- Adoption taboo in Pakistan
- For Mugabe and Britain, ties that bind
- Facebook: Heaven and hell for expressionists
In Pakistani society, where tribe, caste, creed and family belonging are of paramount importance, many, if not most, pause at the idea of loving a child that is not one's own progeny.
ISLAMABAD: The babies had apparently been found on a trash heap. The ensuing saga of the television show on which she was given away is well known.
It made news not only in Pakistan but everywhere; CNN did a story and the BBC filmed a segment. The story of the giving away of baby girls, like a car or television or microwave oven, was something everyone could balk at, something that transcended culture and geography.
The show's host, Amir Liaquat, defended his actions; the future "parents" had been vetted, he insisted, and the point of the show was to impress upon viewers that an abandoned baby was a treasure, and not trash.
Underlying the outrage and sensationalism of the whole episode is the complicated issue of adoption itself. Under Pakistani law, guardianship is governed by the Guardians and Wards Act of 1890, a piece of legislation passed 124 years ago.
The stipulations of this 19th-century act set out clear guidelines through which the guardianship of a child can be obtained; local magistrates and court officials can conduct background checks on would-be parents. On completion of these requirements, legal guardianship of a child can be completed.
That is the law on the books, but Pakistan is a messy country and its complications dictate that things rarely proceed along the lines laid down by the law. Among the knots is that the law mandates guardianship, instead of adoption (guardianship of children ends when they attain majority).
In legal terms, this is not a problem; a guardian can enjoy all the same rights as a parent, and the child under their care is, like any biological child, their legal ward.
The law keeps "guardianship" separate from "parenting" and depending on the people assuming legal responsibility, it can be the same thing as parenting, or completely different. The law doesn't say which, and so society and the family can dictate the details of the nature of the relationship.
As stigmatisation goes, religion is added to the mix. Fundamentalist and literal interpretations of Islamic law, such as those dictating that nursing a child is crucial to ensuring a chaste parental relationship, are used as additional curbs and discouragements.
As in the case of all taboos, opposing arguments such as the Holy Quran's repeated exhortations on the value of guardianship are easily forgotten.
The result is that in Pakistan guardianship has the reputation of an option for the hapless, the biologically flawed who must take on the abandoned progeny of others to make up for their own failure to procreate.
Even while these parents will love the child like their own, society at large continues to view them with pity.
In other cases, guardianship is the avenue of the magnanimous who will take on an impoverished child from a shelter or servant. This child is then raised with their own as an expression of their piety and benevolence. The child may be educated with their children, may even participate in family rituals, but no effort is made to disguise its status as different.
The lifelong burden of gratitude is the child's to bear; after all, it could have been a baby on a trash heap were it not for the benevolence of the better endowed.
Undoubtedly, there are many other iterations of the arrangement, some better or worse than the above. In focusing the discussion on these social norms, I hope to place emphasis not on the legal conundrums or the many examples of loving guardians who treat their children just as they would a biological child or even the practices of welfare institutions, but rather on social acceptance and treatment of adoption in Pakistani society.
At fault, at least in part, is the cultural obsession with genetic transmission that demotes adoption to something less or something wanting, but never as something chosen. What follows from this constricted social perception is a pervasive lack of sincerity regarding adoption which consequently deigns that an adopted child must be eternally grateful to be loved in a way that a biological child would never be expected to be.
In a Pakistan clinging to the idea that biological belonging is the ultimate in ensuring love and loyalty, adoption and its children always seem to fall short in mediaeval measures of bloodlines used by society to evaluate them.
Crude as it was, Amir Liaquat's television programme took a jab at this underlying prejudice. In placing a baby along with the bits and bobs of middle-class respectability that so many Pakistanis aspire to, it tried to raise the value of an adopted child to something more than a stand-in for the biological baby that could not be.
> The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.
The conflicted yet intimate flavour of Mugabe's relationship with Britain is marked by 'the peculiar intensity of a family quarrel'.
WHEN armed white settlers thrust into southern Africa in 1890 to raise the British flag over a land they named Rhodesia, they were lured by promises of gold beneath the ground and land aplenty above it.
More than 120 years later, the contest for the continent's resources in the land now called Zimbabwe seems undiminished, though China, not Britain, leads the scramble.
And, as the July 31 elections in Zimbabwe showed, a parallel battle is still being waged, at least in President Robert G. Mugabe's preoccupation – some might say obsession – with the decades of colonial and quasi-colonial rule that ended with independence in 1980.
Throughout his tenure, Mugabe has prevailed, securing his seventh consecutive term in office a week ago.
Neither his years – he is 89 – nor his political foes, nor sanctions imposed by his Western adversaries in London, Washington and elsewhere have been able to end the increasingly personalised and autocratic rule he has secured through a blend of guile, an iron fist and what his critics call a lust for power.
"Robert Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe," the former US ambassador in Harare, Christopher W. Dell, said in a confidential 2007 cable made public by the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy group.
From another perspective, the outcome of Zimbabwe's election – labelled as flawed by London and Washington – showed the constraints on post-imperial power and, more broadly, the limits of the West's ability to bend defiant regimes from North Korea to Syria to its will.
But Mugabe's survival has again conjured the conflicted and intimate flavour of his relationship with Britain, profoundly hostile and yet marked by what the late Heidi Holland, a biographer, called "the peculiar intensity of a family quarrel".
The Zimbabwean leader, for instance, is said to admire Britain's royal family, and is wont to use the regal "we" in speaking of himself. He upholds British traditions, like afternoon tea, but accuses Britain of harbouring neo-colonial ambitions.
"I've thought about retirement, but not when the British are saying, 'We want regime change'," he said before the vote. "I won't be changed by the British."
The ties that bind European powers to their former African possessions are often a tangle of resentment, self interest, guilt, dependence and emulation, shaded by the dictates of realpolitik.
France, for instance, has long practised a muscular neo-colonialism, underpinned by the deployment of its troops, most recently on a relatively large scale to repulse an Islamist advance in Mali.
Even though it has sent forces to Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, however, Britain has never been prepared to risk a similar military campaign in southern Africa.
Yet, by imputing continued colonial aspirations to Britain, Mugabe has been able to harness Africa's deep-rooted resentment of foreign dominance, casting his political survival as part of the elemental contest between slave and master, rather than as one more skirmish in the war of democracy versus tyranny portrayed by his enemies.
"More than many other African leaders," wrote the filmmaker Roy Agyemang, who made an award-winning documentary about the Zimbabwean leader last year, "Mugabe draws cheers across the continent."
The origins of Britain's fraught relationship with Mugabe long predate the Lancaster House conference that Britain convened in London in 1979 to broker a settlement after seven years of guerrilla warfare, during which Mugabe led the biggest of two rival insurgent forces.
Citing the Maoist adage that political power flows from the barrel of a gun, he showed little interest in ending the war. Britain, for its part, acknowledged that Mugabe and his armed followers could not be ignored, but it sought to blunt his claim on exclusive power through constitutional provisions that some in London hoped would sideline him.
The British miscalculated.
In the elections in 1980, Mugabe won outright victory. When the Union Jack flag the settlers had lofted in 1890 was finally lowered, it was Mugabe who officiated at the handover of power from Prince Charles.
In those early years, the seeds of bitterness between London and Harare, sown under white rule, spread their dark blooms.
Even as British advisers trained the bulk of a new national army, elements of the separate, North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade started a murderous spree against Mugabe's ethnic foes in the western Matabeleland region, killing thousands. Britain looked on, powerless.
"There is a limit to what this country can do to impose its will," Britain's former foreign secretary, Geoffrey Howe, said later, "and to some extent a greater limit in an ex-colony with an extremely sensitive government."
But there was also a phenomenon that Holland called Britain's "unresolved colonial feelings" of condescension and hostility toward Mugabe, contributing to "post-colonial toxicity on both sides".
Promises of land reform enshrined at Lancaster House went unredeemed. Indeed, Mugabe initially seemed to seek an accommodation with the country's 4,500 white farmers while Britain did little to redress the huge imbalances in land ownership before the explosion of farm expropriations ordered by the Zimbabwean leader starting in 2000.
After the elections, Britain greeted Mugabe's victory with what Foreign Secretary William Hague called "grave concern" over the conduct and credibility of the vote.
But his remarks served to highlight the ambivalence of British perceptions blending revulsion at Mugabe's tyranny with frustrated impotence toward the corruption, economic decline and brutality that have been the hallmark of his tenure.
"There may be little that Britain can do," wrote the columnist Stephen Glover in the conservative Daily Mail, "but William Hague should at least speak like a decent human being appalled by the activities of a man who was put into power by a British government and has caused so much suffering to a once bountiful country." – ©2013 The International Herald Tribune
BANGKOK: Mark Zuckerberg may never have thought that his idea of a dating network could turn into heaven and hell for people across the world.
According to Socialbakers statistics, Thailand has 14.6 million Facebook users, which makes it the 16th biggest Facebook country in the world. More than 1.3 million new users have signed up in the last six months, mainly people aged between 25 and 34. Facebook penetration in Thailand is 22.01% of the country's population, and 83.6% in relation to the number of Internet users.
There is only one reason to explain this: Facebook is a tool that makes the world smaller.
When the Internet was introduced in Thailand, e-mail was the first most popular feature. Search engines came of age later, with mega-tonnes of information uploaded from the Internet. But Facebook is a tool that allows people to share their stories with friends and the general public, no matter where they are on Earth.
Facebook is now widely used by companies to promote their products and disseminate corporate information. With Facebook, companies also need to improve their monitoring activities, to root out any postings that contain negative comments.
One of my colleagues used Facebook to voice her grievance against a computer company. As her attempts to contact the company's help centre were useless, she wrote about her problem on her Facebook page. Within the day, she finally got a response. Her problem was solved.
At a session hosted by mediainsideout.org a week ago, Pirongrong Ramasoota, a professor at the Department of Journalism, Chulalongkorn University, made an interesting remark. She said there is a thin line between private and public life on Facebook. Some think that their Facebook pages are limited only to their friends, but once those friends share those thoughts on publicly-open pages, those opinions are put out there in cyberspace for all to read and react to.
Suthipong Thammawut, an executive at TV Burapa, learnt a lesson the hard way following his accidental posting of a message. His Facebook page is open to all, as he intends to disseminate his Buddhist Dharma-based thoughts to the general public.
The havoc started with a message that had circulated for some time about the quality of packaged rice. He copied it to his message box. But as he was writing a comment on top of that, it was accidentally posted. Calling himself a technology illiterate, he said he should have known that the message could be deleted. When he got help from his company's technician for the deletion, it was too late. In a matter of minutes, he was condemned for joining the chorus of attacks on the government's credibility regarding the rice-price pledging scheme.
Making the matter worse, he reacted to some negative comments in an emotional way. He admitted that he should have followed what his children were told: in this world, we need to maintain our sense of proportion, no matter what our eyes and ears perceive.
The consequence was that he was liable to lawsuits, and he was told by his lawyer to keep quiet on the matter. Only recently did he decide to contact the owner of the rice company in question and apologise for his mistake.
This explains why I post only my own columns, some articles from The Nation, and photos of food and flowers on my Facebook page. I am fascinated with Zuckerberg's product. But now I'm also wondering what the world would be like without Facebook. Would it be quieter and more peaceful, at least in Thailand?
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