Asya Speaks Out

hills

Photo by Sue Vincent

The magnificent view of the snow-capped mountains and surrounding beautiful landscape which usually filled Asya with peace failed to do so this morning.   There was political uncertainty in Sweden as the anti-immigrant party made historic gains in Sunday’s election.  There was talk of refugees and immigrants being sent back to their countries by those who had no regard for what awaited them.   She knew firsthand what it was like to be torn from the country of refuge and returned to your country of origin.

At the age of 15, her parents took her back to Turkey after she finished ninth grade to marry a man 20 years her senior.  They had three children.  Those were the worst years of her life and she dreamed of returning to Sweden.  Fifteen years later, after her husband died in a work related accident, she returned to Stockholm with the children.

It was a shock for her when she recently saw the brochure offering tips to those who were married to children.  Enraged, she wrote an article on the horrors of child marriage, her own experience and why Sweden needed to be very clear that it wouldn’t tolerate such a practice.  It needed to protect the welfare of its immigrant population and stop worrying about being culturally insensitive.

It was a two page article in which she concluded, “I urge you to think about Beeta, the teenage girl who was murdered by her husband after they arrived here from Iran.  If we hadn’t been so concerned with offending a culture which fosters a practice which, in my opinion, is criminal, she may still be alive.  Instead of being concerned with the culture, protect the individual.  We need to be more responsible for the immigrants whom we let into the country and afford them the same rights and protection regardless of whether or not they are ethically Swedish.”  Her article was published in Stockholm News and was very well received.  Many shared her views and Twitter went viral, calling for the government to do something to end child marriage in a country known for its commitment to child welfare.

Asya turned now to look at the shelter she ran for victims of honor-based violence and oppression.  Most of them were the same ages as her daughters.  She determined that she would continue to fight for them and those who weren’t in her care.  Unlike the politicians and the government, she was going to be morally sensitive to the victims of forced marriages and speak out because as long as child marriage exists it will stand in the way of gender equality.  She had to do this for Beeta and others like her.

Marriage is for adults, not for children.  Children have the right to be children.

This story is based on true events.  Sweden struggles over child marriage and many are calling for the rights of children of foreign backgrounds to be protected.

This story is in response to the Thursday Photo Prompt – Turning for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo.

Sources:  The Guardian; PsychologyPolitico; Express

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Cai

Friday Fictioneers sep 7, 2018

Photo by Gah Learner

Cai stared at the moon as it hung low over the horizon.  Sleep eluded her.  Her husband, Huan was in Myanmar investigating the Rohingya massacre.  Five days had passed since she last heard from him.  She constantly checked her emails and cell for messages but nothing was forthcoming.

A knock on the door jolted her.  Heart racing, she answered it.  It was Kang, Huan’s brother.  “Have you heard from Huan?  Is he all right?”

“He’s in jail.”

“Jail?” 

“Yes.  For seven years.”

“I must do something.”

“Like what?”

“Ask the Myanmar government for mercy.”

Hours later, she was on Television.

100 Words

This post was inspired by the true story of two Myanmar journalists who were sentenced to seven years in prison for investigating violence against Rohingyas.  Their wives were on television asking for mercy.

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For  more details, visit Here.   To read stories of 100 words based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Source:  DW; CNN

The Plants

ronda-del-boccio

PHOTO PROMPT © Ronda Del Boccio

 

“Where did you get these strange plants from?” Wei asked.

Sue tried not to panic.  “They are gifts.”  Why does Wei have to be so nosy?  And why is she here instead of at the market?

“Who gave them to you?”

“A friend, I think.  I don’t remember.”

“You don’t remember who gave you these ugly plants?” Wei sounded skeptical.

“Wei, aren’t you going to the market?”

“Oh, yes.  I’d better leave now.”  She scurried off.

Once the coast was clear, Sue went over to the plants and removed the Bibles.  It was time to find new hiding places.

99 Words

This story was inspired by an article I read about China shutting down churches and seizing Bibles in an “ambitious new effort to lessen or even eradicate the influence of Christianity and religion from the country”.  So far, the government has shut down hundreds of Christian house churches.

According to Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, “Xi is a closet Maoist—he is very anxious about thought control.  He definitely does not want people to be faithful members of the church because then people would profess their allegiance to the church rather than to the party, or more exactly to Xi himself.”  Faithful Christians would rather obey God than men and will do so even if it costs them their lives.

This was written for the Friday Fictioneers challenge hosted by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields.  For more details, visit Here.  To read stories of 100 words based on this week’s prompt, visit Here.

Jesus’s Birth

For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder.  And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – Isaiah 9:6

Jesus’ birth didn’t happen exactly as one would expect.  Matthew tells us how it came about.  Mary, Jesus’ mother was a virgin.  In fact, Matthew makes a point of showing that in having Jesus, Mary was fulfilling prophecy.  “Now all this occurred to fulfill what the Lord had spoken through the prophet, saying,  “A virgin shall be with child, and will bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is interpreted, “God with us.”

Mary was engaged to a carpenter named Joseph.  It was around that time that she was found with child by the Holy Spirit.  Matthew doesn’t go into the details as to how her pregnancy came about but Luke does.  The angel Gabriel visited her to tell her that she was highly favored and blessed among women.  She was told that she would have a Son and call His name Jesus.  He explained how this would happen seeing that she was still a virgin.  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

It is not a surprising  thing for the Holy Spirit to create life in Mary.  He was part of the creation of the world where things that didn’t exist came into existence.  Jesus’ birth was to be different from the rest of humanity’s.  He was to be both Divine and Human and this could only be accomplished the way Gabriel explained.

At the risk of ruining her reputation and even her life, Mary agreed to the Lord’s plan for her life.  In those days, if a woman betrothed to another  man was discovered to be pregnant and the child was not the man’s whom she is promised to in marriage, she could be stoned to death for committing adultery.  And this is what was weighing on Joseph’s mind when he found out that Mary was pregnant and knew that it wasn’t his child.

Joseph was a decent man.  He didn’t want to publicly expose Mary but he couldn’t go through with their impending marriage.  He had to break things off quietly.  No doubt his sleep was fitful and it was while he was thinking this predicament, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for He who is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  She will bear a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.”

What a relief that must have been for Joseph.  Mary hadn’t two-timed him and he could go ahead and marry her as he had planned.  When he woke up, he did as the angel told him and he took Mary to be his wife.  And he named her Son, Jesus.

God knew exactly what He was doing when He chose Mary to be the mother of Jesus and Joseph to be her husband.  He knew that everything would work out as it should.  Mary trusted God when she accepted His will for her life and as a result she was blessed with Jesus who would her Savior and the world’s.

Sources:  Matthew 1; Luke 1

Mental Health Crisis in India

More than 50 million people in India suffer from a mental illness.  In 2011, India recorded the highest rate of major depression in the world at 36 per cent.  According to doctors, roughly 10 per cent of India’s population suffers from depression – MGMH

 

Women with mental illness are treated as less than human.  They are dumped, abandoned and abused.  If there are any signs of mental illness, a woman is put in a mental hospital with no chance of getting out.  Men can go back home while women are there for life.  In the following video, we meet a woman whose husband had her institutionalized although she had no history of mental illness.  Here’s a story of a mentally ill woman whose husband built a case against her so that he could get custody of their children after divorcing her.

It is not surprising that women suffer from depression at higher rates than men.  They have to deal with gender inequality, violence, lack of paid employment, lack of education, excessive spousal alcohol use and poverty.  Mothers are blamed for the birth of a female child and many face pressure to have male children.  Women are diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, oftentimes, following the birth of their children.  The children are often removed from the ill mother’s care and this results in further distress for her. Indian women have higher rates of suicide than women in most developed countries and a higher rate of suicide compared to men in India.  Depression is one of the most common reasons for suicide among Indian women.

Mental health in India carries with it a stigma, especially if the person suffering from mental illness is a woman.  According to MGMH (Movement for Global Mental Health), in rural India, it is common to see people taking their children to temples and faith-healers instead of hospitals and doctors, especially in cases of mental health.  Mental health was something that was talked about in hushed tones.  Thankfully, it is no longer being swept under the rug.  People are coming forward.  Deepika Padukone stunned her fans last year when she admitted that she suffered from anxiety and depression.

At the time the news broke, she was one of the most sought after actresses in Bollywood. It took tremendous courage for her to disclose her illness, especially since people diagnosed with mental illness face discrimination.  Deepika has since launched the Live Love Laugh Foundation to raise awareness about mental health issues and as a result many celebrities were inspired to come out in the open and address the need to talk about mental health.  Varun Dhawan admitted that he was depressed during the making of Badlapur and Honey Singh revealed that he has been undergoing therapy for bipolar disorder.

Sadly, those living with mental illness are victims of a cruel fate.  They are often locked away and stripped of their basic human rights in state-run institutions that are under-staffed. In an article, titled Mentally Ill Suffer a Horrible Fate in India posted on the site for Deutsche Welle (DW), most state run mental hospitals are in deplorable conditions. The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) reported that out of the 43 government mental hospitals in India, less than half a dozen are in a “livable” condition”.

There are doctors in charge of these hospitals who have no business being there.  “These doctors don’t understand the intricacies of a psychiatric illnesses and the comprehensive care the patients require,” said a psychiatrist working in a state-run mental hospital in Uttar Pradesh.

And in the midst of the crisis of hospitals not providing the conditions and care the patients need, are quack healers who are profiting from this.  According to a study by Dr. Shiv Gautam, former superintendent of Jaipur Mental Hospital, 68 per cent of the mentally ill are taken to faith healers before a psychiatrist.  “The reason, besides superstition, is that most general medicine doctors fail to diagnose psychiatric illness,” Gautam said. “A mentally ill patient displays symptoms which superstitious people believe are paranormal,” he added. “Such patients are tortured, chained and used for extracting money from their families.”  Hema, who was suffering from Schizophrenia was believed to have an evil spirit.  Her family took her to Datar Sharif Dargah where she spent a year locked up.  It wasn’t until her condition deteriorated that she was brought to Dr. Gautam.  In 15 days, she began to improve and a month later she was normal.

In other cases, the mentally ill are subjected to one of these horrific ordeals:  whipping, caning, inhaling burnt chili smoke, having their eyes smeared with chili paste or having their eyes branded with red, hot coins.  There are laws banning this practice, however, many dargahs and temples keep the patients chained.  Some of them spend the rest of their lives like this.  In 2001, 26 patients perished in a fire at a dargah in a coastal village because they couldn’t escape the blaze since they were chained.  What a horrific and senseless tragedy.

Families of mentally ill people opt for dumping them.  This means that they are dumped into an asylum where the conditions are not fit for a human.  When an illegal asylum was raided, they found thirty-five men and six boys living in inhuman conditions.  The stench from their unwashed bodies and the excrement drove neighbors to alert the health department.  Naked and chained inmates were discovered, dumped there by their families after they paid the asylum owner.  Some of these poor souls were found crawling in their excrement, some even consuming it.  On their bodies were marks of torture.  Some had surgical scars on their backs, leading to allegations that the asylum had links to kidney theft.  78 patients had entered the asylum but only 41 were found during the raid.

Other patients are dumped in jungles or forests ranges.  Their families pay lorry drivers to drop them.  Women and children are among these victims and in some cases, the females are raped by the drivers before being dumped.  Social activist Murugan S. who has rescued countless mentally ill people from the streets, cautions us not to judge the families by calling them cruel.  Instead we are to examine what forced them to take such extreme measures.  He believes that system needs to change.

Part of the solution is raising awareness.  The suffering of the mentally ill has been brought to our attention. It is out in the open.  The next thing that needs to be done is to show the superstitious and fearful society that mental illness is nothing to run away from or to be ashamed of.  The person suffering from mental illness needs love, support and most importantly, proper care so that he or she can live a normal life.

The government needs to put something place to ensure that patients are placed in reputable, sanitary facilities that will provide the care that they need and to ban the operation of illegal asylums and the practice of dumping.  Quack healers should be banned from profiting from other people’s suffering.  Husbands should not be allowed to institutionalize their wives if there is no record that they have mental illness.

No one wants to be mentally ill but it is a reality for many people and what they need is to know that they have a platform where they can talk about what is happening with them. Here in Canada, we have Bell Let’s Talk, a wide-reaching, multi-year program designed to break the silence around mental illness and support mental health all across the country. It has done so much to fight the stigma of mental illness and encourage people to get involved in educating themselves and others.

It is my sincere hope and prayer that something will be put in place in India so that attitudes toward mental illness would change and those suffering from it will have a platform where they would not be judged, dumped, abandoned or discriminated but supported and be treated with dignity and open minds.  In the meantime, let’s keep talking and raising awareness.

Talking is the best way to start breaking down the barriers associated with mental illness – Bell, Let’s Talk

 

Sources:  Vice News; Movement of Global Mental Health; Wikipedia; Deutsche Welle

Starvation in Madaya

Many people in the world today are not starving because there is an inherent inability to produce food, they are starving because they are caught in the middle of political fights and blockades that have been used as weapons – Ralph Merkle

I was appalled when I heard about the mother who was giving her 7 month old baby water and salt because there is no food in Madaya, Syria.  Tears came to my eyes when I saw the sunken face of a baby, his large eyes staring at the camera.  This precious, innocent child and many others are starving in Madaya.  Some have died.  This atrocity begs the question:  How could a leader of a country do this to his people?

It’s hard to watch this video but it is something everyone needs to be aware of.

People were forced to live on tree leaves and plants but now that winter has set in there are no more plants and leaves.  Majed Ali, a 28 year old opposition activist, was 114 kilos before the siege and is now 80.  Abu Hassan Mousa, head of Madaya opposition council sees no point in negotiating when children are going without milk.   “What are we going to negotiate over?” he demands.  “Our dead?”  The Syrian people went for months without aid.  In fact, the October was the last time aid was delivered to Madaya.

Seeing the crisis in Syria motivated me to get in touch with Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson of the United Nations World Food Programme.  I wanted to know what people in Canada can do to help and this is what she had to say:

The good news is the first UN convoy will move to Madaya carrying food for 40,000 people for one month will set off as early as Sunday. On Monday, other convoys carrying food should move into the besieged towns of Foah and Kefraya in rural Idlib with WFP food for 20,000 people.  Non-food items, including medicine, specialist nutrition products, kitchen sets, blankets, winter clothing and other supplies will hopefully follow in the next few days.

The last humanitarian supplies reached Madaya on October 17 on an interagency convey – this was enough food to feed more than 19,000 people for one month. The convoy was a result of a locally negotiated agreement reached between the opposition and government to allow access to four besieged communities in Idlib and rural Damascus (Foah, Kefraya, Zabadani and Madaya). Since then, no food assistance or humanitarian supplies have reached these areas.
WFP provides food assistance to over 4 million people displaced inside Syria in both government and opposition-controlled areas every month.  And around 1.3 million refugees in neighbouring countries.

Canada has been one of WFP’s largest donors to our response in the region and we hope the extension of the matching funds, until the end of February will encourage Canadians to donate to organizations like WFP working in Syria.

Canadians can support WFP by donating here: https://give.wfp.org/en/629/?step=country
Also, we launched an app a few months ago called ShareTheMeal which makes it extremely easy to support our school meals for Syrian refugee school children living in Jordan.

It is extremely difficult to see babies starving.  And it upsets me when I see food go to waste when there are people starving everyday.  Let us do what we can to help the people in Syria.  Hunger is a terrible thing and something that we need to fight against.  The starvation in Syria is likened to warfare.  It’s like when Hitler starved the Russian people during the battle of Stalingrad.  Hunger is being used as a weapon to oppress the people and this cannot and should not be allowed to happen.  Let us help WFP and other humanitarian agencies to save the lives of the men, women and children in Syria.

Source:  CBC News; World Food Programme

Oppressed Because She is a Woman

Then I returned and considered all the oppression that is done under the sun: And look! The tears of the oppressed, But they have no comforter—
On the side of their oppressors there is power, But they have no comforter – Ecclesiastes 4:1

It saddens me that in some countries, it is dangerous or even deadly to be a woman.  Sex trafficking, bride burnings, infanticide, gender related crimes, poverty and oppression are the realities that girls and women face in Asia.

Women should be able to live in a society where their rights are protected  and are not oppressed because of their gender.  Gender discrimination is something that all women may encounter at some point in her life but in Asia, women are perpetual victims of violence, abuse and oppression.

Imagine that you are a mother and one Sunday evening you find your daughter lying naked on the front step of the house she shares with her husband and children.  There is no one there to help her and no one wants to come to her so you are the only one she can call for help although you live quite a distance away.   Imagine how you would feel when you see your daughter with burns on more than 80 percent of her body, crying in agony. She survives for three days, long enough to tell the police that she was doused in kerosene by her mother-in-law and set on fire by her husband–the father of her children.  Then she dies…

This is what happened to Laxmi, a woman in Bangladore.  She was a victim of bride burning which is a crime that accounts for the death of at least one woman every hour in India.  More than 8000 women die in this horrendous way.  This type of crime is also called, “dowry death”.

A dowry death is the death of a young woman in South Asian countries, primarily India, who is murdered or driven to suicide by her husband. This results from the husband continually attempting to extract more dowry from the bride or her family. Bride burning is just one form of dowry death. Others include acid throwing and Eve teasing.  Because dowry typically depends on class or socioeconomic status, women are often subjected to the dowry pressures of their future husband or his relatives.

Laxmi was only 28 years old when she died.  Hers was not an arranged marriage.  It was a love marriage and she came from higher caste than her husband, Majunath.  He became increasingly drunk and was unable to find regular work because most of the money Laxmi earned was spent on liquor.  Pressured by her in-laws to provide, Laxmi turned to her mother for financial support.  Laxmi was harassed and accused of adultery by her in-laws and beaten by her husband.  It turned out that it was her mother-in-law who compelled her son to set his wife on fire.  Majunath ended up dying because he suffered from burns when Laxmi hugged him in a desperate attempt to put the flames out.  So, their two children became orphans.   An arrest warrant was issued for Laxmi’s mother-in-law but she has disappeared.

Trafficking of minor girls – the second-most prevalent trafficking crime – surged 14 times over the last decade and increased 65% in 2014, according to new data released by the National Crime Records Bureau.

Girls and women are the main targets of immoral trafficking in India, making up 76% of human trafficking cases nationwide over a decade, reveal NCRB data.

Other cases registered under human trafficking over the last decade include selling girls for prostitution, importing girls from a foreign country and buying girls for prostitution.

Sexual exploitation of women and children for commercial purposes takes place in various forms including brothel-based prostitution, sex-tourism, and pornography.

As many as 8,099 people were reported to be trafficked across India in 2014.

In the article, Silent Slaves:  Stories of Human Trafficking in India, I read about a 15 year old girl who was in a New Delhi hospital.  She was frail, her face and head were bandaged.  A bruised black and blue eye and swollen lips were visible.  She had burn marks and scabs on her neck and down her whole body and one of her ears was disfigured.  She had a wound on her skull which was rotting and filled with maggots.  This caused a stench. She was in this horrific condition because of her employer who beat her everyday with a broom and a stool.  Many times the woman would put a hot pan on the girl’s body and burn her skin.  The skin on her skull started to peel because she was repeatedly burned in that same spot.

How could one human being treat another like this?  Sadly, this teen’s case is not an isolated one.  Thousands of girls like her are trafficked every year from remote villages to large cities and sold as domestic workers. Many of them are abused or sexually exploited.

Extreme poverty, lack of education and employment, and poor implementation of the government’s minimum wage system in rural India make girls more vulnerable to being trafficked. The 2013 Global Slavery Index, published by the Australia-based Walk Free Foundation, an organization that works to end modern slavery, found that almost half of the 30 million “modern slaves” in the world are from India.

The article describes how domestic worker placement agencies operate and how they are flourishing at the expense of minor and illiterate girls. Read more.

Due to the fact that girls are seen as an economic burden and boys a source of income, girl babies have been aborted and murdered – female infanticide or Gendercide – in their millions in India. The Lancet estimates that 500,000 female fetuses are aborted in India every year. As a result according to the BBC, “an estimated 25-50 million women in India are ‘missing’, if you compare the proportion of women in the population with other countries.” Staggeringly, Unicef believes 10 million girls, were killed by their parents in the last thirty years.

Killing babies because they are girls really hits close to home.  As a woman, I can’t imagine my parents ending my life because I was born a girl instead of a boy.  I always remember my mother telling me that she had a dream of how I would look before I was born.  My father used to take me kite flying. My parents loved my two sisters and me.  I know fathers who have only daughters and no sons but they are ecstatic.  They adore their girls.  This is not the case for the girls in India, however.  Some are aborted or killed after they are born, others are neglected or abandoned.

In India a girl is an expensive burden because when she marries, her family is expected to pay a sum of money to the groom’s family regardless of whether or not they can afford it.  It’s an expense they don’t want to deal with.  So, when a girl is born, there is no joy.  There is no celebration, only disappointment and anxiety.  In some cases, there is rage–rage of the husband toward the wife and the baby girl.  The wife is blamed for the gender of the baby and the girl, if she survives, is constantly reminded that she is a mistake–she should have been a boy.

Bride burnings, sex trafficking and girl infanticide are just some of the hardships that women and girls face in Asia.  The documentary film, “Veil of Tears” takes you on a harrowing journey into their lives.  Their stories may make us squirm but instead of shutting them out, we ought to raise awareness and do what we can to help.  Let us be the voice of hope for the oppressed.

Find out more information at this link:  http://veiloftearsmovie.com/take-action/ 

And the LORD shall help them, and deliver them: he shall deliver them from the wicked, and save them, because they trust in him – Psalm 37:40

Sources:  Gospel for Asia; The Sidney Morning Herald; Wikipedia; Scroll In; Women’s Media Center; Counterpunch