Watching the World

Crime’s Fastest-Growing Business

Trafficking in humans “is the fastest growing criminal market in the world,” says Pino Arlacchi, director general of the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention. According to Mr. Arlacchi, it is estimated that some 200 million people are under the control of the traffickers. While 11.5 million people were shipped out of Africa in 400 years of slavery, over 30 million women and children have been moved within and from Southeast Asia in just the past decade. Most have been used as sweatshop labor or for sexual purposes. Mr. Arlacchi proposes that governments that no longer have antislavery laws reintroduce them.

Torture and Brutality in Europe

“Death during forcible deportation, torture in detention, systematic police ill-treatment, and ethnic and religious repression” are among the human rights abuses observable in Europe, reports a news release by Amnesty International. “While many people in Europe enjoy basic human rights, some people, including asylum-seekers and ethnic and religious minorities, continue to experience a side of Europe that runs contrary to its image as a bastion of human rights and freedom,” says the bulletin. “Nothing demonstrates this more than the spread and frequency of allegations of police brutality. From the United Kingdom to Azerbaijan, individuals have suffered . . . cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment at the hands of police.” Those responsible are often not brought to justice, the organization claims. It cites the following example: “In July [1999], the European Court of Human Rights found France guilty of violating international standards on torture and fair trials” in the case of an immigrant in police custody. “At the end of the year the accused policemen were still in their posts,” the report adds.

Older People Deserve Respect

A six-month study showed that baby talk is frequently used in nursing homes. Yet talking to older people in such a way not only robs them of their dignity but is also bad for their well-being, reports the German health newsletter Apotheken Umschau. Such lack of respect reportedly has a negative effect on health. Says Christine Sowinski of the German Association of Elderly Care: “The less older people are respected, the earlier they decay physically and mentally.” She recommends that derogatory and childish terms be eliminated from nursing routines, “since the underlying attitude will change with the language.”

Religious People Live Longer?

“Regular involvement in religious activities goes hand in hand with better physical health and a longer life, according to a statistical analysis of 42 independent studies published since 1977 that have addressed this issue,” states Science News. “Religious involvement, especially the public type, showed a statistically significant relationship to higher survival rates, the scientists say.” Several reasons have been proposed for the findings—the shunning of risky behaviors, marital stability, less depression associated with matters beyond direct control, greater social contacts, and positive emotions and attitudes. One report concludes: “Frequent religious attendance has now been found . . . to be associated with a reduced hazard of dying, particularly among women. Frequent religious attenders . . . reported greater social support, less depression, and better health practices.”

India’s Population Passes One Billion

On May 11, 2000, the population of India was said to have reached one billion. However, the Associated Press explained: “Deciding when India reaches the 1 billion mark is tricky in a nation where 42,000 children are born every day and medical records are scanty.” As a result of the population growth, hunger and illiteracy increase, despite the great advances made in food production  and education. Although millions live in poverty, a new child is regarded as a potential wage earner, one who is able to work and help the family meet their needs.

Thwarted by Those He Sought to Save

“A California sailor who embarked on a solo voyage across the Pacific dedicated to saving the whales called off the effort . . . after an encounter with two whales,” reports The New York Times. The sailor, Michael Reppy, set out from San Francisco on his way to Yokohama, Japan. He was seeking to make record time in his 60-foot [18 m] ocean racer, Thursday’s Child, “to publicize the plight of captive whales.” But just one day out, two whales “blew by,” and the boat became difficult to control. “He found that the bottom of the rudder was gone, presumably knocked off by one of the passing whales,” says the Times. A previous attempt in 1997 “to draw attention to the plight of marine animals” ended when his boat capsized some 300 miles [500 km] from Tokyo.

DDT Kept Alive to Fight Malaria

“DDT, a pesticide which has been banned in Europe and the US for nearly 30 years, is likely to escape worldwide prohibition because of its effectiveness in eliminating the mosquitoes responsible for one of the world’s biggest killers—malaria,” reports the magazine BBC Wildlife. “Though DDT is a highly toxic compound proven to have a negative impact on wildlife, health campaigners say it is still one of the most important weapons against malaria, a disease which kills 2.7 million people a year and leaves up to 500 million chronically ill.” While supporting a ban on DDT for agricultural purposes, the World Health Organization argues that it should be used for malaria control until a safe and effective alternative can be developed.

The Turtles Are Back!

Conservationists were encouraged this year to see the highest mass nesting of Olive Ridley turtles on the east coast of India since the mid-1980’s. According to the environmental magazine Down to Earth, this was surprising because of the damage done to the coastline of the state of Orissa by a cyclone in 1999. This coastline is the world’s largest nesting site for these endangered creatures. Between March 13 and 20, over 1,230,000 turtles came up from the sea, and 711,000 of them laid eggs, even though 28,000 turtles were killed by fishing trawlers near the shore. Threats to the turtles come from various sources—wild pigs and dogs that eat the eggs, poachers who supply turtle flesh to those who consider it a delicacy, and trawlers that lack “turtle exclusion devices” on their nets.

Chernobyl Fallout

The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster “will cause 50,000 new cases of thyroid cancer among young people living in the worst-affected region,” says The Guardian of London. According to a World Health Organization report, over seven million people have been affected so far and the exact number may never be known. Three million children require treatment, and many will die prematurely. In Ukraine 73,000 people are said to be permanently disabled. About 23 percent of those involved in the cleanup operations were incapacitated, and one fifth of the forest in Belarus remains contaminated. In a foreword to the report, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said: “Chernobyl is a word we would all like to erase from our memory,” but “more than 7 m[illion] of our fellow human beings do not have the luxury of forgetting. They are still suffering, every day, as a result of what happened.”

Virtual Church

The Catholic archdiocese of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, plans to “introduce a computer network to provide the faithful with the chance to reflect, confess sins and seek pastoral advice online,” reports the Calgary Herald. Richard Osicki, director of communications for the archdiocese, hopes that the network will motivate many nominal Christians, about 75 percent of whom never attend church, to resume religious activity. “We’re opening up the church beyond the physical buildings. We’re saying you can communicate with God while you’re sitting in front of your computer,” he said.