By Sophia Yan @sophia_yan July 30, 2014: 1:51 AM ET HONG KONG (CNNMoney) A tainted meat scandal that originated in China is now starting to stink up McDonald’s sales. The fast food chain’s Japanese unit said Tuesday that it will fall short of profit and sales targets for the year, after a longtime meat […]Continue reading
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RFA ( Radio Free Asia) 2014-07-16 Twelve people are in hospital in Beijing after two mass suicide attempts apparently triggered by failure by the authorities to look into their grievances, including forced evictions, witnesses said. Five petitioners from the southwestern province of Guizhou on Wednesday attempted suicide in a Beijing police station by drinking pesticide […]Continue reading
By Sophie Brown, CNN July 18, 2014 — Updated 0230 GMT (1030 HKT) STORY HIGHLIGHTS Many register trademarks of well-known foreign brands in China to sell them for large sums Top Australian winemaker at center of legal dispute after failing to register Chinese name for its brand China’s trademark laws tend to favor so-called “trademark […]Continue reading
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By Connie Young, for CNN
June 30, 2014 — Updated 0456 GMT (1256 HKT)
- Jinan ‘baby hatch’ overwhelmed since opening on June 1
- Over 100 children abandoned, all had disabilities or medical conditions
- City has had to introduce new rules to reduce number of babies, children
- Babies must now be less than one year old, from the local area
The government-run orphanage in eastern China opened its first baby hatch on June 1, International Children’s Day, as a symbolic step to show the country’s commitment to improving child welfare.
However, it since proved so popular that authorities have had to introduce new rules to limit the number of babies and children being abandoned.
In just 11 days, 106 children, all with disabilities or medical conditions, were dropped off at the Jinan facility, according to local state media. That is more than the 85 orphans the city accepted the entire previous year.
In one reported case, a six-year-old girl was pushed out of a car in front of the hatch. In her pocket was $430 and a piece of paper with her birth date and time written on it, according to state media.
Waiting outside the hatch
CNN waited outside the hatch on a Tuesday afternoon to see how often it was being used.
The hatch is a small, detached room at the side of the orphanage, equipped with a crib, incubator and air conditioning. Once the child’s guardian leaves the hatch, the door locks and an alarm sounds, alerting staff to the anonymous drop.
In the first of two attempted drops, two men walked up to the hatch and started taking photos of a sign with detailed instructions on how to drop off a baby.
The instructions said that parents should leave a date of birth, as well as details of any medical conditions the child may have. It also asked people not to take any equipment from the hatch.
Half an hour later, the same two men pulled up in a silver hatchback with a woman in the back. Orphanage workers and guards scurried over to the car. The woman told them her baby had a congenital heart disease and they had no money to treat her.
The workers advised the woman to take her baby to the city hospital, which provides free medical services. If she could not be treated there, then she could bring the baby back, they said. The men quickly got back into the car drove away.
The second drop, only one hour later, involved a 21-year-old man from Sichuan, a province in southwestern China, who walked up the busy road, cradling a baby and a bag of belongings. As the man went to the hatch, orphanage staff and guards stood in his way, preventing him from opening the door. He walked back defeated, silent and stony-faced.
When CNN caught up to him, he broke down in tears, sobbing as he held his baby closer to his chest. His son, dressed in clean clothes and a bonnet, was sleeping. The young man said his baby had water on the brain.
“I just want to leave him there because with the state at least he has hope. We have no money. We’ve spent everything,” he said as he wept. The man walked back about a half a mile down the road where his uncle had parked after driving him to the hatch.
When asked why the orphanage would not accept the baby, the staff replied, “He’s not allowed. We have regulations. We only accept people from this city.”
The orphanage staff told the father to travel back to his hometown in Sichuan — more than 1,000 miles away on the other side of the country — to drop off his baby.
New rules imposed
The locals-only rule was applied soon after the hatch opened to try to limit numbers. Now, babies must also be less than one year old, and can only be dropped off between the hours of 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.
A handful of police, orphanage workers and volunteers stand guard at the hatch 24 hours a day, making it increasingly difficult for any parent to abandon a child anonymously.
The country is divided on the topic of hatches, with many believing that the government is condoning child abandonment and even encouraging it by opening hatches. Outside the hatch are prominently placed slogans condemning child abandonment, a reminder from the government that the practice is technically illegal, even though the provision of baby hatches amounts to turning a blind eye to that.
History of China’s hatches
The first pilot hatch was introduced in 2011. Now there are 32 across the country, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
“We had to find a more humane way to take in abandoned babies,” said Dr. Wang Zhenyao, one of the founders for China’s child welfare policy and a retired Ministry of Civil Affairs official.
“In reality, children were being thrown into trash cans, on the side of roads, in front of hospitals, or in front of the Ministry of Civil Affairs so we had to standardize it and regulate it.”
According to UNICEF, there were around 712,000 orphans in China in 2010, but child welfare groups believe that the number could be in the millions if you account for children in non-government orphanages and foster homes.
Unlike in the 1980s and 90s, when most abandoned babies were girls, now most suffer from a range of disabilities and medical conditions, such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, congenital heart disease, club feet and cleft lips.
Changing attitudes, improving welfare
Wang said baby hatches were a step in the right direction for the country, but acknowledged that changing mindsets and improving social welfare would pose a challenge in the years to come.
“If you don’t give up your child, then nobody will help you,” Wang told CNN. “But once you abandon your child, the government must take over.”
“This is not a good solution. Instead the government should step forward to subsidize parents and enable them to take care of their children. This is a simple truth that is hard to explain to society.”
According to Wang, China has only 10,000 social workers handling 100,000 abandoned children, a ratio of one social worker to ten orphans. In more developed nations, the ratio is normally two social welfare workers to every orphaned child, he said.
The Ministry of Civil Affairs seems to have recognized the problem and has set an ambitious target of increasing the number of social welfare workers to two million by 2015.
Until then, it’s likely the hatches will continue to be used by parents too poor or too overwhelmed to keep their children at home.
CNN’s CY Xu and Serena Dong contributed to this report.
CNN VIDEO: China’s Baby Hatches
By Shelby Lin Erdman, CNN
June 29, 2014 — Updated 0229 GMT (1029 HKT)
- Newlyweds in Pakistan are killed by the bride’s family over opposition to the wedding
- Police say the couple was lured back to the bride’s village, tied up and beheaded
- Family members turned themselves in after the murders and are now jailed
The couple, identified as Sajjad Ahmed, 26, and Muawia Bibi, 18, were married by a Pakistani court on June 18 against the wishes of the Bibi family, Punjab police official Mohammad Ahsanullah told CNN.
On Thursday, the bride’s father and uncles lured the couple back to the village of Satrah in Punjab province, where Ahsanullah said the pair were tied up and then decapitated.
Despite the fact that there were no outside witnesses, family members turned themselves in to police and are now jailed in the Sialkot district of Punjab, Ahsanulluh said.
Such killings often originate from tribal traditions in Pakistan and usually happen in rural areas. Human rights activists said bystanders, including police, don’t often interfere because the killings are considered to be family matters.
According to the United Nations, some 5,000 women are murdered by family members in honor killings every year.
However, women’s advocacy groups believe the crime is underreported and that the actual death toll from this all too common crime is actually much higher.
In Pakistan, 869 women were victims of honor killings last year, according to the country’s human rights commission.
Earlier in June, 18-year-old Saba Masqood was found left for dead inside of a sack in a canal in Pakistan, injured by gunfire. She accused her brother and father of shooting her because they didn’t approve of her marriage to a neighbor. She survived, but many aren’t so lucky.
Last month, the death of a pregnant Pakistani woman made headlines around the world.
Farzana Parveen, 25, was attacked with bricks by about 20 people, including members of her immediate family, police said. And her husband, Mohammad Iqbal, told CNN that he had killed his first wife six years ago so he could marry Parveen.
CNN VIDEO: Pakistani Honour Killing
BEIJING Fri Jun 27, 2014 5:11am EDT
(Reuters) – The Chinese Communist Party boss of the southern city of Guangzhou is being investigated for corruption, the party’s anti-corruption body said on Friday, the latest target of President Xi Jinping’s war on graft.
Wan Qingliang was suspected of “serious disciplinary violations”, the usual euphemism for graft, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said. It provided no other details and it was not possible to reach Wan for comment.
China is in the midst of a sweeping campaign against deep-rooted corruption launched by Xi after he became head of the Communist Party two years ago, warning the problem is so serious it threatens the party’s very survival.
The commission said the party had also expelled a former senior official in charge of the controversial petitioning system, accusing him of taking bribes, adultery and other violations of the law.
The system of petitions dates back to imperial times as a means for citizens to bring grievances to the attention of government officials by bypassing the legal system or authorities, especially at the local level.
The commission said Xu Jie, formerly deputy head of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, was responsible for a series of cases involving the bureau’s office that receives petitioners “severely violating party discipline and the law”.
An investigation found that Xu abused his position by demanding and receiving bribes, it said in a statement released in its website. Xu was also an adulterer, the commission added, without providing details. Party officials are supposed to be morally upstanding.
Xu will be handed over to judicial authorities and be dealt with “in accordance with the law”.
The southwestern province of Sichuan, which was a powerbase of the influential former domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang, has emerged as one of the front lines of the anti-corruption campaign.
Sources have told Reuters that Zhou has been put under virtual house arrest while the party conducts a graft probe, though Beijing has yet to make an announcement about his case.
The former party boss of the small Sichuan city of Ya’an was sacked for taking bribes, as well as having improper sexual relationships with married women, the commission said in a separate announcement on Friday.
This week, the largely ceremonial advisory body to parliament expelled a former senior Sichuan military official, Ye Wanyong, though it did not give a reason.
The military has been another target of the corruption fight. In March, China charged former senior army officer Gu Junshan with graft, in what is likely to be the country’s worst military scandal in years. [ID:nL4N0MS2O5]
Gu has been charged with corruption, taking bribes, misuse of public funds and abuse of power.
By Sophie Brown, CNN
June 26, 2014 — Updated 0948 GMT (1748 HKT)
- Woman in Northern Ireland finds note in garment, allegedly from Chinese prisoner
- Two other cases involving the same retailer have been reported in Wales in recent days
- Primark is investigating all three incidents, but says circumstances are suspicious
- Amnesty has documented prison labor camps in China in the past
(CNN) — A shopper in Northern Ireland may have gotten more than she bargained for when she reportedly discovered a chilling note stuffed in a pair of pants she purchased from European retailer, Primark.
Scrawled on a yellow piece of paper and wrapped around what appears to be a prison identification card, was a message claiming to be from an inmate at a Chinese prison making clothes for export under conditions of slave labor.
“We work 15 hours every day and eat food that wouldn’t even be fed to pigs and dogs. We’re (forced to) work like oxen,” the handwritten note said in Chinese.
The message appealed to the international community to “condemn these human rights abuses by the Chinese government.”
Tip of the iceberg?
Karen Wisinska, who lives in Northern Ireland’s Fermanagh county, said she bought the pants for about £10 ($16) on a trip to Belfast in 2011, but left the garment in her closet — unworn — after she discovered the zipper was broken.
She only found the note when she retrieved the item while packing for a holiday last week, she said. After getting a rough translation of the note, Wisinka sought help from Amnesty International, an organization that has documented the use of forced labor in Chinese detention facilities in the past.
“I was shocked to find this note and card inside the trousers from Primark and even more shocked to discover that it appears to have been made under slave labor conditions in a Chinese prison,” she told Amnesty.
“I am only sorry that I did not discover the note when I first purchased the clothing — then I could have brought this scandal to light much earlier.”
Broken by China’s labor camps CNN VIDEO: Broken by China’s Labour Camps
China under fire over labor camps CNN VIDEO: China Under Fire Over Labour Camps
Amnesty International’s Northern Ireland program director, Patrick Corrigan, described the story as “horrific.”
“It’s very difficult to know whether it’s genuine, but the fear has to be that this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Corrigan said.
Primark denied sourcing clothing made using forced labor in a statement Wednesday, noting the “considerable time delay” since the garment was purchased.
A spokesperson for the company said that particular line of pants was last sold in Northern Ireland in October 2009.
“We find it very strange that this … has come to light so recently, given that the trousers were on sale four years ago,” he said.
Since 2009, the company’s ethical standards team has carried out nine inspections of the supplier who made the garment, and found no prison or forced labor of any kind, the statement said.
Despite the company’s suspicions, the spokesperson said Primark “knows its responsibilities to the workers in its supply chain,” and has started a detailed investigation.
The company is also examining two other cases that have surfaced in Wales in recent days. On two separate occasions, women reportedly found desperate pleas sewn into labels on dresses purchased from the same Primark store in Swansea. One read “Forced to work exhausting hours,” while the other said, “Degrading sweatshop conditions.”
Primark said the circumstances surrounding the incidents were suspicious, since the labels looked very similar and the two garments were on sale around the same time, but they were made in two different countries, “many thousands of miles apart.”
The budget retailer was among a group of international brands that sourced from factories in Bangladesh’s Rana Plaza building, whichcollapsed in April 2013, killing more than 1,000 workers and injuring 2,500 others.
The company said it has paid over $12 million in aid and compensation to to support the victims of the disaster.
Forced laborin China
It’s not the first time western consumers have found distressing notes allegedly from abused workers in detention in China.
In 2011, a woman in the United States found a letter in a mix of broken English and Chinese inside a Halloween decoration purportedly from a inmate who made the object under abusive conditions. Last year, CNN tracked down a Chinese man who claimed he wrote the note, along with more than a dozen others, while at a labor camp in northeastern China.
Sears, the company that owned the store that sold the item, said it found “no evidence” that production was subcontracted to a labor camp during its investigation into the case, but added it no longer sourced from that supplier.
Until recently, China used hundreds of labor camps to detain petty offenders without a trial, under what was known as the laojiao — or “re-education through labor” — scheme. The system was criticized by human rights groups as a means to silence so-called trouble makers, including political dissidents, activists and Falun Gong members.
In November last year, Beijing said it would begin to close the camps. But Amnesty International has since warned that while the laojiao camps have been shut, research suggests that authorities have expanded the use of other forms of arbitrary detention such as “black jails,” enforced drug rehabilitation clinics and “brainwashing centers” to take their place.
CNN could not reach the Xiang Nan prison in China’s Hubei province, where the note found in Northern Ireland allegedly came from. The facility houses around 5,000 inmates, according to China’s justice ministry.
By Mallika Kapur, CNN
June 23, 2014 — Updated 0739 GMT (1539 HKT)
- Deaf and mute, nine-year-old Lakhan Kale was being cared for by his grandmother
- She tied him to a pole while she went to work selling trinkets on a Mumbai beachfront
- He now lives in a juvenile center but it’s not a home for children with special needs
- Mumbai’s suffering a severe shortage of care homes for children with disabilities
When I found out where the bus stop in question was, I was even more surprised. I pass by that area often. I’d never seen a young boy chained to a pole.
Had I passed by and just not noticed?
Like me, thousands of Mumbaikars didn’t see Lakhan Kale, who suffers from cerebral palsy, on the pavement.
According to the last census conducted in 2011, around 26.8 million people are in living with disabilities in India. That’s 2.2% of the population of more than 1.2 billion. Other bodies, including the World Bank, say the figure is much higher.
However, many of disabled people, like Lakhan, are allowed to quietly fade into the background in a populous country wracked by poverty where the worth and survival of many depends on their ability to work.
Let me tell you Lakhan’s story.
Life on the pavement
In addition to cerebral palsy, the general term for a group of neurological conditions that affect the body’s movement and coordination, Lakhan is deaf and mute. “He was fine when he was born, in fact he was a chubby baby,” his paternal grandmother Sakubai recalls. She says a few months later, Lakhan developed a high fever. “One night, he shook violently,” she says. “He was never the same again.”
Sakubai tears up when she talks to us about her grandson. We meet her at her home — a grimy stretch of pavement, right behind the bus stop. Desperately poor, this is where she lives. She sleeps here on a sari she spreads onto the ground. She eats here, buying food from a street vendor when she can afford to.
She is Lakhan’s only caretaker. She tells us his father passed away four years ago. His mother deserted them. His older sister ran away. For a long time, it was just Sakubai and her grandson living, eating, sleeping and surviving together on the pavement.
She may be in her 70s, but Sakubai still works to earn a meager living selling small toys and trinkets on Chowpatty, a popular beachfront in the heart of Mumbai.
She says she had no choice but to tie him to a pole. “He is deaf so he would not be able to hear traffic coming. If he ran onto the road, he’d get killed,” she says. “See, it’s a long rope,” Sakubai says, as she shows me the frayed cloth she would use to tie Lakhan’s leg. I notice many of them, tied to different poles.
Lakhan is not alone
There are many children like Lakhan in Mumbai, says Meena Mutha, a social worker. Mutha’s been involved with his case since the end of May. Lakhan was taken into care after a photographer published his photo in the local newspaper. A police constable saw it and asked Mutha to intervene.
“When I saw him first, I did feel he needs help. He needs a home,” Mutha recalls. Since his grandmother is already 70 years old, he could be without a caretaker in five or 10 years, she says. He needed somewhere secure to stay.
Unable to find a shelter that looks after children with special needs, Mutha took him to a government-run juvenile center in Mumbai. Lakhan is there now but Mutha isn’t happy because it’s not a home for children with special needs.
And that’s the problem, Mutha says. There’s a serious shortage of residential facilities for children with disabilities in Mumbai.
The superintendent of the facility, S. A. Jadhav says Lakhan is being well looked after but he too is trying to find him a more suitable home. According to Jadhav, there is only one shelter for children with special needs in Mumbai and he can’t get Lakhan a spot there because that too is severely overcrowded.
CNN attempted several times to contact the minister responsible for women and children’s affairs in Mumbai, Varsha Gaikwad, but received no response. Her office is a short walk away from bus stop 59 where Lakhan was found.
Poverty and disability are dangerous combinations, says Dr. Shabnam Rangwala, who works with Able Disable People Together (ADAPT), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to create an inclusive disability-friendly India.
Those who can afford to give their children or family members the care they need, do so. Those who can’t, end up like Lakhan; on the streets, with no recourse to social services, invisible to the public.
CNN VIDEO:Disabled Boy Tied to Bus Stop
By Connie Young, for CNN
June 23, 2014 — Updated 0359 GMT (1159 HKT)
- Yulin’s annual dog meat festival draws controversy
- Animal rights advocates want people to stop eating dog meat
- Defenders say eating dog meat is like eating beef
Yulin, China (CNN) — A mob of people have surrounded a group of animal rights activists protesting in the busiest open market in town. It’s the eve of Yulin’s annual dog meat festival, a tradition that dates back generations to celebrate the summer solstice.
Arguments ensue among those living in the city and the people who condemn the tradition. “Don’t you eat beef? If you stop eating beef, then we’ll stop eating dog meat,” yells one man frustrated with the intense media scrutiny in the Dong Kou open market, where an array of birds, snakes, cats and livestock are sold as daily fresh fare.
Dozens of journalists, filmmakers and photographers have come to the city in China’s southeast Guangxi province to document an event that lies at the center of a battle between deeply-ingrained tradition and the encroachment of the modern world. Activists say dogs are part of the daily diet here, with an estimated 10,000 dogs killed for the festival alone.
Ask a local when the tradition of eating dog meat began and you’ll likely be met with a dumbfounded expression — it is akin to asking someone when people started eating beef. For many in the city, eating dog meat is a hard habit to break, despite changing attitudes about the treatment of animals in China.
Another man at the market criticizes the media attention for increasing the price of dog meat, which has doubled since 2011 and now goes for $6 a kilogram.
In one stall, a butcher places a gutted and skinned dog on a wired sheath and uses a blow torch to cook a delicacy known to locals as “crispy skin dog meat.” As the shop owner butchers a another piece of dog, flecks of flesh flick onto her face. She tells CNN she’s been in the trade for over 10 years.
“This is our tradition and we are used to eating dog. It’s our culture and we won’t change … It’s tasty! But we won’t kill our pet,” she says, referring to her own dog who is cowering in the other side of the shop. Her dog tucks his head under a freezer, shielding his eyes from the carcasses of the dogs and cats hanging from hooks.
Signs around the market adorned with pictures of labradors and golden retrievers advertise raw dog meat for sale, despite new government regulations that restrict this practice.
Du Yufeng, a 58-year-old animal rights activists from Sichuan in southwest China, has made it her mission to stop dog meat consumption across China. Her protest in 2011 successfully ended the dog meat festival in Jinhua, in Zhejiang province — and she has now turned her attention to Yulin. It’s her fourth year protesting at the festival, and while dog meat continues to be a tourist attraction for the city, Du feels that there is growing awareness of animal rights in this city of six million people.
“I feel like we’ve had a lot of improvement in public awareness. The first time we came here in 2011 all you could hear were dogs wailing as soon as you entered into the city,” Du says, as she picks off ticks from the scruff of a black dog she rescued that morning.
“The biggest change is that the word dog on street signs have to be covered. This means the government has become aware that this needs to be canceled. Many people also realize that eating dog is not an honorable thing,” adds Du.
Du is one of over 20 volunteers who have descended upon the city from the far reaches of China, to boycott the festival. Many run dog and cat shelters in their hometowns and have spent their life savings to rescue abandoned and diseased animals. But canceling the annual Yulin festival is now their main objective.
Another activist, Zhao Yangsu,said this is her first year protesting against the Yulin dog meat festival. The soft spoken 59-year old, who came to the city from Chongqing, says she’s spent her retirement money, roughly $1,000, to save dogs — a fact she’s reluctant to share with her children. She and another volunteer operate from makeshift shelter on the corner of a street in Yulin, only a block from where live dogs are traded on a daily basis.
Though she has come here to fight for the rights of these animals, she’s pessimistic about any meaningful change here.
“I have no hope that these people will change and our ability to make change is not significant enough,” Zhao says. “We have to go through the government to create some laws to protect these animals, but there are no laws and our ability to do anything is insignificant.”
Yang Yuhua, a 64-year-old retired steel worker, has also spent her life savings protecting street dogs and cats in Chongqing, and now she says she doesn’t even have money to charge her phone. Yang was cradling a dead puppy when CNN arrived at the makeshift shelter. She says the puppy was born after they had rescued a pregnant dog and this one did not make it. Almost all the dogs appeared injured, disfigured and diseased.
“What we need the most now is medicine, but it’s the most expensive thing,” Yang says as as she tears up. Many of the dogs in her care are in desperate need of antibiotics to fight off infection, but the volunteers don’t know where to find them in the city.
Together, the activists say they’ve saved more than 400 dogs this year alone in Yulin — yet this number will be dwarfed by the number of animals likely to be slaughtered for food at the festival. Asked what makes this different from eating beef or pork, Du Yunfeng’s answer is unequivocal.
“You cannot categorically say that all animals should either be eaten or not eaten,” she says.
“Every animal has their its own value and worth. For example, grass-eating animals are meant to be supplied to humans. But these companion animals, such as dogs and cats, they are meant to contribute to human production — such as drug-sniffing dogs or watch dogs,
“So eating these animals compared to eating pork and lamb are two different things. Their value is not the same.”
CNN VIDEO:Canine Controversy
By Sophie Brown, CNN
June 21, 2014 — Updated 0508 GMT (1308 HKT)
- U.S. says Thailand isn’t doing enough to fight human trafficking
- Thailand could face sanctions as a result of State Department’s annual report
- Thailand’s ambassador to the U.S. says “significant efforts” have been made to tackle problem
- Countries need to show “results” not only promises, State Department says
(CNN) — Ever since Myo’s head was smashed into a block of ice he’s had trouble hearing. The Burmese man, whose name has been changed for his safety, was on a fishing boat in Thailand last year when it happened.
He had left Myanmar, also known as Burma, thinking he was going to work in a factory processing pineapple. But when he arrived in Thailand, he says, his recruiters sold him to a boat captain for the equivalent of around $430. After being held on the vessel for 10 months, working against his will and suffering regular beatings, he finally managed to escape.
Myo’s story features in the United States’ latest report on countries efforts to fight modern slavery around the world. It echoes numerous other accounts told by trafficking survivors to international media and human rights groups in Thailand in recent years.
Many are foreign migrants who report being forced into labor or prostitution; some face physical abuse or even death. The lucky ones escape or know someone who can pay the exorbitant price for their release.
For four years the U.S. State Department has warned Thailand that it hasn’t been doing enough to combat human trafficking. It said the country was a source, transit point and destination for trafficking, with ethnic minorities and citizens of neighboring countries at particular risk of exploitation in the sex trade and forced labor.
In the State Department’s 2012 and 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, Thailand faced relegation to the worst category, but received waivers based on a plan to bring itself into compliance with minimum standards for eliminating trafficking.
On Friday, when the State Department released its 2014 report, it automatically downgraded Thailand to the lowest possible ranking, after the country reached its limit of waivers and failed to show significant improvement.
Now, the Southeast Asian nation shares the “Tier 3″ category with 22 other countries, putting it on par with the likes of North Korea, Syria and the Central African Republic.
Sihasak Phuangketkheow, the permanent secretary to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the move “a great disappointment.”
“I do know that Thailand has been doing much better than those countries in that category,” he said. “So I ask U.S. whether Thailand should be in that category.”
Sihasak said Thailand will continue efforts to tackle this problem.
The downgrade means Thailand could see the withdrawal of non-humanitarian U.S. assistance, and its opposition to funding from international institutions like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Although anti-trafficking advocates, like the Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, believe the U.S. is unlikely to impose such sanctions in practice to preserve security, and economic ties between the two nations.
Thai authorities acknowledge there is a problem. “Human trafficking is one of the worst forms of human indignity and Thailand is committed to eliminating this inhumane exploitation,” the Thai Ambassador to the United States, Vijavat Isarabhakdi, said in a recent press statement.
But he insisted significant progress has been made in tackling the issue, and that efforts made in 2013 exceeded the State Department’s criteria for an upgrade.
“We’re not doing it just because it might impact our trade … we think that it’s a scourge that needs to be eradicated in Thailand and other countries,” Isarabhakdi told CNN.
He pointed to the number of trafficking convictions — 225 defendants were convicted in 2013, over four times more than the previous year. The government took legal action against more than 150 illegal labor recruitment companies for alleged corruption, forced labor, human trafficking and smuggling. The police carried out over 28,000 police inspections in workplaces suspected of being used for commercial sex and forced labor, he said.
“So in total, I think that we’ve been doing a lot, but we acknowledge the fact that much more needs to be done,” he added.
Yet Thailand’s law enforcement efforts remain “insufficient” compared to the size of the issue, the State Department said.
“In Thailand, we have a lot of beginnings that will hopefully come to fruition, but the report doesn’t look at promises, it looks at results,” said Luis CdeBaca, the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. “In this coming year, we hope we’ll see success with the new round of cases that there have been some arrests in. We’re seeing some good numbers from police, but what happens when the prosecutors get the cases? What happened when the judges hear the cases?”
Prostitution, slavery at sea
Two of the biggest areas of concern are sex trafficking, and forced labor, especially in the fishing industry.
The majority of Thai victims identified during 2013 were found in the country’s billion dollar sex industry, according to the State Department. The exact number of women and children exploited through prostitution in Thailand is unknown, but estimates from researchers and non-profit groups put the figure in the tens of thousands. Victims are subject to sex trafficking in venues that cater to local demand, along with establishments in tourist hubs like Bangkok and Chiang Mai that cater to foreigners, the State Department said.
Thailand is also the world’s third-largest exporter of seafood. A 2013 study published by the U.N.’s International Labor Organization (ILO) found that 17% of around 600 fishermen in Thailand said they worked against their will and were unable to leave for threat of financial penalties, the threat of violence or being reporting to authorities. Around six in 10 migrants who had been forced to work on Thai fishing boats said they had seen the murder of another worker, according to a 2009 survey from the U.N. Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking.
According to the State Department, Thailand’s efforts to address trafficking are being hampered by “corruption at all levels.” Some corrupt officials have even protected brothels and food processing facilities from raids and inspections, the TIP report said. Police officers at the local and national level, who had been assigned to regions notorious for trafficking, formed protective relationships with traffickers. Immigration officials and police have allegedly sold migrants who were unable to pay labor brokers and sex traffickers, according to the report.
“There are cases of suspected corruption, and in all the cases, investigations have been or are being carried out,” Ambassador Isarabhakdi said. “At least 33 police officers and also five high-ranking police officials were, or are being, punished under the civil or criminal processes. So many of the cases are still in the process but many have been punished already.”
The State Department acknowledged Thailand has improved its system for collecting anti-trafficking data, but says authorities have demonstrated little effort in addressing reports of debt bondage among foreign migrants in commercial sectors, and have not made “sufficient efforts” to proactively identify trafficking victims.
It also warned that the use of harsh criminal defamation laws to prosecute those who researched or reported on trafficking “may have discouraged efforts” to combat the practice.
Rohingya asylum seekers
One particular area of concern, according to the State Department, are reports of trafficking of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority — many of whom have fled ethnic and religious violence in the country in recent years and pass through neighboring countries, including Thailand. They are among those most vulnerable to being trafficked, the State Department says.
“We’re concerned about the Rohingya — the refugees and asylum seekers. We are concerned that some of them have been subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor,” said CdeBaca. “We want the Thai government to investigate and duly address those things.”
But when Thailand submitted its 2013 trafficking data to the United States for the Trafficking in Persons project in March, officials said they found no evidence that Rohingya were victims of trafficking, because their transit through Thailand was voluntary. This conflicted with reports from local NGOs and media groups: At least 40,000 ethnic Rohingya and Bangladeshis passed through trafficking camps in Thailand in 2013, according to Chris Lewa, director of the human rights group, the Arakan Project. Although she points out that it’s a rough estimate because it’s difficult to trace every single migrant boat.
On Friday, the Thai Ambassador to the U.S. told CNN that while most of the Rohingya cases involved willful smuggling, towards the end of the reporting period, December 2013, there were cases of trafficking also.
“Those cases are being investigated and will be dealt with in next year’s report I’m sure,” he said.
Thailand is not alone in struggling to demonstrate it is serious about fighting trafficking. Malaysia, its southern neighbor, has also been downgraded to Tier 3 in this year’s report, and all other nations it shares borders with remain on the State Department’s watch list.
Countries like Thailand and Malaysia will need to show “results” if they want to get off the State Department’s list next year, CdeBaca said.
CNN’s Leif Coorlim contributed to this report.
By Will Ripley and Edmund S. Henry, CNN
June 20, 2014 — Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
- Male colleagues heckled assemblywoman Ayaka Shiomura
- They interrupted her with comments urging her to get married
- They also questioned whether she could bear children.
Male colleagues heckled Your Party member Ayaka Shiomura on Wednesday during a Tokyo assembly meeting. They interrupted her with comments urging her to get married and questioning whether she could bear children.
Shiomura had taken the stage to urge the Tokyo Metropolitan government to increase efforts to support women. Citing recent regulations that require mothers to fold up their strollers when boarding a train, she outlined struggles Japanese women face when dealing with pregnancy and raising a child due to lack of public support.
She also addressed the issue of infertility.
However, she was interrupted by a male member of the ruling LDP who shouted, “You should get married!”
Shiomura smiled weakly and continued amid male laughter.
A second outburst, “Can you even bear a child?” followed as tears welled up in her eyes and her voice began to break.
When she sat down after her speech, she was seen drying her eyes with a handkerchief. Later, she posted on Facebook that the outbursts were like “a punch in the gut” and called on the hecklers to come forward.
Backlash ensued, with television pundits debating the incident and women lawmakers demanding the names of those responsible be released.
Sexism in common in the nation’s workplace, and there have been concerns that Japan’s fertility rate will continue to drop as more women choose careers instead of marriage and children.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has attempted to fill a gender gap in the workplace through “Womenomics,” but men still hold the majority of positions of authority and command greater salaries.
Men in Japan earn 30% more than their female counterparts, according to statistics cited by Abe during an editorial last year announcing the launch of “Womenomics.”
Statistics from the National Personnel Authority show just 3% of women are managers in Japan’s central government, a number the Prime Minister has said is too low.
The goal is to increase that number to 30% by the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, Abe has said.
CNN VIDEO – Sexist Outburst
The Associated Press
Published Wednesday, June 18, 2014 9:14AM EDT
BEIJING — Residents in a southern Chinese city that has come under fire for an annual summer solstice festival in which thousands of dogs are slaughtered for food have held their feasts early to avoid attention.
Some residents of Yulin started gathering last weekend and eating dog meat and lychees to celebrate the longest day of the year, ahead of Saturday’s actual solstice, state media reported this week. The residents wanted to avoid protests by animal rights activists.
In recent years, the festival has been targeted by activists who have drummed up public awareness of the event with posts on social media and online petitions, and descended on the city to protest outside slaughterhouses or markets where the dogs are sold.
The public uproar reflects the increasing affluence of ordinary Chinese, who keep pets, travel overseas and are changing attitudes toward traditions they may not have questioned before.
Photos on state media showed groups of Yulin city residents tucking into plates of meat and vegetables around dining tables strewn with lychees. Other photos, which circulated widely on Chinese microblogs, were of skinned, cooked dogs hanging from hooks at street stalls or piled on tables.
Under the Yulin tradition, eating dog and lychee and drinking liquor on the solstice is supposed to make people stay healthy during winter. It is unclear if the supposed health benefits diminish if the feast occurs before the actual solstice.
Animal rights activists say the event is a public health risk because the dogs undergo no quarantine to ensure they are free of disease, and that they are strays grabbed off streets around the country, as well as allegedly stolen from pet owners. The dogs are often poisoned with toxic chemicals that could be harmful to humans, they say.
Deng Yidan, an activist with Animals Asia, said the public backlash hurts the image of Yulin and China.
“Negative coverage is growing — dog theft, criminal activities, food hygiene issues, and rabies fears — not to mention the division in society between those for and against the festival — together these have brought significantly more negative publicity to Yulin than economic benefits,” Deng said in a statement.
The Yulin government has sought to distance itself from the feasting, saying it is not officially endorsed. State media reports say the government told restaurants to remove references to dog meat from their menus and signboards — though it did not bar the sale and consumption of the meat, which is not illegal in China.
The government has denied the formal existence of such a festival, saying it is a culinary habit practiced only by some businesses and people.
Public pressure stopped another dog meat festival, in eastern Zhejiang province, which was cancelled in 2011 despite dating back hundreds of years.
Radio Free Asia -
An editorial in the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s official newspaper taking aim at Japan amid an ongoing row over the 1937 Nanjing massacre has drawn fire from netizens and political commentators, who have linked its hard-hitting headline to the 1989 military crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protests.
The signed People’s Daily commentary titled “Japan’s gangster logic: We can massacre a city, but you can’t speak out,” had been intended as a well-aimed blow at Tokyo, which last week urged Beijing to call off its bid to have papers linked to the “Rape of Nanjing” listed as world heritage documents by the United Nations.
Instead, the headline drew scores of satirical comments and verbal abuse from China’s netizens on popular social media sites on Monday.
“So is this the case with Tiananmen Square in Beijing?” Sina Weibo user @ELLA_yan commented on a tweet that highlighted the article.
“The Japs were evil because their gangster logic targeted another country; and that other country is evil because its gangster logic targets its own people,” wrote user @jiazhouzaixian.
And user @freeleewei added: “If you didn’t know, you might think we were talking about 1989, not 1937.”
Other users complained about the often violent treatment meted out by local governments by those during forced evictions, while some described both governments as “fascist” and “as bad as each other.”
Others were quick to poke fun at what they perceived to be a political blunder on the part of the People’s Daily.
“Has the People’s Daily shot itself in the foot?” quipped user @liuxu2009, while @Adachushengzaimeiguo wrote: “The stupid c***s have shot themselves in the foot again!”
Meanwhile user @gedeengecaixiang “chuckled,” adding: “They made a mistake with the headline, which should have read ‘You can massacre a city, but I’m not allowed to speak out?'”
Earlier this month, Beijing extended a massive censorship operation to target popular social media sites, banning keyword searches linked to the 1989 Tiananmen Square military crackdown 25 years ago and a mass vigil in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park.
The party’s powerful but secretive central propaganda ministry also issued censorship instructions to the country’s tightly controlled media, ordering editors to avoid any reference to June 4 or 1989.
On the popular Twitter-like service Sina Weibo and similar social media sites, censors quickly located and deleted posts containing the banned terms, while large numbers of accounts and chat groups were shut down, users said.
Keywords like “June 4, 1989″ and “6.4” are often blocked to China’s 620 million Internet users, who find ever more ingenious ways to elude censorship.
Netizens have used terms such as “Something Something Square” and “May 35th” to get around the blocks and filters, although “May 35th” began to be blocked for the first time last month.
Former top Communist Party aide Bao Tong, who has been under house arrest at his Beijing home since serving a seven-year jail term in the wake of the 1989 crackdown, said the paper had touched on a “universal truth.”
“There shouldn’t be a double standard [in such matters],” Bao said in an interview on Sunday after returning from forced “vacation” outside Beijing under police escort during the 25th anniversary of the June 4,1989 bloodshed.
“Neither the Japanese nor the Chinese should get away with massacres,” Bao said. “The commentator was right; it is gangster logic, regardless of who is being massacred.”
“This article should get some kind of prize,” he said.
China says 300,000 people died as advancing Japanese troops rampaged through the city, while an international military tribunal in 1948 estimated that more than 200,000 Chinese were killed.
Beijing recently applied to have its historical archives on the massacre and the widespread forcing of “comfort women” into prostitution admitted to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
Contemporary reports said at least 20,000 women and girls were raped, amid reports of other widespread atrocities including torture.
Numbers still unclear
Japan has acknowledged that the massacre took place, though its historians say Beijing has inflated the figures.
However, the number of people killed when People’s Liberation Army (PLA) troops moved their tanks into Beijing, opening fire on civilians and putting a bloody end to weeks of peaceful, student-led protest on Tiananmen Square, remains a mystery.
Beijing authorities once put the death toll at “nearly 300,” but has never issued an official toll or list of names, and has always maintained that the violence was necessary to end the unrest.
The leadership has also ignored growing calls for a public reappraisal of the 1989 student protests, which the party styled a “counterrevolutionary rebellion.”
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.