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Real Issues No. 325 - Slavery, Life, Philanthropy

Real Issues No. 325 - Slavery, Life, Philanthropy

Maxim Institute - real issues - No. 325 30 October 2008 www.maxim.org.nz

'Liberty to the captives' The distortion of life Philanthropy in the 'Me Generation'

IN THE NEWS Thirteen years of house arrest Democracy losing popularity?

'Liberty To The Captives'

We tend to think of slavery as a dead beast, the horrible but remote preserve of colonialism and period films, belonging to a shadowy, and thankfully distant, past. But a recent legal decision in West Africa reminds us that not just the shadow, but the reality of slavery is still very much with us in the shameful practices of forced marriage, indentured bondage, trafficking and traditional caste systems, which perpetuate 'slave classes.'

Hadijatou Mani was sold into slavery at the age of 12, for the equivalent of around 700 dollars. She was kept in servitude for ten years, according to Anti-Slavery International. Abused by her master, she had three children by him, and was kept in slavery until becoming aware of Niger's 2003 anti-slavery law. She embarked on a complicated legal battle stretching from local courts in Niger all the way to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). After several legal reversals and a spell in prison simply for marrying the man of her choice, Hadijatou Mani has finally been declared free. Her master, who claimed under customary law to be married to her once she was liberated, has no claim on her, and Niger has now been ordered to pay her compensation.

The story of Hadijja Mani highlights several major issues. Niger has been attempting to honour the call of human rights and liberate those enslaved, and the rule of law has prevailed in this case -- a step forward for dignity and humanity. But sadly slavery remains prevalent. Human trafficking, forced marriage, sexual exploitation, some forms of child labour and indentured servitude are all identified by Anti-Slavery International as modern forms of exploitation in countries as diverse as Nepal and Argentina. Even in modern democracies the problem of trafficking is rearing its ugly head.

Liberties of body, mind and conscience belong to all of us by virtue of our basic human dignity. But the battle for a dignified freedom, the struggle against unjustified and sometimes ancient oppressions, continues. It is the challenge of each new generation to take up the torch for freedom, dignity and basic human rights, to call power to heed the call of justice. This too is an ancient fight, and it is one every generation is called to win.

Read a briefing on the ECOWAS case http://www.antislavery.org/archive/briefingpapers/Niger_case_at_ECOWAS.pdf

Read more about modern slavery http://www.antislavery.org/index.htm


The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (HFE) has passed its final vote in the British House of Commons, 355 votes to 129. The Bill, introduced to amend the existing law in response to rapid advances in technology, will now become the primary legislation regulating the science and ethics of reproductive laws in Britain. The changes introduced by this law are many and varied and for an area of law intended to improve and assist the creation of human life, there is instead much distortion and destruction of life.

The law discounts the importance of fatherhood by removing an existing provision in the law requiring the consideration of 'the need of that child for a father' before a woman is given fertility treatment. This retraction makes it easier for single women or lesbian couples to create an embryo without reference or regard to the father. Such law dismisses the clear evidence of the unique and irreplaceable role fathers play, placing children in the tragic position of never knowing the two halves that have created their identity.

The law includes a category of 'permitted embryos,' making a distinction between what can be created and what can be used. 'Inter-species embryos' -- embryos formed by mixing human and animal gametes -- may now be created, but must not be implanted in a woman, or kept for longer than fourteen days. Embryo screening may be used more liberally, allowing embryos to be discarded for a wider range of reasons. The use of 'tissue typing,' a practice more commonly known as 'saviour siblings,' will allow parents to select an embryo for the purposes of saving an older child, while a weakened restriction now means an embryo can be tested and discarded due to the risk of a 'serious' disease, rather than one considered 'life threatening.' The arguments over this undefined phrase have already begun -- should this include deafness, or a cleft palate, or the risk of a limp? Amendments to the abortion law, which would have seen abortion made simpler and easier, and administered at home by nurses, were not passed in the final stages of Parliament.

The passing of this new law, which has been well received by many scientists in Britain, further illustrates a culture of treating life carelessly which has emerged in the West. In 2004 184,409 embryos were created in Britain, while only 7,123 of these eventuated in a live birth. We readily create and dispose of embryos, thoughtlessly disposing of any made in excess, even where a child is desperately wanted. We measure the value of life based on perfection, or utility, or the elimination of uncomfortable factors. Yet in doing so we fail to appreciate the true value that each and every person inherently holds, and the preciousness and beauty that is simply human life.

Read the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200708/ldbills/006/2008006.pdf


The common assumption that wealth corrupts is being challenged somewhat by a culture of philanthropy emerging among some young people. An article published in the Times newspaper this week, suggests that the 'Me Generation' is not an accurate depiction of young people in the United States or Britain, many of whom have a social conscience and engage in philanthropy. The article profiles a number of young people who have inherited great wealth and chosen to use their resources to establish trusts or fund charities. This is heartening news that demonstrates an enduring understanding of people's connectivity and responsibility to one another.

One of the young women profiled in the article gave away her entire inheritance of US$3.5 million in order to support poor women in Boston, establishing a foundation called Chahara. Another 25 year old man founded a charity that 'promotes sustainable educational ventures in Africa and the developing world,' using money he received from the sale of a school his father founded. The young man says he 'liked the idea that the sale of his school could spawn a new generation of schools around the world.'

With the economic world precariously perched and the debate over global warming on many lips, there is a tendency to believe that materialism is an unstoppable force feeding ever-increasing greed. It is heartening to see that contrary to this belief, responsibility and connectedness have resilience, with young people continuing to emerge who take their resources and their privilege seriously.

Read the Times article http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article5025103.ece



On Friday 24 October, 63 year old Aung San Suu Kyi, the daughter of a famous independence fighter, will have spent thirteen years under house arrest in Burma. Aung San Suu Kyi was educated at Oxford before returning to Burma and involving herself in the democracy movements of the late 1980s. In 1990, while campaigning for freedom and democracy, she was put under house arrest which she has been in and out of ever since. In the elections that followed, her party, the National League for Democracy, won 82 percent of the seats in parliament, but the military junta did not recognise the results. Aung San Suu Kyi received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and continues to live under house arrest.

Read more about Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/


A new report from the Economist Intelligence Unit suggests that democracy is ceasing to expand internationally. While many countries still rate as being highly democratic (including, of course, New Zealand) there has been little movement in the uptake of democracy in countries under 'authoritarian' or 'hybrid' regimes. In addition to this, some of the world's model democracies, including the UK and the US, have been rated as being less democratic than in previous studies. In the UK this is the result of a lessening degree of 'political participation.' The report also questions to what degree government intervention as a result of the global credit crisis will further degrade democratic rule.

Read The Economist Intelligence Unit's Index of Democracy 2008 http://graphics.eiu.com/PDF/Democracy%20Index%202008.pdf


'Freedom must constantly be won over for the cause of good.'

Pope Benedict XVI

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