News from Botswana, Russia and China

Tuesday's World Events   —   Posted on October 23, 2012

BOTSWANA – Judge grants equal property inheritance rights for women

JOHANNESBURG   A landmark ruling in Botswana that [gives] women equal property inheritance rights paves the way for unfair customary laws that favor men to be challenged across the region, campaigners said.

A…judge in Botswana’s High Court ruled [on October 12] that the practice of assumed male inheritance should be [abolished], and called for the country’s government to take all other discriminatory laws off the statute books.

Justice Key Dingake was hearing a case concerning three sisters whose nephew had sought to take over the family home when their father died on the grounds that he was sole surviving male relative.

Ruling that the law now had to change to reflect modern times the judge said: “It seems to me that the time has now arisen for the justices of this court to … assist in the birth of a new world struggling to be born. Discrimination against gender has no place in our modern day society.”

Human rights campaigners say the ruling could prompt [challenges] around the region to customary laws, which often relegate women to the second class citizen status when it comes to access to education, property rights and financial independence.

Botswana, with its careful use of diamond wealth, stable government and high education levels, has long been hailed as an example for the region.

It has also produced some of southern Africa’s most celebrated women including a female Attorney General, one of its first female parliamentary speakers and the human rights activist and judge Unity Dow.

But like most African countries, it still has a dual legal system which sees many people, particularly in rural areas, governed by customary laws which the government, fearful of angering powerful traditional leaders, has been reluctant to tamper with. …

RUSSIA – Government launches smoking crackdown

Russia has launched a crackdown on smoking with a bill to ban tobacco advertising and raise taxes on cigarettes to help tackle a public health crisis in the world’s second largest tobacco market after China.

Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said in a video blog that 44 million Russians, nearly one in three, were hooked on smoking, and almost 400,000 die every year of smoking-related causes.

Under Health Ministry proposals, tobacco advertising – now only allowed in some print media – would be outlawed, taxes increased on cigarette sales and smoking in cafés and other public spaces eventually banned.

The bill is expected to be submitted to parliament for approval in the coming days.

…”The government has adopted an anti-tobacco strategy and today we are beginning to put it in place,” Medvedev said.

The habit of lighting up in Russia, where the air in bars, coffee shops and stairwells is thick with smoke, is encouraged by the cheap price of cigarettes. A pack typically costs around 50-60 rubles (between $1.60 to $1.95).

While President Vladimir Putin is a non-smoker and has reprimanded ministers for smoking, some other top officials, such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, are heavy smokers.

Some people on Moscow streets doubted the measures would have any effect. “People will smoke no matter what, its Russia,” said Viktor, a salesman who did not give his surname.

The government hopes the legislation will help improve life expectancy, which at 62 for men and 74 for women in 2009, remains low by the standards of other middle-income countries. …

The bill would probably become law next spring if submitted to parliament by Nov 1, Nikolai Gerasimenko, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s health committee, was quoted by the state-run Itar-Tass news agency as saying.

Russia’s Finance Ministry has previously announced plans to increase the excise duty on tobacco by around 40 per cent for 2013 and 2014 and said on Tuesday it plans to hike taxes by 10 per cent a year after 2015. The Health Ministry supports a greater increase in duty.

The proposed legislation follows in the footsteps of other countries, mostly in the West, who have imposed strict controls on the advertising and sales of cigarettes and banned smoking in public places. …

Around 165,000 kiosk owners and workers have signed a petition against the proposed ban on the sale of cigarettes by the vendors. They say many kiosks, which provide work for around one million people, could be forced out of business.

“Our customers will continue to buy cigarettes, but they will get them from the bigger shops, where it’s easier to buy everything at once,” said petition coordinator Vladlen Maximov.

CHINA – 14-year-olds employed on Foxconn factory production line

BEIJING – Children as young as 14 have been working on the production lines of a Chinese factory that makes Nintendo consoles and Sony televisions, Foxconn, the world’s largest electronic manufacturer, has admitted.  

In one of the worst instances of child labor uncovered at a Chinese factory, Foxconn said 56 children aged between 14 and 16 had been found laboring in its plant in Yantai, Shandong province.

The under age workers, who were students at local technical training colleges, had been drafted in as interns. But they were put to work on the production line as the factory ramped up its capacity ahead of the launch of Nintendo’s eagerly awaited new computer games console, the Wii U.

The abuse was uncovered after an investigation by the state-run China National Radio’s “Voice of China” program.  The program said Foxconn, which makes an estimated 40 per cent of the world’s electronics for companies including Apple and Samsung, was aware it had hired child laborers and had seen the ages of the children from their national identity cards.  It added that the child workers were given a special worker ID number to differentiate them.

However, the children were put to work alongside adults and made to work overtime and night shifts.

When the program asked one of the students how many days of rest they get a month, the response was: “Not even one.”  The students said they were told by their teachers that if they refused to “intern” at Foxconn, they would not be able to graduate.

“I did transport work, helping them move goods,” said one 14-year-old using the alias Xiao Wang.  “Right now, the night shift is 7.40pm until the morning. Whenever the work is done is when you get off your shift.” …

It is common for us to work overtime,” said one of the students to Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.

A spokesman for Foxconn said it had apologized to all the students and their parents. The local government said the 56 child workers had now been returned to classes.

“Foxconn is expanding its manufacturing ability on the mainland (China). The company cooperated with vocational schools, under the coordination of local authorities, to hire student interns to work in some of Foxconn’s factories in order to solve occasional labor shortage problems,” explained the Foxconn spokesman. 

“Foxconn is carrying out a full investigation to determine how this happened and the actions that must be taken by our company to ensure that it can never happen again,” he said.  He added that three per cent, or 36,000, of the company’s 1.2 million-strong workforce were student interns. …

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Oct. 12 and Oct. 17.)

Questions

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1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to worldatlas.com for a list of continents.]

2. For BOTSWANA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Who had challenged the property inheritance law?

3. For RUSSIA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) What group of people, who might not necessarily be smokers, are opposed to the proposed bill?  Why?

4. For CHINA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Define intern.
c) Why did the students continue to work at the factory when they were not given internships, but instead put on the assembly line?


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Background

BOTSWANA:

From the Telegraph news brief:

  • Friday’s ruling brought an end to a five-year legal battle fought by three sisters, all in their sixties and seventies, who were backed by the southern Africa Litigation Center.
  • They argued that a 2007 ruling by a customary court that their nephew should inherit their home, in the Kanye area, about 50 miles south of the capital Gaborone, contravened the right to equality principle enshrined in Botswana’s constitution.
  • They also argued that Botswana, under its international and regional law obligations, had agreed to eliminate discrimination against women.
  • As the case moved into the civil courts, it was challenged by the government on the grounds that Botswana was a “culturally-inclined nation” and scrapping customary inheritance laws was not “in line with the public mood.”
  • But the sisters were supported by High Court Justice Dingake, who is from a family of political activists….
  • Two of the sisters were in court to hear the ruling and responded with cheers and smiles. “Tonight I will sleep like a baby!” 79-year-old Edith Mmusi told reporters.

About Botswana:

  • Formerly the British protectorate of Bechuanaland, Botswana adopted its new name upon independence in 1966.
  • Four decades of uninterrupted civilian leadership, progressive social policies, and significant capital investment have created one of the most dynamic economies in Africa.
  • Mineral extraction, principally diamond mining, dominates economic activity, though tourism is a growing sector due to the country’s conservation practices and extensive nature preserves.
  • Botswana has one of the world’s highest known rates of HIV/AIDS infection, but also one of Africa’s most progressive and comprehensive programs for dealing with the disease. (from the CIA World FactBook)

On Botswana law:

  • The legal structure in Botswana operates on a dual system of constitutional law, based on Roman-Dutch law, and customary law, which preserves the traditional structure of indigenous tribal law. Therefore, citizens can choose to have disputes resolved in a court or by their local chief or “kgosi.”  …In recent years …the constitutional law has come into conflict with customary law, that has traditionally favored men, to the disadvantage of women.
  • …Property inheritance [is] one of the most current illustrations of discordance between the two systems of customary and constitutional law. Traditionally, customary law has denied women the right to inherit property upon the death of their husbands, leaving women and their families property-less and impoverished.
  • (from tswanabe.wordpress. com)
  • Edith Mmusi and her sisters have fought a five-year legal battle after their nephew said he was the rightful owner of their house.
  • Ms. Mmusi’s parents had four daughters and a son, who before he died agreed that his older half-brother could inherit the family home in the Kanye area, about 50 miles south of Gaborone.
  • It is the son of the half-brother who brought the case seeking to evict the sisters living at the homestead, who are reportedly all over the age of 65.
  • Ms. Mmusi and her sisters argued that as it was their home – and they had been contributing to its upkeep and expansion – it was theirs to inherit, the Southern Africa Litigation Center said. (from bbc.co.uk)
  • RUSSIA:

    Four foreign tobacco companies – Japan Tobacco International, Phillip Morris, British American Tobacco, and Imperial Tobacco – control more than 90 per cent of Russian sales and have been lobbying to soften the proposed legislation. (from the Telegraph article)

  • CHINA:

    from the Telegraph article:

    • Labor rights activists said Foxconn had trampled on China’s labor laws and that it increasingly works in collusion with local or even provincial governments to procure workers. Henan province recruited more than 30,000 workers in August alone, many of whom came from training colleges, in order to satisfy Foxconn’s quotas.
    • A spokesman for Sony said: “We continue to maintain our Supplier Code of Conduct… with the expectation of every supplier agreeing and adhering to the policies of the Sony Group in complying with all applicable laws, work ethics, labor conditions and respect for human rights, environmental conservation and health and safety.”
    • The spokesman added that they don’t disclose specifics on which products are outsourced to which vendors.
    • Nintendo did not immediately respond to a request for a comment.

    from a Reuters news report at yahoonews:

    • The students had been employed after Foxconn asked the development zone in which the factory is located to help solve a labor shortage last month, when they were needed to make up a shortfall of 19,000 workers, Xinhua news agency reported.
    • Foxconn is Apple Inc’s largest manufacturing partner, and also makes products for Dell Inc, Sony Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co among its other clients. It said the Yantai plant does not make Apple products.
    • Foxconn and Apple have been forced to improve working conditions at Chinese factories that make most of the world’s iPads and iPhones after a series of well-publicized suicides in 2010 and reports of labor abuses, such as excessive overtime, threw a spotlight on conditions inside the plants.
    • Last month, a riot broke out at a Foxconn plant assembling iPhones in the northern city of Taiyuan over living conditions inside Foxconn’s on-site dormitories for migrant workers.
    • In response to the scrutiny, Foxconn plans to cut overtime to less than nine hours a week from the current 20. [The overtime does not appear to be optional for workers.]