strong correlation between Caste and Poverty of Dalits. Dalit poverty is caused mainly by caste and the Development agencies must have Dalit sensitisation to address the issue of caste, while attempting to reduce the poverty of Dalits.
Prof. Dr. M. Mary John, Chair, DALITAID –India, giving the opening remarks, said that the conference sought to address the issues of Dalit development by focusing on the right share of development resources, which are reaching the wrong hands. The conference unleashed deliberations for the strengthening of the stake of the Dalit led NGOs for the involvement in the development processes.
Speaking on the occasion, Mr. V.J. George, General Secretary, DALITAID India, said that the main reason for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) being off-track was due to neglect of the Dalit sector and the conference gave strong warnings to the Development agencies, National and Global, that Dalit poverty needs to be addressed through Dalit led NGOs .
Ms. Maglin Jerry, Treasurer of DALITAID India gave the Welcome speech and Mr. Alfred Culas, Director, DALITAID India made the Vote of Thanks.
The Conference discussed paper presentations by experts on various sections, subjects included, ‘Dalits among Global Poor’, ‘Impact of Caste on Dalit Poverty’, ‘New Understandings of Dalits and Poverty’, ‘Struggles within Struggles’, ‘Struggles for the Equal Rights of Dalits’, and ‘Dalit Development oppositions’. 24 papers were presented and discussed. The Conference deliberated and approved a ‘Bangalore Declaration’, which forms part of the news release.
Prof. Dr. Mary John Mr. V.J. George Ms. Maglin Jerry Mr. Alfred Culas
(Chairman) (General Secretary) (Treasurer) (Director)
190 Dalit activists, Dalit Rights workers, Dalit led NGO leaders, members of Research Institutions, Training, Development and Human Rights organisations, leaders of Faith Communities and Human Rights activists gathered from different states of India during 5th – 6th December 2014, at the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre [NBCLC], Bangalore for a 2 day National Conference on ‘Response to Caste and Dalit Poverty’ and have unanimously adopted this Declaration on this 6th day of December 2014.
1. That the definition of Dalits shall be based on ‘untouchability’; those communities and their posterities who suffered untouchability in the past are to be considered as Dalits, irrespective of their religion.
2. That there is a positive correlation between caste and Dalit poverty; as the poverty of Dalits is due to the caste system and all the backwardness inflicted upon them by the caste system.
3. That the Development Sector should coin right terminologies to describe caste discrimination, in the place of using traditional terminologies which glorify and reinforce the caste system.
4. That Dalits in India form 1/3rd of the Global poor (444 Million) and hence Dalits deserve a legitimate share of 1/3rd of the Global resources which are set apart for addressing poverty.
5. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) failed to achieve the desired targets on Dalit poverty reduction, mainly due to the fact that they completely ignored a major chunk of the Global poor; i.e. Dalits who form 1/3rd of the Global Poor.
6. That the National and International Aid agencies, Governments, and the Corporate Social Responsibility of the Corporate sector must address the root cause of poverty rather than continuing and content with treating the symptoms of poverty.
7. That the Cannon of Equity shall be followed by the Aid Agencies in sharing resources, specifying ‘Dalits and Caste Discrimination’ as a thematic area, as against inequality and other similar jargons.
8. That the aid agencies must re-define their ideas of empowerment of Dalits. They must insist on disaggregated information for stopping caste discriminatory practices in their Monitoring and Evaluation methods, additional to the current trend of empowering people for their civic entitlements.
9. That the aid agencies must follow similar/ parallel Dalit affirmative policies of respective countries where they work and follow the principle of inclusion of people and personnel from the Dalit background in their International Development Departments and as Country Heads in South Asian Countries where 90% poor are Dalits. They must have Dalit Experts in their International Offices also.
10. The Aid agencies and International NGOs working in South Asia must review: the caste composition of their staff and their partner NGOs in South Asia and; their capacity to absorb the target population within its decision making circles, including who own the properties bought with aid money, who operate the bank accounts and who take the decisions.
11. That the International Aid Agencies working in India should support Anti- Caste Discrimination campaigns internationally and support the Global campaign against Caste Discrimination, as caste discrimination is practiced in 132 countries, including 110 countries, where South Asians have migrated to, such as the UK which has passed anti- caste Discrimination laws.
12. That the Overseas Governments with their India Offices and international Aid Agencies having their Indian country offices, should all have their country coordinators from Dalit backgrounds or trained in Dalit studies, as 90% of the poor in India are Dalits
13. That resources for the development of Dalits shall be routed through NGOs owned, managed and run by the Dalits themselves, in the place of the existing trend where these resources are cornered by NGOs run by Caste Perpetrators, who claim Dalits to be their target groups. Aid agencies must take mainly Dalit led NGOs as their partners while addressing Dalit poverty.
14. That, as the platform for Dalit led NGOs, DALITAID India shall be accepted by the Aid agencies and Corporate Social Responsibility Departments of the Corporate bodies and shall be promoted with priority.
15. That the National Model Community Development Project (NMCDP) which DALITAID-India has proposed and to be implemented in Odisha, shall be supported by Aid agencies, Church and Dalit-led NGOs.
16. That the rights of all Dalits, irrespective of religion, for equal rights and opportunities for development shall be accepted by the Aid agencies and governments, when addressing Dalit development.
17. That the Churches in India shall be more inclusive in their approach to Dalits and ensure Dalits get equal opportunities for inclusion in the various hierarchy of Church, leadership positions and educational and employment opportunities.
18. That the Central and State Governments in India shall take very strict measures to abolish the Bonded labour in the Textile Industry and other sectors, where victims are mostly Dalits.
19. That discrimination to Dalits in the educational opportunities and institutions shall be addressed effectively by the government and private educational institutions run by Churches and Church based institutions. Different forms of caste humiliations in Higher Education shall be addressed seriously.
20. We endorse the Motion adopted in its 2014 AGM by the British Overseas NGOs in Development [BOND] – Europe’s largest NGO network: that “This house recognises that caste and discrimination based on ‘work & descent’ actively contribute to the structural causes of poverty and inequalities among Dalits and other excluded communities. It calls for BOND members to express solidarity and work towards addressing this problem as appropriate”.
21. We call upon all NGOs and their networks around the world to implement the above BOND Motion and urge the UN to include Caste and Dalit poverty in all its deliberations on Global poverty and development, particularly in its forthcoming September 2015 Summit to declare ‘Beyond 2015’ development targets.
House of Lords Debate 26 Nov 20146.16 pm
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, no one has done more to keep the issues of caste, untouchability and the Dalits before your Lordships’ House than my noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth. Earlier this year I was very privileged, as I feel I am again today, to share a platform with him at a conference here in London that looked at the issue of caste.
To prepare for that conference, I read Dhananjay Keer’s admirable biography of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, who was the architect of the Indian constitution, which the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, just referred to. He was born into a family of untouchables in 1891, and he said:
“Untouchability is far worse than slavery, for the latter may be abolished by statute. It will take more than a law to remove the stigma from the people of India. Nothing less than the aroused opinion of the world can do it”.
In the speeches we have heard already in this debate, we have heard the aroused conscience of the world.
No one, therefore, is attacking the state of India. It has done a great deal to try to address this question.
My noble and right reverend friend quoted Dr Manmohan Singh, and many illustrious Indian politicians have done their best to try to tackle this problem, but the sheer scale of it is what has struck me most in the contributions we have heard so far.
It was Ambedkar who, while still a young man, aged just 20, pointed to perhaps the best way forward in dealing with caste. He said:
“Let your mission be to educate and preach the idea of education to those at least who are near to and in close contact with you”.
As other noble Lords have said, education is the key to addressing the poverty and exploitation of Dalits in India. Education provides the knowledge, skills and qualifications that have the potential to help Dalits escape the cycle of poverty and exploitation.
The Indian Government have made considerable efforts to address this, not least through the right to education Act 2009, and initiatives such as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, which aims for universal access and retention, the bridging of gender and social gaps in education and the enhancement of learning levels. Enrolment, attendance and retention levels have improved,
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but there are still significant issues around attendance and drop-out rates, particularly among Dalit children. The Human Rights Watch report, “They Say We’re Dirty”: Denying an Education to India’s Marginalized, which was published earlier this year, highlights the number of Dalit children who drop out of education and the persistence of discriminatory practices in the classroom.
The report calls for better tracking of pupils and greater efforts to ensure social inclusion.
I will develop that point about non-attendance at school because it plays into the arguments that we are discussing in the context of the Modern Slavery Bill and human trafficking.
The economic pressure on marginalised groups gives families little choice but to require their children to work or even in some instances in effect to sell their children.
Dalit Freedom Network, a trafficking prevention organisation, estimates that Dalits are 27 times more likely to be trafficked or to be trapped in bonded labour than anyone else in India. The organisation supports 100 schools, providing education to more than 25,000 children, mainly from the Dalit and tribal communities. It estimates that if the children were not in their schools, some 30% to 40% would be trafficked or in bonded labour.
Although enrolment levels have improved in Indian schools, there are still issues around obtaining school places, particularly where there is an insistence on identity documents. Some Dalits have had immense difficulty in getting hold of ID. There is a particular issue around children of Devadasis or Joginis—temple prostitutes—almost all of whom are Dalits. The nature of this practice means that their mothers do not have husbands, so when the school insists on having the name of the child’s father, the children are unable to provide this, and as a result, they are refused places. The authorities also need to focus not simply on enrolment but on retention of every child in school until at least the age of 14. A system to track and monitor children is essential, along with a protocol for identifying those have dropped out or who are at risk of dropping out.
Although current thinking in development often calls for education in the local language—and I will be interested to hear from the Minister on DfID’s thinking about this—there are particular reasons why Dalit leaders have asked for English-medium education. English is still the language of opportunity in India. It is the language of higher education, government, trade and commerce and the legal system. Why else would children of high-caste families be sent to private English-medium education? In the district of Banka, Bihar, the Dalit community has constructed a temple for,
“the Goddess English hailing her as a deity of liberation from poverty, ignorance and oppression”.
The goddess stands on a computer monitor, a symbol perhaps of economic advancement. I would be intrigued to hear from the Minister whether this is an approach that we are supporting. I hope it is.
I would also like to talk briefly about Dalits and the freedom of religion and belief. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights insists that it is the right of anyone to hold the religion of their choice. Over the past several hundred years, many Dalits have changed their faith in order to come out of oppression
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and discrimination based on caste. Ironically, only untouchable Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists are considered “scheduled castes” and therefore registered castes with entitlements to state support, such as protective mechanisms under various pieces of legislation and quotas for places at university and for employment in government services. Freedom of religion is a value for society as a whole. It is universally agreed that the internal dimension of a person’s religion or belief should enjoy absolute protection. Have the Government spoken with the new Indian Government about whether they uphold Article 18?
Mahatma Gandhi said,
“Our struggle does not end so long as there is a single human being considered untouchable on account of his birth”.
India is incredible and amazing. It is one of the greatest countries in the world today. What is amazing and incredible is that there could still be untouchability, now, in the 21st century.
Click here to hear (and see the slide presentation) made during the 123rd Roscoe Lecture, held on Thursday November 13th at St.George’s Hall Liverpool- and which commemorated the role of Noel Chavasse VC and the Liverpool Pals during the Great War:
The Lecture was presented by Bill Sergeant and Tony Wainwright
London Conference on the Benefits of Religious Education: Bloomsbury, November 6th 2014.
When young people used to ask me what they needed to study if they were interested in entering political or public life I used to say that a grasp of economics and current affairs would serve them well. Read political biography, understand some basic concepts of philosophy, grapple with competing ideas and ideologies.
Today, I would unhesitatingly say that the first thing which you need to understand if you have an interest in politics or public life, is religion and theology.
Whether you survey the domestic or the international agenda, without a grasp of the ideas which underpin our Judaeo-Christian tradition, and without a knowledge of other faiths and of secular humanism, it is impossible to have a coherent view of geo-political issues or of the profound ethical and moral questions which constantly emerge on the legislative agenda. So, on a number of counts, those who try to relegate the importance of teaching about religion are simply wrong. Furthermore, religious illiteracy, especially amongst commentators, policy makers and those interested in conflict prevention, represents an extremely dangerous aberration. Governments simply cannot tackle the challenges and crises besetting the world with only a poor grasp of the religious dimension.
The problem is that although many are realising that religion does matter, very few actually understand how it matters and what positive and negative effects religion may have. Understanding the religious and faith dimensions of any single issue, region or country might be the difference between violence and peace, unity or division, success or failure.
It isn’t long ago that the death of religious belief and observance was widely predicted. The high priests of secularism prophesied that industrialization, science and technological progress would end all religious belief. Yet, the reality of the 21st century suggests something rather different.
The percentage of the world’s population claiming to follow Christianity, Islam or Hinduism has gone from 50% in 1900 to 64% in 2000. Look at today’s conflicts across Africa, the Middle East and Asia: religion is relevant.
On Tuesday I chaired the launch of a new document, detailing the rise of religious persecution. We were supported with a personal message from HRH the Prince of Wales.
Compiled by journalists, academics and commentators, the report reveals worrying concerns for people of faith in 116 of the world’s 196 countries (nearly 60 percent of all countries).
• global religious freedom has declined around the world in the last two years, including in western countries with a Christian heritage;
• religious freedom has changed in 61 countries but has improved in just six of them;
• in the remaining 55 that underwent change the situation of religious minorities deteriorated;
• “high” levels of religious persecution were discovered in 20 countries, with 14 linked to extremist Islam and six to authoritarian regimes;
• Christians remain by far the most persecuted minority, although Muslims and Jews in some countries are also facing discrimination and persecution.
The report indicates that many of those in authority – governments and religious leaders – have continually failed to stand up for religious freedom and hence Article 18 of the 1948 Declaration of Human Rights has become an orphaned right.
Serial human rights abuses – from the threat of massacres in the Middle East and discrimination in the workplace in Western countries – are the direct result of religious freedom violations.
The report also notes other trends, including:
• The rise of religious intolerance and “aggressive atheism” in Western Europe.
• Large population displacements due to religious persecution, especially in the Middle East.
• A growing “religious illiteracy” among Western policy makes, leading to misunderstandings in foreign policy areas.
• A worrying growth of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe
• Even as the report was being launched we learnt of a young Christian couple who were burnt alive in Pakistan – a country which has sentenced a Christian woman, Asia Bibbi, to death on so called charges of blasphemy. We think of the 200 abducted school girls in Nigeria, some raped, some forced to marry, some forced to convert, or the gulags of North Korea, where 200,000 people are incarcerated, many for their religious beliefs.
On the positive side, the report found a number of examples of religious co-operation; however these were often the result of local initiatives rather than progress at the level of national governments.
But if we need to understand the role of faith – from Syria and Gaza to Nigeria and North Korea, from its impact in mid-term elections in the United States to its role in all the events which have flowed from the Arab Spring – we also need to understand the role of faith in shaping attitudes, values, and the legislation which flows form it.
Take this week in Parliament.
Tomorrow in the House of Lords we will reach the Committee Stage of the Falconer Bill on Assisted Dying/Euthanasia.
The question which politicians are wrestling with is “Is it possible to allow assisted suicide for a determined few, without putting much larger numbers of others at risk?” The Guardian newspaper said that the Bill,
“would create a new moral landscape. It is also, potentially, open to abuse”.
“Reshaping the moral landscape is no alternative to cherishing life and the living”.
The Daily Telegraph said:
“The more assisted dying is discussed, the more its risks will become apparent”.
Politicians have to navigate between principles and popular opinion. For instance a poll recently published by ComRes showed that support for assisted suicide has been at 73%, but as soon as the question is asked, “Would you support it if it jeopardized public safety?” that falls to 43%, which, of course, means that it is entirely evenly matched on both sides. As we know, the actual questions that are asked in those polls are the issue. Prudential judgement is required by Parliament; and how do you exercise prudential judgement if you have not been given any formation.
As a young Member of the House of Commons I was constantly told that I ought to support, on the basis of polling evidence, legislation against immigrants, to leave the European Union, and to reintroduce capital punishment, none of which I supported, because prudential judgement is ultimately more important than polls. That was what Mark Studdock famously learnt in C.S.Lewis’ novel, “That Hideous Strength.”
Meanwhile, in the House of Commons, on Tuesday, MPs debated whether it should be legal to permit the abortion of little girls on the basis of their gender.
Of course, if you accept the proposition that “it is my right to choose” there is no logical reason why you shouldn’t end the life of a little girl merely because she is a girl.
Gendercide is perfectly acceptable if choice trumps the very right to life itself.
That the three celebratory words “it’s a girl” have become a death sentence, and the three most lethal and dangerous words in the world, is neither here nor there.
If it’s just down to choice and, in time, a test is discovered which reveals our likely sexual orientation, why not abort for that too?
Is it just a matter of choice to take the life of a baby because it is mixed race or will be a colour which you don’t care for? It is, after all legal, to abort for “social grounds” (under which 98% of all abortions are done) and on grounds of “imperfection” – we end the lives of 90% of all babies with Down’s Syndrome and have aborted for things like cleft palate.
In wrestling with these complex ethical issues, Whether it’s the right to life; the use of capital punishment; the decision to go to war; the balance to be struck between national interests and international obligations; the priortising of resources; the treatment of the poor; the pursuit of justice and fairness; the responsibility to be good stewards of that with which have been entrusted; religious literacy is a sine qua non, a given.
Some people say that religion should be a purely private affair but, for instance, anyone who knows the story of William Wilberforce and the abolition of the slave trade, knows that it was Christian ideals, and men and women formed in the Christian faith, which led to this, the first human rights campaign in our parliamentary history – led by William Wilberforce.
Religious faith can bring great benefits to society in so many respects.
I conclude by reflecting briefly on the blessings which I have received through the teachers who helped to form my own beliefs.
Last year I attended a celebration marking the half century of the existence of the Catholic grammar school where I was educated; and this year I spoke at the 50th anniversary of the College in Liverpool where I trained to teach and where I combined the study of history with the study of divinity – also obtaining the necessary qualification to teach religion..
As you walk through the door of my school fifty years later you still experience the same sense of community and the same commitment to providing a first class education for children from many diverse backgrounds which was there at its inception.
In common with many of my classmates I came off a council estate, my family having been rehoused from the East End. Mother was an Irish immigrant, my father a factory worker. It was a mixed marriage and no-one, from either side of the family, had ever entered higher education.
My own parents left school at 14 and came from backgrounds of acute poverty – but both knew the importance of a positive approach to learning at home; to encouraging the education of their children; to improving their own qualifications; and that, despite the vicissitudes of living in poor housing and in a flat on an overspill council estate, money alone was not the key to transforming the life chances of the next generation. I saw this same trump card used by many families in the inner city neighbourhoods of Liverpool that I represented for 25 years as a City Councillor or Member of Parliament.
My excellent primary school education was provided by Sisters of Mercy and along with all the rudiments of elementary education I was taught the basics of the Christian faith. Parochial life and school life were completely interwoven – and whether it was May or Corpus Christi Processions, preparing for first holy Communion or Confirmation, helping at church bazaars, joining the parish cub and scout packs, serving Sunday Mass, or raising money for children in the Congo, it was all part of the web and weave of that identity and culture.
We talk about the 3 Rs of reading writing and arithmetic, but for me the 4th R – of religious formation was more important than the other three combined.
As a nervous scholarship boy arriving for his first day in the first year of a brand new school planted by the Jesuits on the edge of east London and named for St. Edmund Campion – and confronted with subjects and discipline, mud, rugby and sport, in few of which I excelled – the school’s religious ethos provided the scaffold for my life – and, one day, for my death.
It was a Benedictine monk who offered the wry observation that, in the end, the real purpose of a Christian education is about teaching a person how to face death.
But, meanwhile, in facing life, the belief that every pupil is loved by God – even if they have been wounded by rejection or broken relationships; the cultivation of a respect for authority and ideals; the knowledge that when you fall short or make mistakes, it’s not the end – these should lie at the heart of faith based education.
We can take our cue from Thomas a Kempis who told us to put our love into action, not to throw in the towel at the first obstacle, but to persist in what we do: “At the Day of Judgment we shall not be asked what we have read, but what we have done…..Those who love stay awake when duty calls, wake up from sleep when someone needs help; those who love keep burning, no matter what, like a lighted torch. Those who love take on anything, complete goals, bring plans to fruition … But those who do not love faint and lie down on the job.”
Christian education must not deliver Gradgrind facts about History and English, Geography and Science with a bolt-on called religious study. The rich Christian seam must run through the whole curriculum, informing the whole spirit of teaching and subject, combining fides et ratio – faith and reason. Christianity is not about irrationality and as faith needs reason, so reason needs faith.
CS Lewis was right when he warned against educators become conditioners. In “The Abolition of Man” he rails against educators who have become “the conditioners” because they “make men without chests.” In a characteristically blunt turn of phrase he says that we treat our children like “geldings. We bid them be fruitful only to neuter them.” Lewis goes on to remark that “The task of modern education is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.”.” Lewis was right and we must be vigilant in guarding guard against the conditioners and the men without chests.
So, beyond the SATs and Contextual Added Value scores lies a more profound reason for wanting a Christian education for your children – it is the desire to know God, to know the man made in His image, to know how to live and how to die. We must always educate for our relationships with one another, with God and for the never ending struggle between vice and virtue.
Secular rationality and religious belief need one another and they must temper and civilise one another.
This creates the unity of life.
It is where the transcendent meets man. The challenge is to restore to the educational process the unity which saves it from dispersion amid the meandering of knowledge and acquired facts, and focuses on the human person in his or her integral, transcendent, historical identity. It’s where the Mystery of the Word made flesh and the mystery of man, his purpose and destiny, become clear.
Let me end by reminding you of the context in which religious education is taking place today.
According to the Children’s Society, 100,000 children run away from home every year. Save the Children says that 3.9 million children are living in poverty and that a staggering 1.7 million children are living in severe, persistent poverty in the UK-which is, after all, one of the richest countries in the world. Every day 4,000 children call Childline. Since it was founded in 1986, it has counselled more than a million children. 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers.
In 2005, Professor Mary Ann Glendon coined the pithy phrase ‘Traditions in Turmoil’ as the title for her analysis of the jettisoning of the ties which bind and the abandonment of duties. Consider for a moment the consequences of discarding values and virtues once taught by parents and re-enforced by educationalist and by civil society.
A faithless society has become an atomised, lonely, and selfish society; a faithless society has become a culturally diminished society; a faithless society has become a fatherless society and a broken family society. What has been done in the name of freedom has created a world of CCTV cameras; to high streets which have become no go areas after dark; and to binge drinking and shelves full of anti-depressants.
In 2006 a report by University College, London stated that ‘The UK has the worst problem with anti-social behaviour in Europe’. It has increasingly felt like a world rapidly going to hell in a basket. Are we truly freer or happier?
The Jewish sage Hillel was right when he said: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, what am I?”
Are we only for ourselves? Do we find the face of God in each person we encounter; do we believe in the sanctity of each God-given life?
In 1830, Alex De Tocqueville visited America and he remarked that this highly motivated and successful society was animated by its religious belief and character. Without religion you can have a Big State but not a Big Society.
Without vibrant faith communities and the transmission of religious faith I doubt that you can have a functioning society at all.
Thank you for inviting me to address you conference. Religious literacy and religious education has a huge role to play in forming tomorrow’s citizens and in combatting the tide of religious intolerance which we face in confronting the world today.
Also see Rebecca Tinsley:
Tokyo and Seoul Speech to Promote the UN World Orphans Day Initiative: October 27th 2014.
To access powerpoint accompanying this talk, click here:
Speech to be delivered next week by David Alton in Tokyo and Seoul at a High Level Forum to establish UN World Orphans Day , organised by Park Joong-soon, Chairman of Soongsil Kongsaeng Welfare Foundation, and supported by Nippon Foundation.
Lord Alton will say:
We have gathered here with one clear objective: to shine a light on the plight of the world’s 150 million orphans and to encourage the creation of a designated United Nations’ World Orphans Day.
The purpose of such a day would be to encourage Governments and political leaders to prevent orphans, and other children in need of alternative care, suffering from discrimination, violence, poverty, disease and deprivation of education, and to promote the right to a fulfilled life.
Our Forum is meeting in two countries with extraordinary technological and communications capacity, cutting edge countries in our world’s $71 trillion global economy and, despite a whole host of competing issues and priorities, we share a common understanding that the orphaned child must vie for our attention above and before so many other worthy causes.
As we deliberate perhaps we should keep in mind the words of Nelson Mandela, himself an orphan, and who once said :”There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children…We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear.”
My talk falls into two parts:
What is an orphan and who are they? and
What are our responsibilities towards orphaned children?
What is an orphan and who are they?
The word orphan is derived from the Greek “orfanos” (ὀρφανός) and is usually translated as a child whose parents are dead or who have abandoned the child permanently. The term is almost always used to describe a child although, technically, all of us who have witnessed the death of our parents have been orphaned. Some confusion has arisen because the word has been used in different ways by academics, NGOs, government and international agencies.
The Concise Oxford English Dictionary suggests that an orphan is simply “a child bereaved of parents” while one legal definition, in use in the United States, says that a person is orphaned through the “death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents”.
We have a picture of orphans crafted by great novelists such as Charles Dickens, L.M.Montgomery or Mark Twain but Oliver Twist, Ann of Greengables and Tom Sawyer do not adequately characterise the twenty first century orphan.
Although the common English usage – and the one understood in many societies – suggests that an orphan is a child deprived of both parents, the definition which I will use throughout these remarks, is provided by UNICEF and who say that, for their purposes, an orphan is a child who has lost one or both parents – a paternal orphan being a child who has suffered the loss of their father; a maternal orphan being one who has suffered the loss of their mother; and a double orphan is a child who has seen both of their parents die.
UNICEF adopted this definition two decades ago as the AIDS pandemic swept away millions of parents.
Using this definition, in 2005 UNICEF estimated the number of orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean to be over 132 million (a figure which would increase by nearly 20 million in the next twenty years).
95% of these orphans are over the age of five and overwhelmingly they are living with a surviving parent, grandparent or other member of their extended family.
Clearly, this definition of what constitutes an orphan does not mean that 132 or 150 million children are without anyone to care for them but it does mean that 150 million orphaned children are vulnerable and that for them to fulfil life’s opportunities and their own human potential additional resources and support systems are likely to be required. In war zones, from Syria to Afghanistan, Iraq to Congo or Sudan, the number of children deprived of parents increases exponentially.
Two years ago, UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS, suggested that there are now 150 million orphans in the world. One year later, in 2014, UNICEF, in its report State of the World’s Children In Numbers: Every Child Counts, suggested that 17.8 million children have lost one or both parents to AIDS while 3.3 million children are infected with HIV.
By way of illustration, in Uganda in 2002 14.6% of all children, some 1,731,000, were said to be orphans. 51.1% of these are AIDS orphans. By 2014 the total number of orphans in Uganda was 2,700,000 – 1,000,000 orphaned due to AIDS.
A combination HIV/AIDS and conflict in northern Uganda, fuelled by the depredations of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), still wanted for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court, has played a major part in the orphaning of children (see
The situation in countries like Uganda contrasts starkly with industrialised nations where the majority of children can expect to grow up while their parents are still alive (although increasing divorce rates and family breakdown do not necessarily guarantee contact with parents. In the UK over 800,000 children have no contact with their fathers and 68,110 children are in the care of local authorities. In the US half a million children are in the foster care system with around 100,000 awaiting adoption).
The data in the 2014 report: Every Child Counts underlines the importance of gathering reliable information and is crucial in enabling the effective championing of children’s rights and in organising the appropriate interventions and targeting of resources. In Uganda, for instance, the same data suggests that significant numbers of orphans – perhaps as many as 30% – do not attend primary school.
Elsewhere in Africa, I have visited Darfur and South Sudan – where the situation is even worse than Uganda. Recent violence has displaced 800,000 people and UNICEF, estimates that 17% of South Sudan’s entire child population is without one or both parents.
Data is not by itself a change-maker but it does enable those charged with the responsibility to identify the needs, to monitor the progress which is made and to hold to account those who wield power.
The downside of reeling off statistics and reams of data is that it can sometimes prevent us from seeing the human beings caught up in a tidal wave of misery.
Take the consequences of conflict.
Children who are caught in the cross fire of war-torn nations face bereavement, displacement, and all the physical and psychological trauma which accompanies such violence. Many are abducted and swept up into militias, becoming child soldiers. It is estimated that globally there are 300,000 child soldiers.
Other children are made to work for unscrupulous employers who pay them a subsistence pittance. They are perhaps lucky in comparison with those who become slave labour, drawn into a life of street crime or who are trafficked into prostitution or sexual gratification. The International Labour Organisation estimates that around 153 million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced into child labour.
Conflict leads to populations being dispersed and to the creation of vast numbers of refugees. UNHCR (The UN High Commissioner for Refugees) estimates that 51.2 million people are refugees and that of these around 25.6 million (50%) are under 18 years of age.
It is now a full year since UNICEF said that the number of children forced to flee Syria had reached one million – which they described as “a shameful milestone” – adding that a further 2 million children are displaced within the country.
The UN says children now make up half of all refugees fleeing Syria. About three-quarters of those children are under 11. Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees says that “The youth of Syria are losing their homes, their family members and their futures. Even after they have crossed a border to safety, they are traumatised, depressed and in need of a reason for hope.”
Just 118,000 of the refugee children have been able to continue in some sort of education, and a fifth have received psychosocial counselling.
Save the Children’s regional director for the Middle East, Roger Hearn, says “It is appalling that the world has stood and watched as one million children have been forced from their country, terrified, traumatised and in some cases orphaned.”
Natural disasters also leave children without parents.
In 2013, in the Philippines, 1.7 million children were seriously affected by Typhoon “Haiyan”.
On January 12th 2010 an earthquake with a 7.0 magnitudes struck Haiti and Port-au-Prince became a scene of shocking desolation. Even before the quake Haiti had roughly 30,000 abandoned children already in its institutions, many of them unregistered. Reports described troubling signs of neglect with unfed children, babies left unattended and unsanitary conditions.
The Haitian government estimates that 80% of their orphans have at least one living parent. In the aftermath of the quake a group from Idaho were arrested after they took custody of 33 children, intending to take them to the Dominican Republic. It emerged that all of the children had at least one living parent. Moving children across borders is not only illegal, but prevents UNICEF and NGOs from being able to reunite families.
On March 11, 2011, a terrible earthquake and tsunami struck Japan and it left around 200 children without either of their parents and a further 1,200 children lost one of their parents. Most of those orphans were taken in by relatives but some went to orphanages – which may culturally be seen as preferable to adoption.
Elsewhere in Asia there are some 350 million children living in absolute poverty; many are orphans.
India has more orphans than anywhere else in the world. – an estimated 25 million orphans. The vast majority are from the Dalit, or untouchable, caste. India’s 250 million Dalits are, according to India’s former Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh, “a blot on humanity.” Their status is like that of lepers. Parents, faced with another mouth to feed, commonly abandon their children, leaving them to live on the streets or to take refuge in what may pass for an orphanage but forced to work as scavengers or prostitutes. Many children suffer abysmally (see http://davidalton.net/2014/02/17/make-caste-history-international-conference-on-dalits-and-caste-discrimination-london-february-2014/)
In China there are an estimated half a million orphans and unregulated orphanages are exceedingly common. Around 85% of orphans and abandoned children are abandoned in rural areas with no access to state-run orphanages in urban centres. Private citizens, without adequate resources and with no legal standing, have filled the vacuum – many motivated by religious impulses and perhaps modelled on the altruism of Gladys Aylward’s Inn of Sixth Happiness (see http://davidalton.net/2013/05/11/gladys-aylward-the-little-woman-and-chinas-inn-of-the-sixth-happiness/.)
These safe havens are unregistered, and the State tends to turn a blind eye but their lack of legal status means that the orphans in their care are not always able to access education, health and employment opportunities.
In 2013 China Daily reported that official statistics revealed that only 64 of the country’s 2,853 counties have child welfare homes and that the Ministry of Civil Affairs had promised to help 500 more build facilities by the end of 2015.
This came in the aftermath of an incident in Rongcheng in Jieyang, southern Guangdong province, when the local civil affairs bureau not only failed to provide shelter for the orphaned children, but also tried to conceal this by pretending it was looking after orphans in Guizhou, south west China.
They died of carbon monoxide poisoning, apparently after lighting charcoal to keep warm. How right was the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he said
“The test of the morality of a society is what it does for its children.”
We are all familiar with the stories from China where the coercive one child policy has led to the abandonment of millions of little girls. This sex-selection gendercide led to orphanages filled with little girls. These were the ones who had not been aborted (see http://davidalton.net/2013/04/07/chinas-one-child-policy-official-figures-reveal-that-336-million-women-have-been-aborted-37-million-more-men-than-women-as-campaign-of-gendercide-unbalances-the-population/)
Prenatal testing and sex-selective abortions have changed the face of Chinese orphanages and it is thought that around 90-98% of abandoned children have medical needs and disabilities. Many fewer adoptive parents come forward to adopt an orphan with a disability and the climate for international adoption of orphans has radically changed.
Sometimes international adoptions have been used as a scam by the unscrupulous. International adoption of orphans raises ethical and social issues – but leaving an orphan to be exploited or abused may prove to be a worse ethical choice.
Stories abound of orphanages being created for 24 hours to entice overseas visitors – some desperate to adopt a child. Some are milch cows – a source of easily acquired gain – usually a “front” to obtain money for the families who own the orphanage, which is simply a money-making business.
Sometimes these businesses are a front for human traffickers or racketeers who in the most extreme cases simply sell children. Journalists have reported on Cambodian children bought from their parents and sold on at significant profit to Westerners who wish to adopt.
China and Russia have also curtailed international adoptions.
In the case of Russia, international adoptions have become part of the new Cold War, in part prompted by US criticism of human rights abuses in Russia and two high profile tit-for-tat cases, one involving the death of a three year old Russian boy in Texas and the other a seven year old boy sent back to Russia.
In the 1990s, international adoption exploded in both Russia and China. Research from the UK’s Newcastle University suggests that between 2000 and 2010 410,000 children were adopted by citizens of 27 countries. For several decades there was a steady growth in international adoptions but since 2004 the number of international adoptions has reduced by around 50%. High-profile adoptions by celebrities such as Angelina Jolie from Cambodia and Madonna from Malawi have caused countries to think twice about permitting international adoption but this does not mean that the children in need of homes and loving families are better off being left in an institution or trying to survive on the streets. In the first instance more support should be provided – and negative cultures challenged – to encourage indigenous families to adopt.
The United States is the top destination for adopting children. The US State Department says that 8,668 were adopted in 2012, down from a peak of 22,884 in 2004. Newcastle University say that in the top 23 nations there were 23,626 international adoptions in 2011 — down from 45,299 in 2004. In 1985 South Korea recorded the highest ever adoption rate with 1.3 of every 100 children born sent overseas for adoption – but the Republic of Korea, along with many other nations has changed its attitude towards international adoption.
Yet, as China reduced international adoptions, the number of children filling its orphanages increases — China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs say the number reached 92,000 in 2011, almost a 50% rise from 2004.
In Australia the University of New South Wales Social Policy Research Centre say that over the past decade more than half a million Chinese orphans have been assisted by UNSW research projects. The Centre has led 28 research projects focusing on welfare provision to disadvantaged children in China; including children affected by HIV, orphans in rural and urban areas, children with disabilities, and children at risk of abuse and neglect. Other research projects include the East Asian Welfare Model, social support to older people, people with disabilities and poverty alleviation in China.
In 2013 they were involved with the publication of “Caring for Orphaned Children in China”. Its authors, Shang Xiaoyuan and Karen R. Fishera, summarise more than a decade’s research arguing that a mixed welfare system, in which state provision supplements family and community care, is an effective way to improve support for orphaned children; that Government needs to take responsibility to guarantee orphans’ rights and support family networks to enable children to grow up in their own communities. The authors say that China must develop a child welfare system which meets the rights of orphans to live and thrive with other children in a family.
The work of the Australian Social Policy Research Centre has been a good deed in a nasty world. It contributed to the first national census of China’s orphans, and they believe it has led to a significant improvement in the living standards of a half a million vulnerable children. The census found the children, many of them in rural areas, were receiving little or no social assistance. The Centre says that the Chinese authorities took the work seriously and that the new Department of Child Welfare now ensures that all orphans receive financial support for basic needs such as food, clothing and education.
Perhaps the Australian initiative in China may one day be replicated in North Korea.
I have been there on four occasions and for the past ten years have chaired the British Parliamentary all-party Committee on North Korea. In “Building Bridges – Is there hope for North Korea?”(2013) I record the stories of North Korean escapees, some of whom, like Shin Dong Hyok, escaped from prison camps. Born in Kaechon Internment Camp (Camp 14) he lived with his mother, Jan Hye-gyung until he was twelve, rarely being allowed to see his father, Shin Gyung-sub. Tortured in the camp at age 14 Shin was forced to watch as his mother and brother were executed.
Many North Koreans were orphaned during the famine (the Arduous March), between 1994 and 1997 . It claimed millions of lives. Children were the most adversely affected. The World Health Organisation reported death rates for children at 93 of every 1000, while those of infants were cited at 23 of every thousand.
The famine led to hundreds of thousands living on the streets as “street swallows”. One witness to my Parliamentary Committee, Timothy Choo, who lived on the streets where he saw all of his friends die described how these abandoned children, known as Kotjebi, subsisted by begging and by eating wild vegetables, bark and grass roots. School children in North Korea are 3 to 8 cm shorter than their counterparts in South Korea with stunted growth and malnutrition affecting around 45% of North Korean children under the age of five.
The kotjebi population is reported to persist and in 2013 Japanese Asia Press reported that in North and South Hwanghae Provinces more than 10,000 people had died of famine. In the same year Britain’s Independent newspaper published a story claiming that there had been cases of cannibalism.
In February 2014 a United Nations Commission of Inquiry described the abuse of human rights in North Korea as “without parallel” stating that more than 200,000 North Koreans, including children, are imprisoned in camps where many perish from forced labour, inadequate food, and abuse and torture by guards (see http://davidalton.net/2014/07/24/british-parliament-debates-the-united-nations-commission-of-inquiry-report-into-crimes-against-humanity-in-north-korea/ )
What are our responsibilities towards orphaned children?
The well-being of our children has always been a universally cherished aspiration which crosses continents and cultures and unites the great faiths.
Ancient Civilizations had contradictory attitudes. In Athens it was regarded as a duty of the State to provide an education up until eighteen years of age for the child of any citizen who had been killed in war.
In his Laws Plato said that “Orphans should be placed under the care of public guardians. Men should have a fear of the loneliness of orphans and of the souls of their departed parents. A man should love the unfortunate orphan of whom he is guardian as if he were his own child. He should be as careful and as diligent in the management of the orphan’s property as of his own or even more careful still.”
However, infanticide was common both in Greece and ancient Rome and a high view of the orphaned children of warriors did not extend to the unwanted child.
It is estimated that around one third of all Roman children died before they reached ten years of age. Babies were often rejected if they were illegitimate, disabled, female, or regarded as a burden on their families. By contrast, the Egyptians forbade infanticide.
In China there is a long history of infanticide based on sex-selection. Baby girls would be exposed to the elements. Orphaned males, however, would be adopted solely to perform the duties of ancestor worship.
In Africa, the Ibo people of Nigeria would bury a baby alive if the mother had died in childbirth. The baby suffered a similar death if its father died.
The opposition to these practices has often come from those who have a higher view of humanity.
Confucius who was, perhaps the world’s first great humanist, with some traditions suggesting that he was himself orphaned at an early age. In “The Great Learning” he dwells upon the position of the family as the foundation of society and of its proper regulation as the basis for government. Confucius held that human beings may be taught, improved and perfected; that personal and communal virtue should be cultivated. Confucian ethics and precepts includes rén, – which requires altruism and humaneness towards others – and holds in contempt those who fail to show due regard for others.
Confucius defined rén as “wishing to be established himself, seeks also to establish others; wishing to be enlarged himself, he seeks also to enlarge others” while another phrase provides a golden rule, as valid today as it was in 479 BC, when he admonished us “not to do to others as you would not wish done to yourself.”
In considering how we respond to the plight of the orphaned child this is surely good advice.
For Buddhists, from the earliest times, the care of orphans, featured prominently in the life of their monasteries – which became the orphanages of their land. Buddhist philosophy emphasises interconnectedness which requires us to exhibit love and compassion.
Buddhism, Hindusim and Jainism all place emphasis on the cultivation of generosity to those less privileged – not least because of its effect in purifying and transforming the attitudes and mind of the giver.
For Hindus, Sewa – service to others without seeking reward – is regarded as an adherent’s duty in life. Shinto belief sees humans as children of the kami (God) and owing their life to God and their ancestors. In Shinto the human being is simply a harmonious part of nature. Clearly, if any human being – the orphaned child included – is unable to harmonise with others it threatens the well-being and cohesion of the wider society.
In Islam the welfare of orphans is a recurring theme in the Holy Qur’an with many verses encouraging good treatment of orphans: “that which you spend for good (must go) to parents and near kindred and orphans and the needy and the wayfarer. And whatsoever good you do, lo! Allah is Aware of it.” (Qur’an 2:215)
The Prophet Muhammad had an orphaned childhood, losing both his parents by the age of six, and this features in early verses of the Qur’an:
“Did He not find you an orphan and give you shelter?” (Qur’an 93:6) while many Muslims believe that by befriending and caring for an orphan they are befriending and caring for the Prophet himself.
The Qur’an insists: “Treat not the orphan with harshness” (Qur’an 93:9)
When an orphan is adopted, Islam requires guardians to protect the identity of the orphan, insisting that the child keeps its birth parents’ names, preserving their heritage and connections with their extended family.
The Jewish faith focusses on the protection of the poor, weak, foreigners, widows and orphans. The Pslamist writes (Psalm 127:3) “Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD…”
The prophet Isaiah tells the people: “Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). While Jeremiah says that it is pleasing to God “if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow” (Jeremiah 7:5-6).
Throughout the Bible orphans are represented as helpless and requiring our support. The Pentateuch commands the believer to render justice to orphans. The harshest punishment is reserved for those who do not while God Himself is termed “the father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5)
A central tenet of Christian belief is that every human being is “Imago Dei” made in the image of God and of unique and intrinsic worth. Jesus’ injunction “Let the children come to Me ….. whatever you do for the least of one these my brethren, you have done it to Me” has informed Christian social activism, both Catholic and Protestant.
St.James sums up the Christian faith as “religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world “(James 1:27).
In the earliest period of Christianity Eusebius records that Origen was adopted after his father was martyred while Severus, a Palestinian Christian, made the care of orphans and widows his special concern while hospitals specifically for orphans and poor children were built by Christians such as St. Ephraem, St. Basil, and St. John Chrysostom In the Apostolic Constitutions, “Orphans as well as widows are always commended to Christian love.”.
These universal religious impulses have been easily incorporated into secular humanist thinking. In the twentieth century religious and secular thinking combined to codify our obligations towards children, most particularly in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – UNCRC.
The Convention was adopted on 20 November 1989 and had its origins in The Declaration of the Rights of the Child, adopted thirty years before, in 1959.
But that declaration had its genesis in the work of the British social reformer and inspirational woman, Eglantyne Jebb who, in 1923, created the first charter of children’s rights. She had been arrested and fined for producing and distributing a leaflet entitled “A Starving Baby and Our Blockade has Caused This” which drew attention to the plight of children on the losing side of the First World War.
In founding the charity, Save the Children, Jebb insisted that the charity must “not be content to save children from the hardships of life – it must abolish these hardships; nor think it suffices to save them from immediate menace – it must place in their hands the means of saving themselves and so of saving the world.”
She was a great humanitarian who said that “the only international language is a child’s cry” and that “All wars, disastrous or victorious, are waged against children.” Raised as an Anglican she created alliances between the religious and the secular even persuading Pope Benedict XV to collect money for her cause on Holy Innocents Day and in 1920 to issue an encyclical – Annus Iam Plenus – on the plight of children in Central Europe – naming and urging a generous response for the first time a non-Catholic organisation.
The Pope said “We cannot desist from offering a public tribute of praise to the society entitled the “Save the Children Fund,” which has exerted all possible care and diligence in the collection of money, clothing, and food.”
Benedict appealed for an urgent response to a Europe where, 100 years ago, the “most frightful and disgraceful massacres have been perpetrated” and where numberless children had been orphaned and wives left widowed.
To achieve her objectives Jebb also created ecumenical networks, working particularly closely with the Quakers, the Society of Friends.
Her Declaration consisted of five criteria, which were adopted in Geneva in 1923 by the International Save the Children Union, namely that:
1. Every child should have the necessary means to develop materially and spiritually;
2. Every child should be have access to food and medical help; and, if hampered by developmental problems, given help; if delinquent, given the chance to start again; and if an orphan, provided with shelter and succoured.
3. Every child should be given absolute priority and relief in times of distress;
4. Every child should be protected against exploitation and enabled to earn a living when old enough to do so; and
5. Every child should be encouraged to understand and fulfil his or her potential and to see their obligations to humanity and the common good.
These principles were codified as non-mandatory guidelines in the World Child Welfare Charter and endorsed by the League of Nations in 1924.
In the aftermath of the Second World War, the newly formed United Nations which stated in its Charter that its primary purpose was “ to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war…to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights….and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom” also recognised the acute vulnerability of millions of war scarred children and in 1954 the General Assembly proclaimed Universal Children’s Day.
By 1959 the United Nations had amplified Eglantyne Jebb’s five criteria and these would form the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child, and was adopted by the General Assembly. It became international law in 1990 – although, significantly, the United States, which signed the Convention, did not ratify it.
The Convention comprises fifty four articles and these may be summarised as the right to survival; the right to develop to the fullest; the right to participate in family, cultural and social life; and the right to be protected from abuse, exploitation or harmful substances. Its central pillars are the right to life, survival and development; the child’s right to be heard and respected; and to have their best interests promoted.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors compliance with the Convention and annually the Committee submits a report to the General Assembly and its chairman delivers a statement on their work and the challenges with which they are faced. Those who have ratified the Convention may be held to account by the Committee.
The Convention asserts that children should be able to grow in a stable environment under the responsibility of their parents. It states that children should not be separated from their mothers especially during the pre-natal and postnatal period. Yet, as a result of war, natural disasters, disease and the absence of parents many of these admirable aims are honoured only in their breach.
However, both the Convention and the 1990 World Summit for Children were undoubtedly historic landmarks. The 1990 World Summit for Children was, at that time, the biggest gathering of world leaders ever held and in 2001 Kofi Annan, described it as a catalyst which galvanised “political commitment behind the Convention on the Rights of the Child, now the world’s most widely embraced human rights instrument.”
In his 2001 report, ‘We the Children: Meeting the promises of the World Summit for Children’, he rightly said that “there is no task more important than building a world in which all of our children can grow up to realize their full potential, in health, peace and dignity.”
The 2001 Report summed up its ten principal objectives in slogans which Eglantyne Jebb would have recognised : Leave No Child Out; Put Children First; Care For Every Child; Fight HIV/AIDS; Stop Harming and Exploiting Children; Listen to Children; Educate Every Child; Protect Children from War; Protect the Earth for Children; Fight Poverty: and Invest in Children.
Simultaneously, the Millennium Development Goals, adumbrated by world leaders in 2000, charged UNICEF with meeting six of the eight goals which apply to children among which were the need to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, particularly because of its impact on children, a reduction in child mortality, and the achievement of universal primary education..
This last Goal was one which, in 2012, the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, took the opportunity, to highlight by insisting that every child should have access to schooling and education and that education should be used to promote peace, respect and good stewardship of the world in which we live.
As part of its mandate to “save succeeding generations” Universal Children’s Day was created by the UN as an annual event, staged on or around November 20th, to promote children’s welfare.
The United Nations has also designated four other days which highlight specific challenges facing the world’s young people: June 4th is International Day of Innocent Children: Victims of Aggression highlighting children as victims of violence and war; June 12th is World Day Against Child Labour; August 12th is International Youth Day and draws attention to cultural and legal issues affecting children. October 11th is The International Day of the Girl Child, promoting the improvement of the human rights and opportunities open to girls.
There is no day dedicated to the world’s 150 million orphans. Given that our children are our most valuable resource, and the one sure hope for our world’s future, it’s high time that there was.
David Alton was for 18 years a member of the House of Commons and since 1997 has been an Independent member of the House of Lords. He is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and is author of twelve books:
www.davidalton.net email@example.com .
Orphaned Street Children: additional note from David Alton with some background stories from the work of Jubilee Campaign
With Danny Smith I was one of the founders of Jubilee Campaign, which has campaigned for street children and I was founding chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Committee for Street Children.
A street child is a term used to refer to children who live on the streets. Definitions of street children vary; the most commonly accepted set of definitions, attributed to UNICEF, defines street children into two main categories:
1. Children on the street are those engaged in some kind of economic activity ranging from begging to vending. Most go home at the end of the day and contribute their earnings to their family. They may be attending school and retain a sense of belonging to a family. Because of the economic fragility of the family, these children may eventually opt for a permanent life on the streets.
2. Children of the street that actually live on the street (or outside of a normal family environment). Family ties may exist but are tenuous and are maintained only casually or occasionally. 1
It was in the early 90’s that the phenomenon of street children started to emerge as a specific category and there were unconfirmed though widely publicised reports that there were 100 million street children worldwide. There were no accurate statistics and no breakdown of that figure was ever provided.I am indebted to Danny Smith for what follows.
Street Children were classified as follows:
Children on the Street: The largest group, this comprised of children who work in the street, with fairly strong contact, and whose income was essential to the survival of their family.
Children of the Street: With little family contact, these include runaways; abused, alienated children from deprived and poverty-stricken families who are unable to maintain normal family units. They sleep in doorways, alleys, under bridges, in railway stations; survive by begging and petty theft: while some strive for educational standards and employment, relatively few succeed without assistance. Drifting into crime, drug gangs and prostitution, these children are victims that can’t escape this vicious spiral of violence and destitution.
Children in the Street: The smallest group covers orphans and abandoned children whose parents could have died from war, illness, Aids or have simply been unable to look after their child because of family circumstances. These children live on their own without family relationships.
Recyclers: Although not a formal categorisation, recyclers survive on the rubbish dumps or discared items their find on the streets. The children of recyclers spend day and night on the streets within the family groups. They survive by selling papers and materials, and in some countries, live on rubbish dumps or on the streets. They are seen as a marginalised group, the scum of society. In Colombia, the Procuraduria identified two types: those who have a room and may own a horse and cart (known as ‘Zorros’). Others live on the streets, sleeping in either a house made of cardboard boxes or in the carts they use for collecting the rubbish.
Researching Street Children in Brazil
In 1991, the term ‘street children’ wasn’t in general usage but after learning that three children a day were being killed on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, we decided that this was the best place to start to learn about street children. Danny Smith and and I both travelled to Brazil and wrote about the plight and even the killing of street children..
We were told that children had left or been driven from their homes because of the breakdown of traditional family units, with a surge from the country to the city was causing turmoil in urban areas.
The cities in Brazil – and around the world – have seen their population continue to explode in growth.
In 1950, there was just one megacity with a population of more than 10 million: New York. By 2013, there were twenty seven megacities, and for the first time in our history, half the world’s current population of 7 billion live in towns and cities. And this is set to rise.
The UN predicts that these megacities will house 70 percent of the world’s population by 2050 – 6.4 billion people out of a total 9.2 billion.
The breakdown of family units and the move from the rural countryside to urban areas has been identified as the main reasons for the explosive growth of abandoned children and street children.
Children end up on the streets for a variety of reasons. Often, children have no choice but the streets because they are abandoned, orphaned, or thrown out of their homes. Some street children choose to live on the streets because the conditions at home are so bad; they may be mistreated, neglected, or their families cannot provide them with basic necessities. Many children seek work on the streets to increase their family earnings so they can survive. The following is a list of causes identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) for the creation of street children:2
• Family breakdown
• Armed conflict
• Natural and man-made disasters
• Physical and sexual abuse
• Exploitation by adults
• Dislocation through migration
• Urbanization and overcrowding
• HIV/AIDS3, 4
Experts predict that this huge growth would occur primarily in developing countries. Time Magazine reported that six of the world’s ten fastest-growing megacities are in South Asia, in countries least equipped to provide transportation, housing, water and sewers. Asia and Africa, now more than two-thirds rural, would be half urban by 2025. The number of abandoned children is expected to double, with child exploitation on the increase. This would contribute further to the sense of injustice and inequality among the world’s poor and dispossessed that has driven extremists to seek violent solutions to the problem.
With more than half the world’s people moving from the countryside to the cities, how they adjust to their new habitat will come to define the twenty-first century.
Juanito the Street Boy who met the British Prime Minister
Danny Smith described how, on the first night in Brazil, he met a group of abandoned street children and got to know them during the visit. One of the boys was called Juanito. He was tall, gangly, a loner, reserved, often remote. He had a sister but very little contact with his family, and didn’t know where they were, and was probably an orphan. He seemed tough and streetwise but tender, vulnerable, like a young adult who had missed childhood.
Juanito visited the Sao Martinho Mission, a Catholic shelter in the city, and for awhile it was the one constant in his life. Like Juanito, all the street kids that we talked to wanted the same thing: a home; someone to care for them; to finish school; get a job; settle down.
Juanito wanted to be a cook and spent much of his time in the shelter’s kitchen. But he had problems fitting in and may have had learning difficulties. When we asked him what his ambition was, he replied wistfully, ‘To get a girlfriend but I’m too ugly.’
Juanito was one of the boys selected to perform a traditional Brazilian dance for John Major, the only head of state to visit a street children’s shelter (Sao Martinho) during the Earth Summit in Rio Juanito was one of the boys selected to perform a traditional Brazilian dance for John Major, the only Head of State, to visit a children’s shelter, Sao Martinho, during the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992. Sometime during the festivities, Juanito drew close, oblivious to protocol, extended his hand and in a flash of spontaneity, Mr Major clasped the palm of the boy who lived on the streets.
That moment was to become a tragic television epitaph. Four months after the encounter, Juanito was dead. He was shot in the head and in the chest near his sister’s home in the Favela de Nova Iguacu. We were passed a copy of the police file which we copied and sent to the Prime Minister and the All Party Group on Street Children. Mr Major wrote back and said, ‘Juanito’s death is tragic news, but I am glad that the Brazilian Foreign Minister has promised to look into the circumstances. Our Embassy in Brazil will follow the investigation closely.’
After pressing the Brazilan Embassy in London for information, we were eventually told that Juanito may have inadvertently annoyed a local gangster in the slums. The suspected killer died soon after in mysterious circumstances and that’s where the police investigation ended.
Mr Major never forgot Juanito and wrote about his encounter in the House of Commons Magazine:
I met Juanito at a shelter for Street Children in Rio de Janeiro. He told me that he first took to the streets when he was eight years old to earn money for his family. By day, he would shine shoes and wash windscreens. By night, he and his friends would sleep in doorways and watch out for police patrols. Juanito was one of the lucky ones. He had been helped by the team at the Sao Martinho Shelter funded by Jubilee which offers children a more stable environment and helps many find a better life. When I visited Sao Martinho, during the Earth Summit in 1992, Juanito welcomed me with a dance. I gave him an Aston Villa shirt. Four months later, Junaito was killed, shot twice. It was a Sunday morning and he had gone out to buy some ice. He was not more than seventeen years old. Juanito’s murder seemed to be without motive. He was not thought to be mixed up with gangs or drugs. He was just a random victim of the senseless violence which children face on the streets of Brazil and other countries around the world.
Violence in Brazil: the Candelaria Massacre
Fernando Meirelles’ critically acclaimed film City of God has been hailed as a classic of world cinema and chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 greatest films of all time. The film’s violent portrayal of life inside a favela isn’t a Hollywood concoction. In 1993 we were given a compelling and graphic first-hand account of life on Rio’s mean streets by our Brazilian partner, Roberto dos Santos, the leader of the Sao Martinho Shelter in Rio.
It started in the summer of 1993, Wednesday 21 July. Police broke up a fight amongst street children over a box of glue. One of the boys was grabbed and bundled into a police car and beaten. The police car was pelted with stones. ‘You’ll regret this. We’re gonna get you,’ a policeman yelled out.
Two days later, at midnight, three unmarked cars pulled up near the Candelaria Cathedral, a popular hang-out for the kids who slept on the nearby streets. Roberto told us, ‘Six gunmen stepped out of the cars and headed for the sleeping children. They circled the kids and then opened fire at point-blank range. It wasn’t a killing it was an assassination. The killers shot the children in the eyes and in the head. Seven children died, one survived, but passed away later in hospital. Two boys were seized by the gunmen and taken back to their cars.
They were executed and their bodied dumped at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art.’
Wagner dos Santos was one of the street boys who slept in Candelaria. He was grabbed by one of the off-duty policemen and shoved into a car. Forced to lie down with two other kids, one of the policemen sat on him and made a chilling threat. ‘You are going to die.’ He was shot twice and lost consciousness. Hours later, Wagner awoke to find himself in a park with his two friends lying dead beside him. Wagner recovered and was the first to enter a Witness Protection Program after deciding to give evidence against the policemen implicated in the killing.
The killings made news headlines around the world. The President of Brazil flew to Rio and launched an investigation into the massacre.
In Britain, the Parliamentary Group for Street Children were active. Roberto told us that our campaign had played a part in influencing public opinion in Brazil and mobilising international concern and this was echoed later in a message from Downing Street to us which said, ‘It is thanks to you that the urgency and importance of street children has acquired recognition.’
Rescuing orphaned and abandoned children in India
In 1996, Jubilee Campaign was introduced to Reverend Devaraj, an evangelical church leader, in India. Deveraj had spent over three years helping boys hooked on drugs and consequently learned that their sisters and mothers were enslaved prostitutes. This contact gave him unprecedented access amongst the girls and women who cruised the back streets and alleys of Kamathipura, India’s largest sex district. Many children from the area wanted to get away but he had nowhere to take them.
Bombay’s population numbered over twenty million. Deveraj estimated that the Kamatipura area was home to about 20,000 prostitutes while about three thousand girls lived on Fourteenth Lane.
The women in the area trusted Devaraj and through him Jubilee learned their stories.
• Sharlinka wasn’t sure how old she was. She was enticed from Andhra Pradesh with the offer of a job but was sold to a brothel-owner. She’d been held captive for about five years. ‘I had to work hard,’ she told us. ‘The men were fat, old and smelly. I was forced to do some disgusting things. I wasn’t allowed out for three years.’
• Another young girl with sad eyes said, ‘I’m from Calcutta. I don’t have any relatives, only a mother, but I’m not sure where she is now. I drifted around and ended up in Bombay. I was caught one night by several men. They told me they’d find work for me. I’d have a good life but I was sold into slavery.’
• There were several Nepali girls with pale olive skin, soft features and long angular bodies. Girls were trafficked from Nepal by underworld gangs with police collusion. They were held in a slave market and brothel-owners visited the auction to buy the girls. From Bombay, some of the girls – and boys – were dispatched to Goa, now India’s most popular tourist resort.
The girls sold to the brothels worked to pay off their debt. Customers paid the brothel and the girls survived on tips. This system of debt bondage kept them in virtual slavery. The girls were held in appalling circumstances, beaten and abused, with little opportunity of ever being liberated from this vicious circle of servitude. In many cases, the girls had no idea when their debt would be paid off – if ever – and were resigned to a life of enslavement. Girls charged Rs 50 (£1) and Rs 250 (£5) and yes, everything was available with no limits to these sexual encounters.
Bombay’s red light district had a heavy gang influence and there were many incidents of shoot-outs and stabbings.
Suicides were spoken of factually. Very few got away. Anyone caught trying to escape was beaten severely when they returned. One girl, Mina, tried to jump out of a top floor window but fell and broke her back. She had been caged for seven years and forbidden to leave her room. Usually the girls are confined for two to three years before they’re allowed out on their own.
Deveraj told Danny there was a girl he wanted me to meet and we searched the alleys and dark, narrow passageways of Kamathipura trying to locate her. It was late at night but the streets were crowded, and dirty.
Asha’s mother was a prostitute who lived on Fourteenth Lane. Asha grew up in a cramped squalid room, virtually a cage, where her mother serviced between ten and twenty-five customers a day.
When her mother died, there were no time for tears. The brothel-owners moved a young Nepali girl into the cage, and Asha and her younger siblings, were dumped in the street outside the brothel where her mother had worked. A make-shift canvas hut granted sanctuary from the scorching summer heat and the driving monsoon rain.
The young urchin family ate leftovers given to them by friendly prostitutes, scrounged scraps from the rubbish dump, and begged for paisa from passing trade. Their survival was a remarkable record of resilience amidst grinding despair and degradation.
The brothel-owners kept an eye on Asha and her sister, as, inevitably, the children of prostitutes always followed their parents into the sex industry. The word on the street was that Asha’s mother’s boy friend, a taxi driver, lied and said that he was her father, and was negotiating a deal with one of the brothel-owners, expecting about £600 from the sale of this beautiful young girl. That’s a small fortune, and money he just couldn’t refuse.
The turning point in her life came when she met Deveraj and told him that she wanted to escape. His reply was, ‘Have faith. With God everything is possible.’ But with each passing day the tension was mounting. She was repulsed by the sexual remarks from local men but there was no escape, nowhere to hide. Every time she spotted the chubby church worker, she chased after him and tugged at his sleeve. ‘Uncle!’ she’d call out. ‘When will you take me away?’
Asha wanted to leave Kamathipura’s Fourteenth Lane and said, ‘I want to leave. I feel dirty here. I’ll never forget this street but all the memories are bad. I don’t like the way the men look at me. Some men want me to go with them. They say they’ll look after my brother and sister. I sensed the danger. Every day it’s getting harder for me to live here. I know I can’t fight them forever. It’s a question of time. I want to leave here but I have nowhere to go. No one wants me except the brothel owners.’
Danny talked to Deveraj about rescuing Asha and developed a plan to establish a residential home outside the city where orphaned and abandoned children of prostitutes could be taken. It seemed an insignificant gesture given the scale of the problem but if we couldn’t rescue Asha, it’s clear she would be condemned to a life-sentence of sex slavery.
Asha was rescued along with four other girls. This was the start of a remarkable rescue mission as several homes have been built and hundreds of girls have been rescued. The work has been supported by Jubilee’s supporters but also people such as Olivia and George Harrison, and Billy Connolly. Recently the Hard Rock Café have become important sponsors. of the project Asha herself has grown, married and has a son. She works for Jubilee Campaign and has herself rescued other children.
AIDS Orphans Home in India for children from Mumbai’s sex industry
Danny Smith’s daughter Rachel had become a pen pal with one of the girls in Jubilee’s homes in India and regularly donated some of her pocket money to the work. When she learned that we wanted to start a new home for AIDS orphans, she decided to raise funds through a sky dive. Rachel’s jump raised a phenomenal £75,000 from generous Jubilee supporters that secured matched funding from the Laing Trust here in the UK, and from a similar arrangement through Ann Buwalda/Jubilee Campaign in the US. As a result, we secured all the funds to build this new home and its operating costs for three years. It was a powerful demonstration of the difference we can make with imagination and commitment.
The local municipality in the red light area were impressed with Deveraj’s work and offered us premises to operate a night shelter for the orphaned and abandoned children of prostitutes. The shelter was ideally located in the centre of Bombay’s sex industry and would provide prostitutes’ children with a safe haven at night, the moment of greatest risk. The children were looked after and encouraged to attend school.
The property required refurbishment but before we released funds for the work to be completed, Danny asked Deveraj how we could be sure it would be used for those at greatest risk? The question was answered – like many others – with a telephone call.
Baby for sale for £150 in 2000
There’s a baby for sale in one of the brothels. She’s about to be sold,’ the man said. ‘Come quickly or it’ll be too late.’
The nine-month old girl’s father worked as a street labourer, the poorest of the poor, in Bombay’s bustling vegetable market. Tragedy struck when the child’s mother died. In turmoil, unable to cope, and with intense financial pressures, the father took his daughter to Kamathipura, the centre of the sex industry.
The man toured the brothels and in a moment of madness, offered the baby for sale. The news caused a sensation as the brothel owners bargained over the innocent child. The man was offered £150.
The money was a significant amount for the labourer. When Deveraj realised that the labourer was determined to sell the baby, he warned that there would be consequences and convinced him not to sell the child. The father eventually handed the girl into Jubilee’s care.
The rescue completed, the baby was safe. She was named Glory.
She was taken directly to Jubilee’s shelter, the first child to be given refuge.
Danny Smith was in Bombay as this remarkable story unfolded. It was appropriate that this millennium baby should be given freedom and a new life as a symbol of the beginning of a new century.
The recent decision to award Malala Yousafzai the Nobel Peace Prize was a good one for women and a good one for Pakistan but the decision to sentence Asia Bibi, a Pakistani Christian, to death was a bad one for all women, all minorities, people of all faiths, and Pakistan. The brutal killing of a well known Ahmadi Muslim, Latif Aalam Butt, in Attock on Thursday, underlines the importance of Pakistan returning again to Mohammed Ali Jinah’s belief in a society which respects and safeguards its minorities.
The story of these two women, and the death of Latif Aalam Butt, undeline the growing Islamisation of Pakistani society and the Talibanization of a country which was founded on principles of tolerance and co-existence.
The original death sentence imposed in November 2010 on Asia Bibi was because of alleged blasphemy.
Her appeal, heard this week, was heard in the court of Justice Anwar-ul-Haq along with Justice Syed Shahbaz Ali Rizvi, with a large number of lawyers were present from both sides. Asia Bibi’s team of lawyers comprised of Sardar Tahir Khalil Sandhu, Chaudhry Naeem Shakir and Advocate S. K. Chaudhry.
A large number religious clerics including Qari Saleem who had initially brought forward the complaint against Asia Bibi were present in the court. Members of radical Islamic militant organizations were also present inside and outside the court premises creating an extremely tense atmosphere.
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) is an independent, non-government, non-profit organization, dedicated to the eradication of injustice in society by advocating on behalf of the under-privileged, under represented and marginalized groups within Pakistan. They report that:
“The Lahore High Court dismissed the appeal filed by the defense and upheld the November 2010 verdict of the sessions court, and maintained the death penalty for Asia Bibi.
The Defense filed its written arguments exposing that the witnesses lacked credibility and the apparent construction of false accusations.
The court however held valid and credible the allegations of the two Muslim women who apparently witnessed the alleged blasphemy committed by Asia Bibi.
The verdict has been termed “a victory of Islam” by the Islamic Clerics who celebrated by congratulating each other and chanting religious slogans outside the Lahore High Court.
The appeal will now be taken to the Supreme Court the third and final level of Justice in Pakistan.
The Advocacy and Legal Aid team of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) were present in the court during the proceedings.
Expressing disappointment and concern over the verdict Ms. Michelle Chaudhry President of The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) stated “We are disappointed and terribly upset over the decision of the Lahore High Court; it is an undoubted fact that in blasphemy cases the judges come under severe pressure and face life threatening circumstances which more than often cause them to be biased in their judgment; however we still have hope as we turn to the Supreme Court of Pakistan for Justice. We remain optimistic that the rule of law will prevail and Justice will be done. For now that is our only hope.”
The Cecil & Iris Chaudhry Foundation (CICF) may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Pakistan is sliding toward extremism by Farahnaz Ispahani and Nina Shea, Special to CNN:
Recall also that :
Shahbaz Bhatti, the former Minority Affairs Minister, and Salman Taseer, Punjab’s former governor, were both outspoken critics of the blasphemy conviction of Christian mother Asia Bibi, and both were gunned down in 2011.
The blasphemy law was originally introduced to appease extremists, but has instead stimulated an appetite for more. No Christian supports blasphemy but laws like these are not appropriate as a way of discouraging blasphemy.
Shahbaz Bhatti correctly observed that: “This law is creating disharmony and intolerance in our society.” The law legitimizes and arouses religious passions. Thatv is why Pakistan should repeal it. Let them show compassion to Asia Bibi and remove a law that allows cases like hers to reach the courts in the first place.She has already spent four harrowing years on death row – much in solitary confinement. Five earlier hearings had been cancelled and there has been intimidation of lawyers and judges.
All who care for justice and who oppose the execution of Asia Bibi should write to the Pakistan Ambassador and to the Chief Justice, Nasirul Mulk, calling for the Supreme Court to quickly arrange a review of this case, and the sentence, and to ensure Asia Bibi’s safety and care while she continues to languish in prison.
Parliamentary Questions and Interventions – Autumn 2014: Pay Day Loans Advertising, EBOLA, Iraqi Refugees – and using Afghanistan’s British tent city for Iraqi refugees – , South Sudan and other issues
To see all of the questions tabled recently click on:
Pay Day Loan Advertising Aimed At Children
Moved by Lord Alton of Liverpool
102: After Clause 86, insert the following new Clause—
Promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market
Where a lender in the high cost consumer credit market is selling a service which may only be purchased by a consumer aged 18 years or more, public communications about that service, including promotional material and any promotional activities, shall not be targeted at people below the age of 18.”
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in moving Amendment 102 I am returning to an issue which I raised at Second Reading. I tabled this amendment just before the Summer Recess, which seems a long time ago, but it has lost none of its topicality or, I would argue, its importance.
Amendment 102 is designed to address promotional activities by sellers in the high cost consumer credit market, an issue that I know is of widespread concern in your Lordships’ House and outside it. My amendment complements those which follow in this group and which I also support. It requires anyone selling their
3 Nov 2014 : Column GC606
services in the high cost consumer credit market to behave in a specific way: that is, they must ensure that if their service is only purchasable by a consumer aged 18 years or over, it must be communicated in a responsible way such that any promotional material or activity is not targeted at people below the age of 18. In simple terms, the aim of my amendment is to ensure that children are protected from advertising for high cost loans which is both ill suited for children and corrosive in the impact it has upon parents and families as a whole.
This amendment should be seen as part of a suite of measures, alongside Amendments 105B and 105C, to protect vulnerable consumers, although I find the term “consumer” sometimes makes it easier for us to forget that these consumers are families, many of whom are struggling already without the added pressure of intrusive and inappropriate advertising. Debt is an awful blight on families and communities that often are struggling to survive. Certainly in neighbourhoods in the city I once had the privilege to represent in another place—the City of Liverpool—I encountered this frequently over the years. Debt destroys relationships and it can trap large numbers of people.
Sad to say, we are not doing enough, or anything like enough, to educate the generations who will follow us about the management of money. When payday loans are increasingly seen as a normal means of money management then we have a serious problem. This is not scaremongering. In September, the Children’s Society published a report entitled Playday not Payday, which I commend to all noble Lords. Among the headline findings from the report, which I am sure many other noble Lords will refer to in supporting amendments, it states that 61% of parents surveyed believe that seeing payday loan advertisements makes children assume that these are a normal way to manage money. In addition, 72% of children aged 13 to 17 said that they had seen at least one payday loan advertisement in the preceding week; more than two-thirds—68%—said that they had seen at least one on television.
The Children’s Society and the StepChange Debt Charity have provided some very useful information for today’s debate. For instance, in a note circulated to noble Lords, they make the point that 80% of payday loan ads are shown before the watershed. Their research found that more than half of children said that they had seen payday loan ads often or all the time, with 21% saying their school taught them about debt and money management—but therefore that four out of five do not. Playday not Payday discovered that more than half of children aged 13 to 17 recognised at least three payday loan companies, with 93% recognising at least one such company. Some 74% of parents thought that payday loan ads should be banned from television and radio before the watershed, and one-third of children aged 13 to 17 described payday loan ads as fun, tempting or exciting; those children were considerably more likely to say that they would use a payday loan. The Children’s Society says:
“Far from being an inevitable knock-on effect of successful marketing to adults, there is evidence to suggest that children exposed to particularly suggestive loan adverts are then asking and pressuring their parents to take out a loan to pay for things which they have not been allowed”.
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Its polling found that parents who had used a payday loan in the past were significantly more likely to say that their children had suggested that they take out a payday loan.
Another organisation, Christians Against Poverty—CAP—a national charity seeking to lift people out of debt and poverty by providing debt help and money management courses, found in a 2013 survey that 20% of its clients had taken out payday loans. When taking out the loan, 61% were asked nothing about their income, 85% nothing about expenditure and 63% nothing about their work status; 77% used their payday loan to buy food.
At Second Reading I referred to The Debt Trap: Exposing the Impact of Problem Debt onChildren, another Children’s Society report, published in May this year. I want to remind noble Lords of some of the report’s findings. Families trapped in problem debt are more than twice as likely to argue about money problems, leading to stress on family relationships and causing emotional distress for children. Evidence suggests that problem debt can lead to children facing difficulty in school. Problem debt can also have a profound impact on children’s ability to engage in social activities.
I am not trying to browbeat the Committee but to drive home how important it is that we do something about the current situation. Children—who certainly consume what they see even if they are not able to purchase the service—are not an acceptable market for payday loan advertising. Additionally, these children will one day be consumers in the sense that they will be able to purchase the services they have been exposed to, once they reach the age of 18. The recent Children’s Society report to which I referred earlier would seem to indicate that the normalisation of payday loans as a means of borrowing is already beginning to happen, with 30% of parents aged 18 to 24 describing them as an acceptable means of managing day-to-day expenses—significantly more than older parents.
Developing responsible attitudes towards money must begin at an early age but this becomes much more difficult when a rising generation of younger parents are already influenced by the lure of high-cost credit. My amendment aims to begin the process of nullifying that problem by requiring a greater degree of responsibility from high-cost credit lenders to advertise conscientiously, ensuring that their service is not targeted at those aged 18 or under.
In other contexts, there are strict rules on how goods and services are marketed to children and young people so that they are protected from unfair pressure to buy products and are not encouraged to engage in dangerous behaviour. Alcohol advertising, for example, cannot be shown around children’s programmes—rightly—or on channels likely to have a particular appeal to children; nor are gambling advertisements that are seen to appeal to young people permitted. I put it to the Minister that this is a logical inconsistency in the current approach. The desire to avoid the normalisation of potentially harmful behaviours is
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evident in the way in which alcohol is advertised, yet a similar, measured approach is not being taken with regard to payday loans. I think it should be.
I understand that the Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice is currently conducting a review into the compliance of adverts for short-term loans and is due to report its findings this month. While I welcome this, and while the Government have pointed to the Advertising Standards Authority and Financial Conduct Authority as sufficiently robust arbiters which may ban irresponsible rule-breaking advertising, there is a broader point here. Ad hoc regulation or advert-specific banning simply does not send a strong enough message. My amendment meets this challenge by placing in statute a responsibility on high-cost credit lenders to target their advertising appropriately.
As recently as last week, the Work and Pensions Secretary expressed concern that:
“Too many children suffer poor outcomes due to the instability of their families”.
I am quite sure that the Minister and the Government are serious and concerned about the well-being of children, parents and families. My amendment provides an opportunity today for us to get our house in order in relation to payday loan advertising. I look forward to the debate that will follow and hope that the Minister will be in a position to accept my amendment, or at least the principle that underlies it, and say how the Government see this problem and how they will address the concerns that I have raised in my remarks. I beg to move.
Default-on and ISPs not Covered by the Agreement
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the very best parliamentary traditions, my noble friend has been persistent, dogged, assiduous and determined. I have been privileged to support her on earlier occasions when she raised this issue. I will speak briefly in support of her excellent amendment today.
All of us, especially those with teenage children, know how important the arguments are that she has advanced to the Committee today. Her three basic arguments are incontrovertible. First, it cannot be right to say on the one hand that default-on is an important protection for children and yet to settle for an arrangement where over 10% of households are serviced by ISPs that are not party to the agreement and where some are completely opposed to that form of protection. Those ISPs that object simply will not introduce a protection unless they are obliged to do so by law.
That recalls an argument I had in the 1990s, when a Member of another place had promoted legislation to protect children from video violence. During a meeting with the then Home Secretary and his civil servants, I was pretty shocked to hear one of them say, “Really, this legislation will affect only a small number of people”, as though those people who were not protected did not really matter. My noble friend made the point that 10% of children will not be covered by the current arrangements. Can the Minister say, when she comes to reply, how many families that means and how many children the Government estimate that 10% represents? If there was only one uncovered household left in this country with children in it, surely it would be our duty to protect those children.
Secondly, it cannot be right that we settle for a form of age verification that is not age verification at all. Anyone seeking to opt in to access adult content and to disable adult content filters must obviously be age verified before doing so, as mandated by this amendment.
Finally, if we care about children and protecting them, we must afford them protection through the law, backed by sanctions. As my noble friend said, it is absurd to have protections offline but not online; there has to be some logical consistency in the way we view these issues. If this issue is important—and it clearly is—we must bite the bullet and place the obligations on ISPs and mobile phone operators to provide default adult content filters that can be lifted subject to prior expeditious age verification on a statutory footing. We do not allow a child to buy an 18-rated DVD offline, so why do we afford them less protection online?
I suspect that when the noble Baroness comes to reply, she will suggest that the Government are doing enough already because they are planning to introduce regulations that will simply require websites live-streaming R18-type content online to do so behind robust age verification. I very much welcome that, but I suggest that it is no substitute for Amendment 104 because they largely deal with different things. First, unless the Government have widened their proposals, the
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requirement relates only to R18 video on demand content and not all adult content, which could be 18-rated video on demand or indeed the vast majority of adult content that is not video on demand but photographs and articles. Secondly, it relates only to R18 video on demand content that is live-streamed from the United Kingdom. Of course, the vast majority of the content accessed in this country is from outside the United Kingdom and will be outside the scope of their proposed regulations.
I very much look forward to the regulations being laid, but they are no reason not to back Amendment 104. The amendment is vital because we do not live in a world where all online adult content, or even most online adult content, comes in the form of video on demand live-streamed from sites based in the United Kingdom. The basic issue is: do the 10% really matter? Does protection matter? If it does, the Government will surely accept this amendment.
EBOLA: November 6th 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in her powerful opening speech the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, referred to the tragic legacy of the number of orphans who will be left in these west African countries as a result of the Ebola epidemic. Last week I attended an international conference which highlighted the plight of the world’s orphans. The number of orphans worldwide is already estimated to be around 150 million and, compounded by HIV/AIDS, we know that many of those are in Africa. If the WHO’s estimate is correct that more than 1 million people in west Africa will die from Ebola, and that by Christmas there will be 10,000 Ebola orphans, the noble Baroness,
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Lady Kinnock, is right to have made this a key question in her remarks. I hope that when the Minister comes to reply, she will tell us how we can develop a long-term plan for the care of those orphans.
I would like to ask the Minister a number of other questions, some of which I have raised previously with the Government. How have they responded to the motion on Ebola passed by the BMA last month, especially its call for the provision of more protective clothing and the training of staff? Is she in discussion with the BBC World Service to see how it can sustain and expand its excellent African initiative to disseminate public health information about the disease? Can the Minister also tell us—I have raised this point with her on the Floor of the House before—what response the Prime Minister received from the 27 European leaders to whom he wrote asking them to step up their donations after it was revealed that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, had given a bigger donation than the Governments of Spain, Norway and Luxembourg combined? Can she say whether the first part of the 700-bed facility which we are constructing in Sierra Leone opened on schedule at the end of last month; and when the rest of the facility will be functional? Are they keeping under review the use of merchantmen and cruise ships as potential hospital ships capable of providing immediate beds and isolation? Is she truly satisfied that British personnel can be cared for adequately in west Africa rather than being flown home, should they contract the virus? Given its successful use in the case of the British nurse flown home after being infected with Ebola, are there sufficient supplies of ZMAP available to immediately treat others, or are those supplies exhausted?
Among all the things that can be said about Ebola, it represents a major setback to development. I hope the Government will reconsider their opposition to putting universal healthcare at the heart of global development, for without such provision the festering conditions in places such as Monrovia and Freetown are a perfect breeding ground for the further spread of epidemics of this kind.
ATOS Healthcare and Disability Benefits
5 Nov 2014 : Column 1612
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in his reply to the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy, the Minister said that the new contract between Maximus and the DWP had now been signed. In view of the phenomenal sums of public money which are involved in this, can the Minister tell us when that contract will be placed in the public domain, whether it will be possible properly to scrutinise it and whether it will be possible for the public to see the operating systems and all the other issues involved, in contrast to way in which the Atos Healthcare contract was administered?
Lord Freud: Details of the new contract will be published on Contracts Finder by the end of November.
Question 22 Oct 2014 : Column 634
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the international response to Ebola.
Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, the UK has been at the forefront of responding to the Ebola outbreak. We are leading the international response in Sierra Leone with more than £125 million in assistance committed already. We are urging our international partners to scale up their support for the worst-affected nations and to contribute to the UN trust fund.
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, in the light of disclosure that the Swedish furniture manufacturer, IKEA, has provided more funds than Spain, Luxembourg and Norway combined in responding to the Ebola crisis, will the Minister tell us what response the Prime Minister has had from the letter that he sent to 27 European leaders last week asking them to increase their contribution to match that of the generous response of the United Kingdom? Will the Government raise with the international community the possibility of providing hospital ships to relieve the acute shortage of beds in west Africa? Will the brave British personnel risking their lives routinely every day be flown home for treatment should they be unfortunate enough to contract the virus?
Baroness Northover: The Government are extremely active at the moment in seeking assistance internationally. The European Council is coming up and the Prime Minister will attend. He has sought €1 billion from European countries. All embassies across Europe are very active in seeking funds for this extremely important and pressing crisis. The key thing about hospital ships
is to make sure that there is capacity in Sierra Leone rather than seeing capacity as being offshore. In terms of being flown home, as my noble friend Lord Howe said the other day, sometimes it is not in the best interests of a patient to be flown home. The important thing is to make sure that if we have medical staff working there they are supported there if that is judged to be clinically the most effective way to look after them.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, does not the handful of cases to which the noble Earl has just referred contrast very sharply with the prediction that 1 million people may die in West Africa? Given the fetid conditions and grinding poverty in places such as Monrovia and Freetown, does he not agree that this public health epidemic has been brought about because of the conditions that we have allowed to fester for so long?
Would the noble Earl not agree that the WHO was very slow in responding when this was first identified? Does he not also agree that an immediate problem is the disposal of corpses, which carry the risks of contagion? Furthermore, when will the 700 beds in Sierra Leone to which he alluded actually come on line?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I believe that the WHO itself has acknowledged that its response could have been swifter. It is easy to say this in hindsight, but I am sure that the noble Lord’s view on that is shared by others. Nevertheless, the WHO has not been slow in rallying support for efforts in the three countries affected. It is now working energetically with many developed countries to provide support, and I would not wish to criticise the WHO in those respects.
On the disposal of corpses, the noble Lord makes an important point. We know that many cases of Ebola in the three countries have arisen as a result of people being in contact with the corpses of people who have died from the disease. That has been as a consequence of the cultural traditions in those countries, which are very hard to displace or persuade people not to follow. It is nevertheless part of our effort in Sierra Leone that we should inform people there that their burial customs need to be set to one side for the duration of the epidemic. This is a very difficult thing to do, for understandable reasons, but that is the effort we are making and it is bearing fruit.
As to the programme for building 700 beds, I do not have a precise date to give the noble Lord but if I receive advice before the end of this debate, I shall tell him.
To answer the earlier question of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I shall write to him with further details, but the 700-bed facility is under construction now. The first facility as part of that will be open by the end of October in Kerry Town.
EBOLA October 15th 2014
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, has the Minister seen the comments of the director-general of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan? She said that this is,
“unquestionably the most severe acute public health emergency in modern times … I have never seen a health event threaten the very survival of societies and governments … I have never seen an infectious disease contribute so strongly to potential state failure”,
“the whole world is put at risk”.
Will the Minister detail to the House the ways in which this country, admirable though our efforts in Sierra Leone are with the provision of 700 beds, is bringing together the international community to fight a disease that is already predicted to take the lives of 1 million people in west Africa?
The noble Lord is right, and so is Margaret Chan. The noble Lord will no doubt be reassured to know that the Foreign Secretary is chairing a COBRA meeting on EU co-operation this afternoon—in fact, as we speak. It is extremely important to get that international engagement. The Prime Minister will chair another meeting of COBRA tomorrow at 3 pm. We have sought to galvanise international reaction to this. As the noble Lord said, it is absolutely critical that we do so.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the remarks of Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organisation, about the ebola outbreak; and what is their current assessment of the projected number of fatalities in West Africa. [ DfID ] HL2103
Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB):
My Lords, in her reply, the Minister mentioned the importance of an inclusive Government in Baghdad. Given the number of Sunni Muslims who have been antagonised by the kinds of policies that have been pursued in the past, can she say what more is being done to prevent them becoming a fertile breeding ground for IS? Will she say a word also about the position of the Yazidis, Christian minorities and others, who are without adequate accommodation as the winter months now approach?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
My Lords, there are two different strands there; I will refer to the humanitarian effort first. Clearly, as winter draws in fast, the humanitarian effort has to be directed at preventing people from dying of hypothermia. It is a most serious matter. I know that DfID has clearly worked hard on that, and, I understand, so have our partners. I discussed those matters with the president of the International Committee of the Red Cross when I was in Geneva last month. With regard to the way in which minorities have suffered in the existing crisis, it is clear that life in the whole area for Christians and other minorities is deeply distressing. We certainly discussed repeatedly with the Government of Iraq how that might be resolved. I can say to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that when Foreign Office Ministers visit the region, they always meet the Christian communities to discuss their concerns. My honourable friend Mr Ellwood, in his visit at the end of August, specifically raised the persecution of Christians with the then Foreign Minister Zebari and other senior officials. It is something that we take very seriously.
The Archbishop of Canterbury:
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her last answer, which was very reassuring. However, given that the terrible events in Iraq and Syria are the result of a global phenomenon of ideology, what steps are the Government taking to support other areas such as Nigeria, Kenya, Somalia, Pakistan and Sudan where similar problems need to be either prevented, mitigated or contained?
Baroness Anelay of St Johns:
My Lords, this is a matter that I discussed this very morning with a group set up by my noble friend Lady Warsi at the Foreign Office. She did most important work; the group is considering freedom of religion or belief. I can say firmly not only that this is one of the six priorities for this Government, but, as when my noble friend Lady Warsi led on this, it is a personal priority for me to ensure that throughout government and throughout our discussions, we consider exactly those points. It is not just a matter of looking at one area but of considering how a breaking down of religion or belief around the world can undermine the very societies in which people need to have security.
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress has been made so far by the International Humanitarian Partnership with establishing the proposed three camps, each to house 15,000 persons, for refugees who have fled from the fighting in Iraq; how that progress compares with the anticipated schedule; how many refugees are believed to be in need of shelter; which ethnic or religious groups are being assisted in those camps by the International Humanitarian Partnership; and what assessment they have made of what is likely to happen to those who are not provided for by those camps. [ DfID ] HL1961
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of a report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State is detaining Yezidi men, women and children from Iraq in Iraq and Syria; and what they know about their situation. [FCO] HL2002
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by Human Rights Watch that Islamic State has removed Yezidi boys and made them convert to Islam and is holding captive civilians from other religious and ethnic minorities, including Christians and Shia Shabaks and Turkmen. [FCO] HL2003
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the safety of Christian and Yezidi refugees in the Kurdish region in Iraq and the likelihood of an IS-led genocide against them. [ DfID ] HL2074
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with other European Union member states about scaling up the resettlement programme for refugees displaced by fighting in Syria and Iraq; and what is their policy in regard to applications for asylum from displaced Yezidis and Christians from those countries. [HO] HL2075
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have considered relocating tented facilities from Afghanistan to the Kurdish regional area to house displaced refugees; and what discussions they have had with the Kurdish authorities about providing adequate shelter for refugees during the winter months. [ DfID ] HL2076
15 October (29 October)
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they are giving to the future of the tented camp used by British Forces in Kandahar; whether Agility and those involved in its disposal have been instructed to examine urgent humanitarian uses to which it could be put; whether any discussions have taken place with non-governmental organisations willing to purchase it; whether commercial interests will be given priority; and what plans they have for assistance to be given by the Department for International Development to enable the camp to be transported for use by refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq. [ DfID ] HL2102
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risks of clinical trials of mitochondrial replacement therapy; and what safeguards will be put in place in such trials. [DH] HL1962
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they are engaged in or supporting any action to help protect women at risk of sexual violence as a result of the ongoing conflict in South Sudan.[HL1870]
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Anelay of St Johns) (Con): South Sudan has endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict and as an endorsing country participated in the Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict in London in June. We continue to press the Government of South Sudan to act on the commitments it has made to design and implement a national action plan against sexual violence.
The UK remains closely engaged with the South Sudan non-government organisation (NGO) Forum and associated NGOs to help protect women and girls from sexual violence. Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have stressed to the South Sudanese government the need for a comprehensive investigation into human rights abuses in South Sudan, including cases of sexual violence. At this year’s UN General Assembly in New York in September, the Minister for Africa, my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend East (Mr Duddridge), and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, co-hosted an event to mark a year since the launch of the Declaration, at which he encouraged all 155 member states who have now endorsed the Declaration to deliver on the practical and political commitments they have made to end the use of rape and sexual violence as a tactic of war.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to encourage women to participate in the peace process in South Sudan, and to ensure that women from all sections of society are represented.[HL1871]
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: The UK continues to underline the need for the Intergovernmental Authority on Development-led South Sudan peace process to be inclusive and represent the people of South Sudan, especially women. We raised this issue on 24 September at the UN Human Rights Council, and emphasised the importance of the participation of women in the peace process, in line with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security.
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Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ensure that the recommendations of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan, published on 6 October, are implemented. [ DfID ] HL1964
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the Oxfam Report From Crisis to Catastrophe, food security in South Sudan; and, in particular, how they will (1) assist the humanitarian efforts to create better conditions in United Nations camps, (2) improve co-ordination and delivery of aid to where people are, particularly in hard-to-reach areas, (3) ensure that diverse and sustainable interventions are made, building on local systems, and (4) improve management and planning to prevent future delays. [ DfID ] HL1965
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress is being made in South Sudan to ensure that all parties to the conflict and all armed groups (1) end violence and respect all agreements signed to date, including the Cessation of Hostilities and humanitarian agreements; (2) stop attacks against civilians, their homes and livelihoods, and end the forced recruitment of children; (3) guarantee protection of and respect for humanitarian staff; and (4) guarantee safe and unhindered access for humanitarian aid. [ DfID ] HL1966
REFUGEES AND MIGRANTS IN PERIL…
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Amnesty International’s report Lives adrift: Refugees and migrants in peril in the Central Mediterranean. [HO] HL1998
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to halt the killing and displacement of people, and the destruction of churches, in the Nigerian states of Borno and Adamawa by Boko Haram; what is their assessment of the amount of territory which has been seized by Boko Haram; and what is their assessment of how many people have been killed or displaced and how many churches destroyed. [FCO] HL1999
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they plan to emulate the United States Justice Department’s “Kleptocracy Initiative” in which assets are seized from corrupt foreign officials and politicians living in the United States. [HO] HL2001
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, with reference to the letter from Lord Faulks to Lord Alton of Liverpool on 18 September and the High Court judgment on 2 October that the review under section 48 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 about mesothelioma proceedings was not lawful, whether they intend to initiate a further review; if so, how it will differ from the last review; and what will be the timetable for it. [ MoJ ] HL2000
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government how many claims for compensation have so far been generated under the terms of the Mesothelioma Act 2014; how that number compares with predicted numbers of claims; what, if any, underspend against budget has resulted; and whether they intend to allocate any underspend for research into finding cures for mesothelioma. [DWP] HL2104
North Korea – Looking to the Far Horizon” – Keynote Address by David Alton: Korea Security Conference: University of Central Lancashire. October 16th 2014.
Keynote Address by David Alton (Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool): “North Korea – Looking to the Far Horizon”
This is a timely moment to consider the situation on the Korean Peninsula. From the Ebola crisis in West Africa to the horrific events in the Middle East, there are significant global events which have crowded out consideration of North Korea. But we should always beware of what has been described as benign neglect.
That simply opens the door to further provocation and destabilisation.
Given the 3 million deaths the last time there was a war on the Korean Peninsula it’s in humanity’s interests to use every opportunity to exert pressure and to promote dialogue – what President Park’s administration have described as “Trustpolitik”.
In Parliament, over the past decade, I have promoted what I have described as “constructive, critical engagement – Helsinki with a Korean face.” As recently as last night I chaired a two hour seminar in Parliament at which we heard from Dr.John Swenson-Wright, Andrea Berger and Martin Uden about North Korea’s weapons programmes, sanctions evasions and the response of the international community ( see http://appgnk.org/ ).
They addressed, as your conference will address, what is the threat posed to the world and its own people by North Korea’s nuclear and conventional arms?
Seemingly not bound by international law and treaties, North Korea is not a party to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty or the Chemical Weapons Convention, is a suspected violator of the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and is not a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime. In terms of its nuclear weapons programme, North Korea has conducted three nuclear weapons tests – 2006, 2009, 2013 – and continues to test short and medium range ballistic missiles, plus a series of short range rockets. What does this all mean for security in East Asia, how does North Korea so successfully evade sanctions and what can the international community do in response?
Those will be key issues for you to discuss, but you will not be surprised that I want to concentrate my remarks on the question of human rights.
Although I have been, and remain, a firm advocate of engagement with North Korea, I want to state firmly, at the outset, that this should never be confused with appeasement or lead to quietism about the appalling neglect by the regime of its people, abuse of its own citizens, or as indifference to the security threat which the regime represents to the region and beyond. Indeed, all of these challenges are the very reasons why we must engage at a political, diplomatic, military, humanitarian, and academic level.
As a parliamentarian, who has visited the country on four occasions, and having chaired the parliamentary All Party Group on North Korea for the past decade, I know that the way in which parliamentarians engage is bound to be different from that of other players – not least those in the Academy.
Our roles may be different but our objectives should be the same.
When there is intelligent moral leadership from both academia and politicians, it can be the catalyst for change.
Certainly, no parliamentarian worth their salt, or nation which cherishes the values proclaimed in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, should ever bury their convictions for the sake of a quiet life.
When universities engage in complex questions – which revolve around citizenship, human rights, security, sustainability, the common good and what constitutes a just peace – they can foster a deeper understanding and the Academy can provide invaluable empirical evidence, learned opinion and valued advice – especially in the context of “business diplomacy”, cultural exchanges, and academic discussions, which should all aim to spread knowledge, ideas, aspiration and hope.
In this context, I strongly welcome the decision of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) to appoint Professor Hazel Smith as Director of the university’s new International Institute of Korean Studies. Over many years, Hazel’s in-country experience and unrivalled knowledge of the nutritional and food needs of North Korea have been invaluable to policy makers and to non-governmental organisation. We have been privileged to have her speak to our Parliamentary Committee.
Inevitably, though, in dealing with the world’s most closed society, many of us who claim knowledge of North Korea can merely speculate.
This is why the diaspora of 25,000 North Koreans now living in the Republic of Korea, and several hundred among us here in the UK, have become such an important resource.
With information now flowing in and out of the country the diaspora have become a game-changer.
Theirs are unmediated, authentic voices, giving rare insights into a totalitarian State which offers the world a Master Course in indoctrination, obfuscation and dissimulation and which, until recently, was able to shelter behind its wall of silence.
What we have learned from the many testimonies is that within the regime there is a paranoid schizophrenia – a system which feeds off mutualised fear and shared guilt; systematic dysfunction between the leader and the led; and deep seated generational abuse. This is a grisly fantasy world characterised by an emotional weakness, made manifest in a pugnacious militarism. The truly powerful do not need to constantly boast about military power or flaunt their brutality: only the weak.
Yet, we also need to understand that this manifestation emerged in a country which was colonised, shamed and itself brutalised – and that a fervent nationalism and fear of outsiders has led to loyalty and even a willingness to die for a corrupt of oppressive regime It is this belief which falsely convinces its rulers that they can cheat history.
The mistake which is sometimes made is to believe that to understand North Korea, and to engage with North Korea, you have to deal with the regime alone.
What those who have escaped from North Korea have done is to provide a treasure house of first- hand information – bravely telling their stories and challenging a sixty year old status quo.
Those now in exile include members of the country’s elite.
I recently provided a platform for Jang Jin Sung – author of “Dear Leader” – and a former high ranking member of the regime – to speak in Parliament about the internal workings and power structures.
Rarely have we heard from such high ranking exiles, giving unprecedented insights into a regime which, following the execution of Kim Jong Un’s uncle, Chang Song-thaek, may well be in the throes of a blood-letting purge and power struggle .
Many escapees believe that Chang Song-thaek had to be killed because he knew that North Korea had to come to terms with the rest of the world and finally come in from the cold.
Chang had questioned an ideology which has paralysed economic development, incarcerated hundreds of thousands of its citizens, and which has conferred pariah status on the country. His execution became the most high profile of a succession of killings, symptomatic of an unsustainable system which routinely murders and imprisons its own people. From Stalin to Ceaușescu we know that such regimes finally exceed their shelf life.
Chang was killed because he had begun to be seen as a potential alternative.
Perceived as the power behind the throne, he was close to China and admiring of its reform programme. China’s anger at his killing sits alongside their barely concealed increasing contempt for an “ally” which routinely aborts North Korean babies, fathered by Chinese men, and thus regarded as a contamination of the Korean blood line. If this is how you regard you friends how do you perceive your enemies?
The recent deepening of relations between Seoul and Beijing and the attempts by North Korea to improve its relationship with Tokyo and Washington are part of this same narrative.
Chang’s execution – some unsubstantiated reports but, significantly, published in China, allege that he was thrown to the dogs; the purges; the reign of terror; the falsifying of history; the show trials; the network of gulags; the estimated 400,000 people who have died in the prison camps in the last 30 years; and the attempt to obliterate religious belief and all political dissent; all bear all the hallmarks of a regime which has carefully studied, admires and imitates the visceral brutality of Joseph Stalin.
The authoritarian dynastic regime in North Korea ruthlessly crushes dissent and through “guilt by association” , collective punishment and the execution of men like Chang, is trying to ensure that there is no Liu Xiabo, Kim Dae Jung, Lech Walesa, or Aung San Suu Kyi able to become a focal point for opposition.
Instead, North Korea is the first country in history to be ruled by ghosts: Kim IL Sung is Eternal President. Kim Jong IL is Eternal General Secretary of the Workers Party. But no country can survive indefinitely as a necropolis – bathing in the blood of its own people.
The harbinger of the changes which will inevitably come are the witness statements and first- hand accounts of those who have escaped. We must listen to them with great care and prepare them for tomorrow’s world.
A defining moment occurred earlier this year with the launch of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry Report into human rights violations in North Korea – which were described by the Commission as “without parallel”.
Mr. Justice Kirby, the highly respected Australian Judge, who chaired the Commission, and his fellow Commissioners, say in their 400-page report that North Korea’s crimes against humanity are sui generis: “the gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”
The COI specifically compared the country’s egregious violations of human rights with those of the totalitarian regimes of the 1930s and has called for their referral to the International Criminal Court.
Despite its angry protestations, the country’s leadership should fearfully reflect that, if it fails to change, as for instance Burma is doing, a day of reckoning will one day come – as at Nuremberg and at The Hague.
If you were to bench-mark the findings of the recent United Nations Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of human rights in North Korea, against the thirty articles set out in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it would be difficult to find a single article which Kim Jong-un’s regime does not breach
In an editorial, The Times says that “The condition of the people of North Korea ranks among the great tragedies of the past century. The despotism that consigns them to that state is one of its greatest crimes”.
The COI builds on the eight reports of Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, written for the UN while he was Special Rapporteur on Human rights in North Korea, in which he says the abuses are “both systematic and pervasive” and “egregious and endemic”, and he concluded that “it is incumbent upon the national authorities and the international community to address the impunity factor which has enabled such violations to exist and/or persist for a long time”
His successor as United Nations special rapporteur, Mr Darusman, said, following the publication of the COI Report: “There is no turning back; it cannot be ‘business as usual’. It now remains to be seen whether the UK and other nations implement the recommendations and that it serves as a plan of action and not simply an academic text gathering dust on a shelf.
The reason why we cannot ignore these egregious violations of human rights is illustrated graphically by the story of one young man.
In September of this year, Shin Dong Hyok was again in the UK, where he has previously given evidence before my Committee.
Shin was born in Camp 14 – where many political prisoners are held – and as a child he was forced to watch as his mother and brother were publicly executed.
Shin spent the first 23 years of his life in Camp 14, one of five sprawling prison camps in the mountains of North Korea, about fifty five miles north of Pyongyang. No one born in Camp 14 or any other political prison camp – “the absolute control zone” – had previously escaped from North Korea. These are places where the hard labour, the malnutrition, or freezing conditions, minus 20 Celsius in winter, will often end your life before the firing squad does.
His story is powerfully and movingly documented in the book, “Escape from Camp14.” But Shin’s story is not unique. He is one of thousands who have escaped from North Korea, breaking the regime’s wall of silence.
The regime has responded to these escapes and testimonies by threatening severe punishment for prison guards, former inmates and nearby communities if they disclose information about the camps. We, in turn, should respond by using high-precision satellite imagery to monitor the camps and by ensuring that the testimony of escapees can be used in future trials; not least because this might concentrate the minds of prison guards who have been told to massacre inmates in the event of the regime collapsing. They need to know that they will be held accountable. We owe this to those who have been opponents of the regime and whose fate has too often been ignored.
I think here of women like Hea Woo.
In March, following the publication of the COI Report, my All-Party Group held a hearing addressed by Hea Woo. She gave a graphic and powerful account of her time inside a the camp -where torture and beatings are routine, and where prisoners were so hungry they were reduced to eating rats, snakes, or even searching for grains in cow dung. She said that in such places “the dignity of human life counted for nothing. The guards told us that we are not human beings, we are just prisoners, so we don’t have any right to love. We were just animals. Even if people died there, they didn’t let the family members outside know”
Voices like Hae Woo’s are a radical counter point to a regime which, when it speaks, does so with a mixture of braggadocio and blackmail – alternating between threats to blow us to kingdom come and demands that we stay quiet about gulags which incarcerate around 200,000 of its own people.
Their insights provide us with first-hand accounts on which the Academy must devote time to analyse and understand.
Among the stories we have heard from escapees are a description of the emergence of the Jangmadang, – the Market Generation -begun in desperation as the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s and famine ensued.
Their stories of personal resilience, and of how reliance on a black market has challenged the State, has led to considerable contact with the world beyond their borders. Although there are a new wave of border controls this will be a difficult process to reverse.
Instead of seeing their country as “paradise”, with “nothing to envy” North Koreans increasingly know the truth – that the economies of North and South Korea contrast more sharply than any other two neighbouring countries. This is the clinching argument in defining the “legitimacy” question of whether the North or South is the true Korea.
The South, with only twice the population of the North, has an economy that is forty times that of the North. South Korea has the fourth largest economy in Asia, it is the 12th or 13th largest economy in the world. The South is a member of the G-20. The North ranks in the midst of countries of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of its economy.
School children in North Korea are 3 to 8 cm shorter than their counterparts in South Korea with stunted growth and malnutrition affecting around 45% of North Korean children under the age of five.
By comparison, whether it is South Korean pop music, media, construction companies, host to the Olympics, or provider of the UN Secretary General, the dynamism of the Republic of Korea can hardly be concealed.
And, by contrast, the North’s ham-fisted attempts to create a spectacle around a retired American basketball player, who once played for the Detroit Pistons, while simultaneously excoriating the international community, on whom it depends for medicines and food because it can’t grow sufficient food to feed its people or attend to their sickness, is risible.
The result is that the only way the North can assert its legitimacy is through crude militarism – recently demonstrated during the visit of Pope Francis to South Korea when the North fired three missiles into the sea just before his arrival in South Korea and another two soon after.
But North Korea’s mask is slipping.
Every North Korean who travels to China, a country which, only three decades ago, was poorer than theirs, also gives the lie to the propaganda which they have been force fed. Between 2009 and 2013 the economic situation continued to worsen and will inevitably drive change and reform. North Korea is reported to have experienced its worst spring drought in 30 years and, in some provinces, food shortages are expected. State administered rations are reported to have dipped to low levels. Kim Jong Eun has blamed the country’s weather forecasters
It’s not just the weather forecasts that people are beginning to doubt.
There is an increasing desire to know what is happening in the world outside. Escapees say that significant numbers risk imprisonment and even execution to watch South Korean television programmes smuggled in with cell phones and radios from China.
Try as they may the information genie cannot be put back in the bottle. Up to 50% of escapees make contact with their families
All of which, should convince the BBC to begin long overdue BBC World Service transmissions to the Korean Peninsula and for the UK to honour its obligations under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and which insists that citizens have a right to access news and information.
The Russian Service of the BBC began broadcasting to the Soviet Union in 1946 and quickly established a reputation with Soviet listeners, millions of whom listened despite jamming: Gorbachev later said he had been a long term listener.
Breaking the information blockade should be a central pillar of our approach with North Korea but there is something equally important.
I strongly believe that, as well as analysing what they have to tell us, the Academy should be taking a deep interest in those who have risked their lives in making dangerous journeys across China and through countries such as Laos, to obtain their freedom. They are tomorrow’s leaders.
Some of those who have escaped and are now studying at our universities and learning about the rule of law, democratic governance, the nature of free market economies, and the role of the State in promoting the Common Good, will be among tomorrow’s leaders in North Korea.
One such escapee, Timothy, made his way to my university in Liverpool – Liverpool John Moores University – where I am Director of their Roscoe Foundation for Citizenship. During the 1990s famine, when over a million people are thought to have died from starvation, Timothy had been left on the streets as a street child.
Many North Koreans were orphaned during the famine (the Arduous March), between 1994 and 1997 . It claimed millions of lives. Children were the most adversely affected. The World Health Organisation reported death rates for children at 93 of every 1000, while those of infants were cited at 23 of every thousand.
The famine led to hundreds of thousands living on the streets as “street swallows”. Timothy saw all of his friends die of hunger and he described how these abandoned children, known as Kotjebi, subsisted by begging and by eating wild vegetables, bark and grass roots.
Having escaped he was repatriated from China and tortured. He escaped again and eventually made it to Seoul where the UK arranged asylum.
Having arrived in the north of England, Timothy enlisted to help on a soup kitchen because he told me, he knew what it was like to be hungry.
He taught himself English and, while working to support himself, he took the necessary foundation courses and is now a student at one of our northern universities, studying politics and international affairs.
Timothy’s courage and determination reminds us of the Korean qualities which we should greatly admire and support in any way we can. I wonder what he will do for his country one day.
Last month I was with the Prime Minister of a Central European country. I first met him and his friend, now one of that country’s Ministers, when they were both students at the University of Oxford.
They came from dissident families who had opposed totalitarianism and, with the help of the British authorities, they were given the opportunity to study to a high level in the UK.
The British officials who gave them that opportunity did not confuse engagement with an obnoxious regime with the importance of supporting forces for change and especially promoting and supporting human rights discourse.
We should recall Solzhenitsyn’s observation that “someone that you have deprived of everything is no longer in your power. He is once again entirely free” and that is undoubtedly the case with those who bravely risk so much. The Academy should be investing far more in developing leadership skills among those who have escaped.
The failure to be ready for change is graphically illustrated by anarchy unleashed by the Arab Spring. Things can change more rapidly than we might imagine and we must be ready. That was the story of 1989. But it was also the story of South Korea and the bravery of men like Kim Dae Jung, the opposition leader who spent six years imprisoned in the South by the military regime.
I am always struck, when I read these words of Kim Dae Jung, that they might be the words of a captive held today in one of the North’s prison camps:
“The intention was to make me go insane. I could hear someone moaning in a room next to me. I was stripped naked and forced to wear worn-out military fatigues. I was threatened with torture.”
Kim Dae Jung would subsequently be awarded the Nobel Prize and become President of what is now one of the world’s most vibrant democracies. But recall the description given by his widow, lee Hee Ho, of what South Korea was like three decades ago.
She said it was a “truly an Orwellian world of illegal brutality –acting as if they would never have to answer to history of God for their barbarity.”
She described how supporters of democracy were “Deprived of any clothing they were mercilessly pummelled with wooden bats, deprived of sleep, and had water poured into their nostrils while hanging upside down like so much beef hanging from hooks in the slaughter house. Listening to these stories of horror, my body shuddered with indescribable indignation and sorrow.”
Now consider how fundamentally that world has changed – and changed for the better. In Europe, think of Germany; think of the Soviet satellite countries.
We should never forget the lessons of the Cold War and the Helsinki Process, how divergent ideologies were pitted against one another and how, in defeating communist ideology, we combined wisdom with strength, self-restraint with a dogged patience and how worldwide alliances were formed between dissidents, religious leaders, democrats, academicians, and human rights activists.
Recall that it was Academician Andrei Sakharov, a celebrated nuclear physicist, who fearlessly challenged the Soviet system, declaring “Our country, like every modern state, needs profound democratic reforms. It needs political and ideological pluralism, a mixed economy and protection of human rights and the opening up of society.”
Can we doubt that a similar yearning exists among people in North Korea? For 60 years, the Korean peninsula has longed for a lasting settlement based on justice, peace, reconciliation, coexistence and mutual respect. Instead its people have experienced suffering, division and threats.
Whatever outside observers may think of the ideology or the system in North Korea, they should not confuse this with an unthinking hatred of North Korean people.
They are a fine people who deserve much better. They deserve a liberalised economy, the implementation of the UN Conventions to which the DPRK has already committed itself, the development of an independent judiciary, a just penal system, an open society and freedom from fear. Above all, they deserve peace –and this I believe will only happen when we tenaciously pursue a robust and different strategy from that pursued hitherto.
Our objective should be to engage and to foster change; not to isolate and not to appease. We must encourage China to share a global attitude; to broker a Beijing Peace Conference so that the technical state of War with the United States and South Korea can be formally concluded. The Obama Administration still has time to open an embassy in Pyongyang – just as the U.S. did throughout the former Soviet empire and to recognise that in a United Korea, the presence of an American military presence in the north of the country would not be acceptable, either to the indigenous population or to China.
Facing the challenge of North Korea is an urgent diplomatic and political problem but it is also a moral obligation – and the history of the twentieth century is littered with too many examples of the consequences when the world played safe rather than facing up to moral problems posed by States that perceived themselves as unchangeable.
If we truly believe in the pursuit of peace and progress, that every life is unique, and that the human rights and human dignity of every human being are of infinite value, we must fix our eyes on the far horizon and patiently follow the maps which will take us there.
David Alton – Lord Alton of Liverpool – is Professor of Citizenship at Liverpool John Moores University and is Co-Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea. His book, “Building Bridges – is there hope for North Korea?” was published last year by Lion and is available on Kindle. www.davidalton.net
Question in the Lords on 3% Mesothelioma Levy – Liverpool conference on Mesothelioma and the Law – reply from Lord Freud
Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, further to the reply by Lord Faulks on 9 December 2014 (HL Deb, col 1710), what evidence they have for the assertion that a lack of good research proposals is deterring research into mesothelioma and that there are no problems concerning availability of funding. HL3669
†Tuesday 9 December at 2.30pm
†*Lord Alton of Liverpool to ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the decision of the High Court that the consultation on mesothelioma legal fees was unlawful, and the lack of new funding for mesothelioma research, what is their policy with regard to combatting mesothelioma and supporting victims.
Asked by Lord Alton of Liverpool
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, following the decision of the High Court that the consultation on mesothelioma legal fees was unlawful, and the lack of new funding for mesothelioma research, what is their policy with regard to combating mesothelioma and supporting victims.
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): The Government take the plight of mesothelioma sufferers seriously and are determined to improve their position. We have introduced significant changes through the diffuse mesothelioma payment scheme, established under the 2014 Act. By October 2014 the scheme had made 131 payments, resulting in £16.5 million being paid to sufferers or their families. The Government fully recognise the need to stimulate an increase in the level of research activity and continue actively to pursue measures to achieve this.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he recall that, during the passage of the Mesothelioma Act 2014, Ministers said that the levy on the insurance industry would be set at 3%? They said:
“Three percent. is 3% and we have no intention of moving away from it”.—[Official Report, Commons, Mesothelioma Bill [Lords] Committee, 12/12/13; col. 117.]
Why then has it now been set at 2.2%, representing a shortfall of more than £11 million? That money could have been generated and used to undertake sustainable research into a killer disease which will take the lives of another 60,000 British people. This is according to figures which the Government themselves have issued.
Lord Faulks: As the noble Lord will know, the Government responded to the amendment which he tabled during passage of the Act by saying that they were committed as a priority to helping to encourage research by the National Institute for Health Research. We set up a partnership of patients and carers to identify a top 10 list of questions for researchers to answer. The results were published yesterday, as he may know. We now feel that we have identified the questions and funding will be available if there are appropriate applicants. The problem with research is no longer—indeed, it never was—funding, but finding really conceivably successful applications.
Lord German (LD): My Lords, both the House of Commons Justice Committee and the judgment of the High Court concerning the issue of legal fees in mesothelioma cases are critical of the way that the government review was carried out. It was found to be premature and did not follow the rules of the LASPO Act. We know that the incidence of this disease will peak and then fall away over the years, as the 30 year-old Acts concerning asbestos are put into place and have an effect. Given that there will be a withering on the
9 Dec 2014 : Column 1711
vine of the numbers suffering this fatal disease, is it not now the time for this legal fees issue to be left alone and kept as it is, rather than coming back to it again and putting people through increased risk and increased delay?
Lord Faulks: My noble friend is right. We expect the peak to start declining and perhaps come more or less to an end in 2024. There is to be a review. There is no immediate timing for it but my noble friend is right in that the status quo is acceptable to the claimants. They are to receive damages. Research will continue, as I indicated, and the pre-LASPO regime for legal support will continue. This will ensure that lawyers are paid adequately, and we are told that they will not take cases unless they are paid adequately. The review will go on.
Lord Giddens (Lab): My Lords, I watched a member of my family die of this dreadful disease. There are massive advances in medical technology which make it possible, in principle, to find a cure. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has indicated, that could mean saving the lives of some 50,000 people. To do this we are going to need an integrated research strategy, with the Government in the lead, co-ordinating with industries and with universities. Where is this strategy? The Government’s approach seems far too piecemeal and far too limited to do the job that is needed.
Lord Faulks: As I indicated, the strategy is to ensure that the right questions are posed so as to elicit appropriate applications. The funding is very much there, but there is no point in having it unless it is directed towards research which can feasibly produce the result which, I am sure, everybody in this House wants to achieve.
Lord Wigley (PC): My Lords, will the Minister go further on that? There needs to be a certainty that the money is there but the top-level researchers also need to be aware of it so that the money and the level of the research capability are brought together. Is the Minister confident that that certainty now exists? What can be done to make sure that the best researchers in the land are aware of it and can get engaged with this problem?
Lord Faulks: I can do no better than quote what Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer and chief scientific adviser, said yesterday. She thanked all those who provided information and said:
“With their help I believe we have built a genuine consensus—and a real impetus. I hope the research community will now respond by generating new research proposals that will provide robust evidence to help people with mesothelioma”.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, I encourage the Minister to answer the first part of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, about why the percentage of the precept was reduced from the promised 3% to 2.2%.
Lord Faulks: The position with insurers is that they have provided money. I will have to write to both noble Lords and the right reverend Prelate about what has happened to that particular sum. The question of
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the use of research funds is difficult. We think that research funds should be spent in the most effective way, and we think that publicly funding research is much more appropriate than hypothecating against insurers’ particular sums.
Lord McKenzie of Luton (Lab): My Lords, would the Minister accept that throughout our deliberations on the Mesothelioma Bill the focus was on a 3% levy? It was 3% because the insurance industry insisted that beyond that it would have to be passed to consumers. By implication, if the levy is now 2.2%, presumably that falls into the pocket of the insurance companies at a time when compensation is not being paid at a 100% level, and, as has been asserted, there is insufficient funding for research.
Lord Faulks: It is absolutely not the case that there is insufficient funding for research. As I have said more than once, the case is that, at the moment, there is not a suitable number of applications for research. The funding is very much there. As to any question of insurers making some profit out of this, I will look into that. It is contrary to what the Government wish to achieve.
Lord Howarth of Newport (Lab): My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Freud, brought in the mesothelioma legislation he did so undoubtedly in good faith. Yet, sufferers from this terrible industrial disease have now been failed not only by employers and insurers but by the Government themselves. Has the Lord Chancellor authorised the noble Lord to apologise on behalf of the Government for his decision to take up to 25% of compensation awards for costs—conduct which has been ruled by judicial review in the High Court to be unlawful? The noble Lord still has not explained to the House why the Government have failed to honour their commitment, given in terms by the Minister, Mike Penning, to set the levy on employer’s liability insurance at 3% of gross written premiums, which would have enabled better compensation and more funding for sustained research.
Lord Faulks: Compensation is full at the moment, as the noble Lord knows. I reject the allegation that the Government have done nothing. Not only are they promoting research; they have also, with their Big Tent meeting in June, encouraged much greater co-operation between lawyers acting for claimants to ensure that medical employment records are swiftly obtained. What is most important is that these claimants obtain compensation quickly and at as high a level as they can
Asbestos and the Law Conference 2014
Mesothelioma Research Funding – Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool
Extracts from remarks made by David Alton at a conference organised by the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group, at the Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Friday October 10th 2014.
Thanks were expressed by David Alton to John Flanagan of the Merseyside Asbestos Victims Support Group and to the British Lung Foundation for their consistent work on behalf of those who are affected by mesothelioma
Mesothelioma is an occupationally-related disease. Simply put, men and women went to work and they were negligently exposed to asbestos when it was known that asbestos caused great harm. In 1965, the Newhouse Thompson report provided shocking evidence that a brief exposure to asbestos could result in mesothelioma fifty five years after first exposure.
Yet, scandalously, and with utter contempt for life and health, men and women continued to be exposed to asbestos with little or no protection for decades after the Report was made public. Nearly 40,000 people have died from mesothelioma from past exposure to asbestos, and some 56,000 will suffer from mesothelioma years to come. The UK has the highest incidence of mesothelioma world-wide. Society owes a great debt to those who went to work, often in hard, heavy industry, and built the economy of this country, only to suffer terrible consequences.
Although we must continue to insist on proper and commensurate support for those families blighted by the curse of this disease – and I have forced votes in Parliament to highlight this – I have also been critical of the lamentable and paltry sums of money which have gone into finding the causes and cures for mesothelioma; and this must be a partnership between Government, the industry, and the research community..
So when, last year, the Government introduced the Mesothelioma Bill in the House of Lords to set up a payment scheme, funded by insurers, for mesothelioma sufferers who could not trace their insurers I determined that something must be done to secure funding for mesothelioma research.
The case for funding
• Over the last several years there has been growing political support for the need for the insurance industry to fund mesothelioma research. The Government’s duty to intervene to make this a reality has been well established.
• Last year’s amendment to the Mesothelioma Bill that if successful would have secured a sustainable and fair future funding system by charging a small levy on insurance firms. Sadly, this was defeated by seven votes.
• As a result of my amendment to the Mesothelioma Bill and the large cross party support it received. The Government agreed to talk to the Association of British Insurers to see whether a voluntary funding agreement could be reached, but no commitments have yet been made. To keep the pressure on Government, I held a short debate in the House of Lords on 16th January. During this debate the Health Minister, Earl Howe, announced that the ABI had written to him committing to provide £250,000 of new funding for the BLF to invest in mesothelioma research, and agreeing to attend talks discuss long term funding options.
• This funding was very welcome; however it is not a long term solution. Continued talks with the ABI and the British Lung Foundation have broken down. This has led me to believe that the only possible way to secure a long term sustainable funding scheme, and to stop the procrastination, is to put the insurance companies’ responsibility on a statutory footing. Sustainability is the key to ensuring effective research work.
• It is estimated that there are 150 insurance firms active in the Employers’ Liability Insurance market, and a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for mesothelioma research. These small payments would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK, and could potentially lead to a cure which would save tens of thousands of lives.
• Not only is funding Mesothelioma research the right thing to do for the thousands of people who are set to lose their lives. It makes financial sense for Insurers. If insurers were to fund mesothelioma research they would reduce their liability for compensation and their money would go towards a cure not courtroom challenges.
• Funding in research has produced impressive progress: new researchers from other areas of therapy have started taking an interest in mesothelioma, bringing with them new expertise and insights.
• Recent findings from British Lung Foundation funded research grants have been encouraging. One revealed that attaching a drug called “TRAIL” to stem cells can lead to the killing off of mesothelioma cancer cells. The study was performed, by BLF grant holder Dr Elizabeth Sage, in mice and whilst much work is needed to progress this to human trials with adult stem cells, the results are promising. These are the types of advancements we see when funding is made readily available for mesothelioma and yet it is truly shocking that this is funding we must still fight for.
• Another British Lung Foundation grant holder, Peter Campbell, is conducting research into identifying which genes are the most important targets of mutations in mesothelioma. He is sequencing the DNA for all 20,000 genes in the human genome from 75 mesothelioma samples and comparing this sequence to normal blood samples from the same patients. He hopes that identifying these genes will form the basis of new diagnostic methods, new information for predicting a patient’s outcome and, ultimately, new treatments for this devastating cancer.
• It is Mr Campbell’s belief that “Only by understanding its basic biology will we be able to develop a new generation of drugs targeted at the specific abnormalities of mesothelioma cells. This requires sustained investment at all levels of mesothelioma research, from basic genetics and cell biology through drug development to clinical trials.”
• Dr Robert Rintoul who works at MesobanK, Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank that was created to collect and store biological tissue from mesothelioma patients for use in research; and to identify the genetic architecture of the disease, underlines the importance of research. Not only for the UK which is dramatically affected by this disease but the rest of the world, he says “asbestos is still being used in an unsafe and unregulated way. Although the number of cases of mesothelioma in the UK will fall over the next 30 years, there will be continue to be an epidemic of the disease globally and the lessons that we learn today about the biology of the disease will be used by doctors the world over in years to come”.
And what are we currently doing in the UK?
• A report conducted by the OHE and the Science Policy Research Unit of the University of Sussex found that 7% of all cancer papers produced in 2011 were from the UK, it emphasised the global importance of medical research in the UK. This British commitment to excellence in the field of medical research is something I am deeply proud of and wish to continue to see. However, what was most stark about the findings is that a cut in research by a research funder can cause a disproportionate fall in research activity. It found that a 1% cut in research can see a drop of 1.3% in research productivity.
• I have tabled numerous parliamentary questions on this issue and when I asked about funding for mesothelioma research in 2014-2015 the Health Minister, Earl Howe, told me the number was “not available”. There is no guarantee that funding will be available, this uncertainty is dangerous and why legislation is required.
• Unless we change the way we fund mesothelioma research we risk stagnation and endanger potential life changing breakthroughs. Currently, we rely on inconsistent donations from insurers and charitable donations. This unreliable approach to funding jeopardises ongoing research. This is why we must secure statutory funding for our promising mesothelioma research.
Let me say a word about how we take the campaign forward
• There is not long left of this Parliament for the Government to act. I believe we must do all we can, to put pressure on the Government to bring forward a legislative solution and to commit opposition parties, MPs and individual candidates to commit themselves to supporting funding provision for mesothelioma research.
• I have tabled a Private Members bill in the House of Lords and would welcome the chance for the issue to be discussed again on the floor of the House.
• I know that in the British Lung Foundation has written to all parliamentarians urging them to write to the Minister, and so far over 20 MPs and peers have taken action – including the former head of the British Navy, Admiral Lord West, who has pledged his full support to the campaign. On top of this, an Early Day Motion tabled by Tracey Crouch MP, has over 80 signatures.
• Last month, I was lucky enough to go and visit the British Lung Foundation helpline based here in Liverpool. Whilst there I met many dedicated individuals all committed to supporting people living with lung disease, their families and carers. After talking to the operators and the nurses and hearing about the calls they receive I am even more certain in my conviction that research must continue. The work the British Lung Foundation do in supporting patients is admirable but support is not a cure and a cure can only be found through substantial, innovative and well-funded research.
• To allow this issue to rest or be pushed aside would be another injustice to mesothelioma patients. We didn’t protect them from asbestos in the past and without funding we cannot protect them from this fatal disease in the future. Compassion and mercy motivate us to tackle the pain in the world; but justice challenges us to eradicate its cause.
Let us be clear. We are not asking for the World. Just small sums from the insurance industry would make a huge difference to the future of mesothelioma research in the UK and could potentially lead to cures, saving tens of thousands of lives. There are an estimated 150 insurance firms: a small contribution from each could raise a vital £1.5 million each year for research.
Are levies on industries unheard of? No. Here is a list of just some of them:
The Gambling Act levy
The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act levy The HGV Road Users Act levy The Fossil Fuel levy The Gas Levy Act 1981 The levy on the pig industry to eradicate Aujeskey’s disease
There is no reason in principle why an employers’ liability insurance levy should not be supported.
There’s an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago; the second best time is now.
Clearly, it would have been better if, twenty or even forty years ago, significant resources had been put into finding the cause and cures for mesothelioma but the second best time is now – – certainly not twenty or another forty years from now.
The seriousness of the situation was revealed earlier this year when The Independent newspaper reported that fresh figures from the Health and Safety Executive showed a 10% increase in mesothelioma cases, due largely to a greater number of male deaths aged 65 and over. The British Lung Foundation say the numbers will continue to rise until 2020. The newspaper reported the demands of scientists and doctors for more money to be urgently pumped into research.
The playwright, Arthur Miller, in Death of a Salesman, urges us to look at his central character, Willy Loman, and the playwright’s plea is that we pay attention “he’s a human being and a terrible thing is happening to him.” Terrible things happen to those who contract mesothelioma and we should all pay much greater attention to them
Nelson Mandela once said: “Our human compassion binds is the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
Research into mesothelioma represents the only hope for the future for those who contract this lethal disease and so we must urgently commit far greater resources to provide hope to the more than 50,000 of our countrymen who will otherwise die from this harrowing and devastating disease if we fail to act.
1. The need to increase funding for mesothelioma research
Mesothelioma is an invasive type of lung cancer, primarily caused by prior exposure to asbestos. There is currently no cure – patients often experience complex debilitating symptoms and most die within 12 months of diagnosis.
The UK has the highest rate of the disease in the world. Annual numbers of related deaths are increasing and have quadrupled over the last 30 years. This year it is estimated that 2,500 people will die of the disease in the UK, and during the next 30 years around 60,000 people will die unless new treatments are found.
Relatively little is spent on mesothelioma research in the UK measured against other cancers of comparable mortality. For example, in 2012 (the most recent year for which data is available), the National Cancer Research Institute (NCRI) reported that £1.2m was invested in mesothelioma research by its partners. This is significantly lower than the £9.9m and £5.3m spent respectively on skin cancer/melanoma and myeloma, two cancers that kill a similar number of people each year. For melanoma, £3,700 is invested per death; for mesothelioma it is only £480.
Data released by the Department of Health and Department of Business, Innovation and Skills in response to parliamentary questions also suggests that statutory investment in mesothelioma research is low.
2. Mesothelioma Act 2014
The Government’s Mesothelioma Bill was introduced in the summer of 2013 to set up a scheme ensuring that victims of mesothelioma unable to trace a liable insurance company could claim compensation from a common fund supported by a levy on insurance firms.
During the Bill’s passage, Lord Alton of Liverpool tabled an amendment which would have secured long-term research funding by charging a small additional levy on participating insurance firms. It is estimated that there are 150 insurance firms active in the Employers’ Liability Insurance market, and the amendment had the potential to raise around £1.5 million each year for mesothelioma research. It was narrowly defeated in two votes – one in the Lords and one in the Commons.
The Bill received Royal Assent on 30th January 2014. In response to parliamentary debate during the Bill’s passage, the Government agreed to talk to the Association of British Insurers (ABI) to see whether a voluntary agreement would be possible. A meeting has subsequently taken place, but no firm commitments have resulted. The Government has also committed to raising the profile of mesothelioma research through various means.
Although these commitments are welcome, they do not address the real issue: the need to put funding for mesothelioma research on a sustainable footing in order to guarantee continued progress towards identifying a cure and treatments for this disease.
3. Mesothelioma research funding shortfall
In 2010, the British Lung Foundation and four leading insurance firms reached an agreement under which they collectively granted £1 million a year for three years to invest predominantly in mesothelioma research (a small share was used for asbestos-awareness campaigns). This agreement was facilitated by the Department of Health.
The results have been impressive: research specialists have started taking an interest in the disease, bringing new expertise and insights with them. Europe’s first mesothelioma tissue bank has been created to collect and store biological tissue from mesothelioma patients for use in research, and a trans-Atlantic collaboration to map the genetic architecture of the disease is now being funded – a crucial first step to finding a cure.
This shows that investment in mesothelioma research is worthwhile. However, all the original funding has now been allocated and no solution to provide future sustainable funding has been agreed. Insurance industry leaders have argued that it is unrealistic to ask a small number of firms to be responsible for 100% of the insurance industry’s contribution to mesothelioma research going forward, and that any long-term funding solution needs to see this responsibility shared more widely.
It remains a significant concern that funding will not be forthcoming unless there is legislation to put the industry’s duty to contribute on a statutory footing.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government how many claims for compensation have so far been generated under the terms of the Mesothelioma Act 2014; how that number compares with predicted numbers of claims; what, if any, underspend against budget has resulted; and whether they intend to allocate any underspend for research into finding cures for mesothelioma.[HL2104]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) (Con): The Scheme began taking applications in April 2014, and began making payments on 1 July 2014. As of 30 September 2014 the Scheme had received 173 applications. During the first year of operation we had forecasted around 900 applications to the Scheme.
The DMPS is funded by a levy on the insurance industry. The levy is intended to cover the cost of the Scheme in any one year, and we are not expecting to generate any under spend. Any under spend would be returned to HM Treasury.