Thursday, 12 August 2010

The case of the missing Methuselahs

Asia view
Japan's centenarians
The case of the missing Methuselahs
Aug 6th 2010, 15:21 by T.D. | TOKYO

THE Japanese are known for having both the longest lifespans and the lowest crime rates. But with the discovery in recent days of dozens of centenarians who turned out to have died long before (but whose relatives in some cases hushed it up to collect their pensions), both truisms are now open to question.

The mess began in late July when city officials in Tokyo’s Adachi Ward discovered that Sogen Kato, aged 111 and believed to be Tokyo’s oldest living man, had in fact been dead for 32 years—his mummified body still gathering dust at home while his family collected pension installments. The cash was anything but petty: in the last six years alone, Mr Kato "received" ¥9.5m, or around 110,000 dollars, along with commemorative gifts from the ward in celebration of his longevity.

Yet what started as a single case of fraud has turned into a nationwide epidemic. Once Tokyo began looking into the whereabouts of its eldest residents, it quickly realized it could not trace its eldest women, reported to be 113. Registers stated that she lived with her daughter. When the authorities contacted the daughter, she admitted she had not seen her mother for over 20 years—and did not even know if she was still alive.

Japanese newspapers this week splayed images of welfare workers on mopeds, speeding from house to house as they attempted to confirm the status of the nation’s centenarians, who officially number over 40,000. So far, at least 60 have turned up dead or missing in 11 of Japan’s 47 prefectures, many having passed away years before. In Nagoya, one 106-year-old's address on file turned out to be a vacant lot, and his whereabouts unknown.

The case of missing Methuselahs has sparked a debate across Japan on the state of family ties. Care for the elderly traditionally fell on the family (the government merely subsidizes it), but in now many elderly people live alone. Their deaths may go unnoticed—sometimes for years.

The problem also lies with Japan’s byzantine pension system of overlapping records and faulty databases. In 2007 the nation was stunned to learn that bureaucratic incompetence—stretching back decades—led to the loss of over 50m pension records. Millions of people still cannot be accurately linked to their pension accounts. Now, it turns out that the state, through sloppy bookkeeping and the many lonely deaths of Japan’s greyest members, have lost track not only of the records, but the people themselves.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Malaysia's 'forgotten' tribes face poverty, hunger

By M. Jegathesan (AFP) – 7 hours ago

KAMPUNG BERTANG LAMA, Malaysia — Just a few hours from the glittering Malaysian capital is a pitiful scene of hungry children and desperate parents, in an indigenous village home to the "forgotten Malaysians".

Naked youngsters with the tell-tale signs of malnourishment -- bulging stomachs and brown tinged hair -- sit listlessly in a hut, while others cling to their mothers as they suckle milk.

Welcome to Bertang Lama village, home of some of Malaysia's Semai people, an indigenous tribe mired in poverty and struggling to adapt as the multicultural nation races towards modernity.

The village, which houses about 300 people, is located close to Cheroh, a small town in central Pahang that sits along the Titiwangsa mountains which form the backbone of Peninsula Malaysia.

The Semai, once nomadic but now largely settled, are seeking recognition of their traditional land rights as well as basic needs -- piped water, electricity, medicine, education and tarred roads.

There is little food in the village where families live a subsistence life, hunting and gathering to trade in jungle products like rattan and agarwood.

Neither is there much money, as the forest they depend on is fast being depleted of its resources thanks to deforestation caused by logging, and the rapid expansion of rubber and palm oil plantations.

There are an estimated 45,000 Semai in Peninsula Malaysia, among some 150,000 indigenous people divided among 19 linguistic groups who live on the country's mainland.

Colin Nicholas, coordinator of the Centre for Orang Asli Concerns, said the people of Bertang Lama and others like them have become "the forgotten and invisible Malaysians".

Nicholas said the Semai played a valuable role in the British offensive against communist insurgents in the 1950s due to their stealth and tracking skills, but are now seen as irrelevant.

"Come elections, ruling party politicians make promises in exchange for votes but after that they renege on their words. Because of their small population, they are easily ignored by the government," he told AFP.

"The indigenous people have been pushed to the brink. Their situation will only get worse. After nearly 53 years of independence, the government is in a state of denial."

Not all Semai or Orang Asli people are impoverished, and some communities, particularly those located closer to urban infrastructure, have done much better in terms of education, employment and health.

But the plight of Bertang Lama village was highlighted when Lim Ka Ea, an executive officer with the Malaysian Bar Council visited recently and recounted her shock at the scene there in a newspaper article.

"The Orang Asli have been regarded as invisible by many people," she told AFP.

"What we do see in them is their 'primitive' form of lifestyle and the entrenched stereotype that they serve no purpose to the advancement of our nation except to make our tourism advertisements look exotic and attractive."

In the village, 11-year-old Jolisa returns home from the forest, armed with a machete and a bamboo basket on her back as she skips along with three other barefoot friends.

"We went looking for wild vegetables," she says.

"Yes I would like to go to school if there was one in our village," she replies with a smile to a visitor's question.

Nearby, inside a dilapidated hut, a naked two-year-old child with mucus dripping from his nose and an expressionless face holds a bowl containing only mashed tapioca, a flavorless starch, for his breakfast.

The chidren are mostly illiterate, and mostly hungry as their families can only provide them with vegetables and tapioca sourced from the jungle.

The village is located just 11 kilometers (seven miles) from a main road but it is a tedious drive along an unsealed logging track.

"We sell rattan, bamboo and agarwood sourced from the forest. But it is hard to find them now," says Yoke Ham, a 47-year-old father of 12 children who says his ancestors settled here hundreds of years ago.

"The average income per month is less than 300 ringgit (94 dollars)," he adds, as cryng babies drown out the chirp of insects.

Prime Minister Najib Razak, who is striving for Malaysia to achieve developed-nation status by 2020, earlier this month assured all Malaysians that no one will be left behind.

"I promise you, as prime minister I will be fair to everybody. We will help all communities to move forward. We will make Malaysia a high-income country," he said.

But the lofty goals mean little to Robina, who looks in her thirties but does not know her age. She holds her sick three-year-old daughter, Sinar, on her lap and appeals for help as tears roll down her face.

"My child has a fever. I have no money to buy food and rice for her," she says. "We have not had our breakfast yet. Life is difficult."

Copyright © 2010 AFP. All rights reserved.

Monday, 14 June 2010


More independent media being silenced by the government

"This is not the first time Zuloaga has faced arrest.

In March, he was detained as he returned to Venezuela -- accused of criticizing the government during a public forum outside the country.

Globovision is one of the few remaining independent media outlets in Venezuela and is often critical of President Hugo Chavez.

The arrest warrant was condemned by human rights and freedom of the press groups who considered it a renewed attempt to silence critics of Chavez."

People need to take child marriages in Malaysia seriously, and do something to stop it.

"Under Malaysian law, a Muslim girl below the age of 16 can marry, provided she has the consent of the syariah court. The syariah court is supposed to rule on each and every case and cannot give blanket permission.

And under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act, which applies to non-Muslims, marriage is allowed only for people 18 years and above. However, a girl aged 16 years and above may marry, conditional upon a licence being obtained from the chief minister or menteri besar."

"However, according to the 2000 Census, there were 11,400 children below 15 years of age who were married - 6,800 girls and 4,600 boys. Of the 6,800 girls, only 2,450 were Malay. This means that the syariah court gave its consent to each of these 2,450 under-age girls to get married.

The remainder of 4,350 girls were non-Malays comprising 1,550 other Bumiputera, 1,600 Chinese, 600 Indians, and 600 others. It is not known whether they had got their licence from the relevant minister, but even if they did, it would have been illegal, since there are no legal provisions for a non-Muslim under 16 years to get married."