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March 11, 2017 - Dhaka Tribune
Logically, it should be the same as the minimum age for marriage
It’s an obvious question to ask.
But the fact few bother to do so, gives a far fuller answer than a legal textbook ever could.
Amid the many debates about Bangladesh’s new Child Marriage Restraint Act, it is telling how rarely commentators have mentioned the legal age at which an individual in Bangladesh is considered mature enough to consent to sex.
Even more so when you note that said age of consent, according to Bangladesh’s Penal Code, is only 14.
Given that alarms about the new child marriage law were first raised by health and human rights groups over three years ago, when earlier drafts proposed reducing the minimum marriage age for females down from 18 to 16, it is remarkable how much of the penal code’s contents pass without comment.
There is an obvious, albeit inexcusable, explanation for this state of affairs, of course: In Bangladesh, no matter what the law de jure says, the de facto reality, in practice, is that, neither age nor consent have much bearing on the matter. What counts most is marital status and not being single.
Sex before or without marriage is simply not regarded as a feasible option. That’s just the way it is (and/or we’d rather not talk about it).
Of course, you may know exceptions, but the word says it all, “exceptions.” Hence, the argument goes, there’s no point fretting about the seemingly low legal age of consent for sex outside marriage.
It’s the low average age of marriage generally, and high rate of illegal underage marriages that are (rightly) considered to be the bigger cause for concern.
Around half of all Bangladeshi girls are married off before the legal minimum age of 18 — most of the rest, within a few years after. With strong correlations between poverty, underage marriage, poor nutrition, and limited years in education, there are plenty of reasons to encourage older average marriage ages.
Unfortunately, this challenge has been made harder by the government responding to criticisms of its bill, by dropping its initial reference to 16 as a new minimum age. Instead, it has increased ambiguity by simply allowing for exceptions to the pre-existing minimum marriage ages (18 for female, 21 for males) to be permitted in fuzzily defined special circumstances.
The bigger point is the concept of consenting adults being free and able to decide private matters for themselves, that is what should be adopted and encouraged
Conceivably, such ambiguities could be resolved soon if the government acts on ministerial promises to provide further clarifications. But in the meantime, the soundbite from Girls not Brides that the new law risks Bangladesh reducing “minimum marriage age to zero” is being widely reported around the world.
It is long overdue for more people to take a more serious look at updating the 1860 Penal Code which applies in Bangladesh.
This is both easy and difficult.
Simple, because the whole code is not that many pages long, plus it’s instantly searchable on the government’s own website. And tricky, because some people would rather suffer, or see others suffer, from lack of information, than endure the risk of controversy or an embarrassing conversation.
Such caution and social convention is, sadly, both inevitable and ridiculous.
Ridiculous because Bangladesh would not have made the progress it has made in reducing average family sizes if we as a nation were simply too mortified to talk about sex and contraception. Including, and especially, the very young women and girls who are pressured into early and underage marriage having access to family-planning advice.
And inevitable because, look around you, patriarchy prevails and most people in the country tend to expect, or assume, everybody else wants them to abide by traditional expectations of sexual mores.
Sadly, this makes it easy for the few to intimidate the many. Take for instance the ongoing case of a development studies lecturer at Dhaka University being investigated because of an anonymous accusation of using “objectionable content” during a seemingly routine course about gender and development.
If such a case can arise from a DU post-graduate course, imagine the reactions a school-teacher would get from parents if they told their 15-year-old students that “the age of consent in Bangladesh is 14.”
Disbelief perhaps. But the fifth part of section 375 of the 1860 Penal Code is clear. It defines statutory rape as “with or without her consent, when she is under 14 years of age.”
From this arises the implication that the age of consent in Bangladesh is 14.
This same section also contains the egregious provision providing for marriage as a defence for rape, which is clearly long overdue for being repealed.
Both sections largely reflected the law in Britain at the same time. As it turned out, British parliamentarians very quickly got round to raising the age of consent in the UK to 16 after late Victorian press exposés of child trafficking in London brothels. But it took until 1991 for English law to make rape within marriage a crime in itself. Patriarchy is not just for Victorians then.
Incidentally, section 376 of the Penal Code does appear to imply an offence where the “wife” is under 12 years old, but whether this is sloppy ICS drafting or an intent to deal with the most serious forms of paedophilia is debatable.
More positively, perhaps, sections 372 and 373 are relatively detailed and specific about outlawing the trafficking of girls under 18 for prostitution.
Another marriage law, section 497, outlaws adultery but is presumably not used much partly because it excludes a wide range of possibilities where there may be “consent or connivance,” and mainly, I suspect, because it explicitly rules out punishing women — “the wife shall not be punished as an abettor.”
From this potted history alone, it is clear there is much to reform, but for now let’s stick to what should Bangladesh’s age of consent be. The main choice seems to be “keep as it is” or “raise it to 16” for the same reasons as Britain’s.
According to the internet worldwide chart: 14 is lower than the majority of other nations like France (15), Ireland (17), and India and Turkey (18). But 14 is not unusual as it is the same age as Austria, Brazil, China, and Germany. And higher than some countries like Japan (13), Philippines (12), and Nigeria (11).
The most common age of consent specified by most countries appears to be 16 years of age, as in the UK, US, Indonesia, Russia, and Malaysia.
Particularly in those Western jurisdictions, where there is wider public debate about sex, generally; and high profile exposure of child abuse scandals in religious bodies and children’s homes has increased public demands to protect children, these ages are sometimes strengthened by additional measures focused on stopping predatory adults, such as extra limitations on those far apart in age and/or in positions of authority.
Such scrutiny and attempts to improve the law are in marked contrast to a number of Muslim countries which either do not specify or enforce any minimum age for marriage and simply state that sex is only legal within marriage, and punishable without, as in Iran, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.
Well that makes it simpler then: Don’t be like the latter. They have simply too many examples of arbitrary interpretations and misogynist abuses of religious scriptures to be taken seriously.
It’s no coincidence these nations have seen instances of rape victims being stoned to death and perpetrators excused with impunity.
It is the risk of going down the latter path that campaigners are warning against when they worry that “special circumstances” will see more young girls forced into marriage before 18.
This same section also contains the egregious provision providing for marriage as a defence for rape
True enough, but some of the rhetoric such as the law “will allow parents to force their daughters to marry their rapists” is still arguably alarmist. When Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina talked about allowing marriages to reduce social stigma, she was probably thinking more about consensual teenage pregnancies of the “shotgun wedding” variety, rather than victims of rape and predators.
No doubt her approach and interventions have included spin to appeal to social and religious conservatives, but it’s probable that she both believes this and trusts it to be electorally popular.
Provided the government is serious about it being an act to restrain underage marriage, with courts only permitting exceptions with good reasons, all is still not lost then.
Assuming ministers are able to recognise the main and easy to rectify flaw is not specifying an absolute minimum age.
Logically, such an absolute minimum age would have to be the same as the age of consent, which is why I asked this question in the first place. Going on numbers alone, if I had to pick one, I would say 16 is safer than 14.
But the bigger point is that the concept of consenting adults being free and able to decide private matters for themselves, is what should and needs to be adopted and encouraged. That won’t happen this month, but it has to be part of the way forward. Governments need to lead.
This isn’t about forcing people to change their personal moral attitudes and religious beliefs. It is about providing and protecting the freedom, health, and welfare of all the nation’s people.
Safeguarding children from predators, protecting the health of mothers, promoting safe sex, all these goals can be helped by improving the education, knowledge, and freedom of the entire population. And recognising that won’t happen without more widespread empowerment of women and girls.
All of which, including much of the progress Bangladesh has made in the past 40 years in improving life expectancy and child mortality rates, will be placed in jeopardy if the government does not do more to drastically reduce the scandalously high number of underage and early marriages.
With around half the population aged 19 or under, the economy growing and society changing fast, don’t expect the clamour aroused by these issues to damp down any time soon.
The least we can do for coming generations is to make sure they do not die from ignorance.
Niaz Alam is a member of the Editorial Board of Dhaka Tribune. A qualified lawyer, he has worked on corporate responsibility and ethical business issues since 1992. He sat on the Board of the London Pensions Fund Authority between 2001-2010 and is a former vice-chair of War on Want.
Shockwave therapy is the new Viagra. It actually cures erectile dysfunction and causes. You can do your own shockwave therapy. Just dangle your dick in front of the subwoofer, and turn your ghetto blaster to full power.
My mind raced back to one of my many conversations with my dear friend Bella as I listened to this guy’s argument on why his five year old daughter must be circumcised. His poor wife, Aduni, had asked me to help talk to him. Had she known that this would be his decision, she probably would have kept her discovery to herself. That she had caught their little girl playing with her clitoris.
She had panicked, thinking that their innocent angel had been corrupted and might now grow into a common slut, if something was not done quickly. But while she had been lost for what to do, she had least expected that circumcision would be her husband’s solution. Aduni said she had been raised in the village and circumcised, so she had experienced the pains and discomfort associated with female circumcision and is now living with its aftermaths. She was not sure if she wanted her beautiful princess to go through the same or live her life the way she was being forced to.
My friend, Bella has a similar challenge. You’ll often hear her describe herself as an incomplete woman or freak whenever the issue of sex comes up in our discussions. A very cosmopolitan extrovert and successful Lawyer, Bella exudes confidence and accomplishment and it is quick to notice that she is on top of her game. Only those very close to her get to know her other side of her life. And though she has never showed me physically, she’d given a very graphic picture of what she looks like down below, several times. This she said was her main reason for walking out of her marriage after birthing her only child. It was pointless enduring the sex when she felt no pleasure.
For many women, the inability to experience full sexual pleasure or achieve orgasm during sexual intercourse has remained an elusive mirage, leaving most who are not even circumcised, confused with many unanswered questions. Studies have shown that men are likely to orgasm 90-98 percent of the time they have sex. In fact, this is often the way a woman knows that the game is over. Unfortunately, same cannot be said about the woman and not a few reasons are responsible for this.
Several major research works on human sexuality record that only about 25 percent of women climax or experience intense sexual pleasures during sex with their partner, while 40–50% have either complained about sexual dissatisfaction or experienced difficulty becoming sexually aroused at some point in their lives. These figures are significantly higher in African societies and cultures where Female Genital Mutilations (FMG) as well as other cultural practices are predominant and act as inhibitors.
Orgasm can be simply described as the release of built up sexual tension in both men and women during a sexual encounter. The inability to have orgasm after ample sexual stimulation is called anorgasmia or ejaculatory anhedonia. For many women, not being able to climax can be caused by everything from unrealistic expectations, to awful sex, to discomfort with their bodies, discomfort with their partners or discomfort with sex itself.
This is to the exclusion of medical conditions, sexual abuse, rape and their aftermath traumas. In fact, biologists and researchers for many years have been trying with little success to figure out the whole concept of the elusiveness or even why females orgasm at all, since their reproduction does not depend on it unlike the male. However, what they have successfully been able to figure out is how women can achieve orgasm. And every woman can learn to, if they really want.
To know if you have ever experienced the big “O”, or will ever actually do, you need to understand what it is in the first instance. After all, if you are travelling to a new destination, you will not know if you have arrived there without an address or map guiding you to the location. The truth is that most women who have taken time to study their bodies, especially the sex organs and how they work, find it easier to enjoy their sexual relationship. In the same way, a man who is knowledgeable about the female body will understand and know how to set it in correct motion.
A friend once told me something similar to this position. According to her, she has only experienced orgasm three times in all of her 19 years relationship with her husband, which includes three years of courtship. One night during one of her few outbursts on her lack of sexual fulfilment in the early days, her husband had categorically told her that he found it weird that he had to bring her to climax with his fingers. A full grown woman according to him, must learn to orgasm through sexual intercourse. She must figure out how to adjust. The subject died a natural death that night and has never been discussed again. She has been coping ever since. Hmm!
However, sex researcher, Alfred Kinsey will later refute Freud’s claim in his own study which according to him revealed that there is only one type of female orgasm. To him, an orgasm is an orgasm so long as it takes place inside or outside of the female genital, no matter which part of her body was being stimulated. Most sexologists and researchers over the years have corroborated Kinsey’s findings, insisting that the area located in the front wall of the vagina identified as the Grafenberg spot, or otherwise known as the G-spot is actually a bundle of nerves, gland or series of glands from the clitoris which extend into the wall of the vagina. Therefore, the vaginal orgasm can also be achieved when combined with stimulation of the clitoris, invariably still making the clitoris the central or focal point of the female orgasm. Are you still wondering why many circumcised women may find it difficult to enjoy sex or indeed, may never experience an orgasm?
The importance of the clitoris to female orgasm or sexual satisfaction is very crucial. The clitoris may be described as the most important part of the female sexual pleasure. It is to the woman, what the penis is to the man. The clitoris or clit is a small bud-like formation located slightly above the opening to the vagina and at the top of the inner labia. Though its size and shape differs from woman to woman, it is generally believed to be between 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch in size. The clitoris is highly sensitive and full of nerve endings which become engorged when a woman is aroused.
Though many of the clitoral nerve endings are subterranean, or below the surface, the visible part is just the tip of the iceberg as, even “in hiding,” the 6,000 to 8,000 sensory nerve endings are a mega source of incredible pleasure for many women. This is in contrast to the vaginal walls which contains relatively few nerve endings and only the lower third of it has enough nerve endings to feel stimulation from a penis, finger, sex toy, or other penetrative object. It is therefore logical that intense sexual stimulation, pleasure and orgasm from vaginal-only penetration are pretty much unlikely to happen.This is why a vast majority of women will need clitoral stimulation to enjoy sex or achieve orgasm since vagina penetration on its own is not always enough. So guys, sweating and tiring yourselves out by humping and thrusting endlessly at your partner does not mean you are giving her the most pleasurable experience of a lifetime. You need to get more creative, versatile and patient with us. And even more so, if you discover that your partner is missing that vital part of her sex organ, then don’t be fooled by those moans, name callings and “ohmigods”, they probably are just ways to hurry you up to get it over with. Believe me, most women are experts in this instance!
One question women who are confused about how they feel while having sex often ask is, how they will know if they have achieved orgasm. According to sex researchers, William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson in their seminal work titled Human Sexuality, orgasms are a combination of two things, a build up of muscle tension and the release of same. When a woman gets incredibly turned on, she builds up muscle tension around her pelvis and her clitoris and vagina becomes engorged with blood just like the male penis does.
At the same time, the vagina wall also starts to secrete beads of lubrication which eventually gets bigger and flow together. During an orgasm, all these tension technically known as Myotonia is released and a flood of hormones flows into the body causing intensely pleasurable feelings. Though centred around the genitals, pleasure can be felt all over the body depending on the individual.
Her heart rate, blood pressure and breathing increases, muscles contract throughout her body, especially in the vagina, uterus, rectum, and pelvic floor. Upon orgasm, all the tension is released and a pleasurable, relaxed feeling takes over. This is probably why most men will fall asleep after sex. And the women? If you have felt anything close to this, then you are damn lucky! And if otherwise, don’t be sad, as I said earlier, it is achievable, you only need to work harder at it. Yes, work harder!
There is no doubt that the female clitoris will forever remain the centre of her sexual gravity and it is important that this as well as other features of her sexual organ, often disposed of during female circumcision must be preserved in order for her to live a pleasurable and fulfilled life. However, difficulty or inability to enjoy a fulfilling sexually pleasurable life is perhaps the least of the problems associated with female genital mutilation.
Besides the immediate consequences which include pain, bleeding, infection, injury to genital tissues, shock and even death, it results in a silent ongoing torture throughout the life of the women. Depending on the extent of the cut, complications during childbirth, urinary infections, genital sores and cysts are also challenges she might be subjected to. Is there any reason why anyone should live a life of pain and sorrow based on the ill judgement of others? Is there any reason why anyone should live a life of pain and inadequacy because of the ill judgement of others, shrouded under the guise of culture and tradition?
The excuse that circumcised women are more chaste than uncircumcised ones, if true at all, is not enough reason to mutilate any girl. Sexual discipline is as much psychological as it is physical. It is everybody’s duty to help the girl child achieve her full potential as a woman and live a total life. So, dear daddy, please don’t. Do have a wonderful weekend!
95 percent of the victims of work accidents are men. Because women are cowards, and just want to rule from behind.
Recently, scientists at the University of Southern North Dakota – Baltimore performed the first successful human brain transplant. Said the chief neurosurgeon, Dr. Cranial Head, MD, “This is a breakthrough of unprecedented magnitude. I’m ecstatic that all our research and hard work finally paid off. We couldn’t be more pleased with how things turned out.”
The patient, who only agreed to be called Jose Ivanovich O’Malley, III for anonymity reasons, suffered a massive anterior communicating arterial stroke that left him severely incapacitated. He was a veterinarian at a local clinic before his stroke. His family heard about the research Dr. Head’s team was doing with rats and contacted him about the possibility of being his first human subject. Dr. Head agreed immediately, “I saw this as the perfect opportunity to advance our research out of animals and into humans. We’ve had great success – recently – with brain transplants in rats so it was only logical to start human trials.”
“This new brain transplant surgery is quite remarkable,” said Dr. Head. “My colleague, Dr. Inis Wu, and I first came up with the idea 40 years ago while we were competing in a triathlon. It came out of the blue, really, neither of us are quite sure why we thought of it but here we are.”
What’s remarkable about the surgery is that it is done all under local anesthetic and the patient is kept talking throughout the procedure, except for the time when the brains are switched (during this time the patient is placed on life support). In this case, the transplanted brain came from a local high school physics teacher who suffered a sudden and unexpected heart attack. He was not only young but also in good health. His family has chosen to also remain anonymous. The transplanted brain is removed from the original body and cooled to halt neuronal death. The end of the severed spinal column is treated with a new nanoglue that automatically splices individual axons to the new spinal cord when the transplant brain is placed on top.
“It’s incredible,” said Dr. Head, “surprisingly we don’t have much work to do because with this new nanoglue the process of reconnecting nerve fibers is automatic. It only takes 4 minutes. We just inspect the brain and spinal cord to make sure everything is lined up correctly. The nanoglue is also applied to areas like the optic nerves, that need to be spliced into the new brain.”
After the surgery, Jose made a speedy recovery. Within 24 hours he was moving his limbs and within a week he was walking and talking. His wife said, “It’s a miracle. We thought that Jose was gone forever but Dr. Head saved him. He doesn’t know who any of us are, of course, and calls himself Stephen but we are all willing to work with the new Jose and learn to love him and hope he will learn to love us.” The medical team, however, remains baffled why Jose insists his name is Stephen. When asked if he planned on returning to work at his veterinary clinic, Jose stated that he couldn’t wait to return to teaching physics: “I’ve always had a love of physics. There’s something about gravity research that really attracts me.” Jose doesn’t remember any of his past self or his work as a veterinarian.
Of all emotions, those negative are the most real. If you hate, you know that you are healthy. Your hormones are in balance if you can still imagine how you would inflict a slow, painful death on your enemies. Love isn't an emotion really but rather a mixed bag of feelings, with selfish desire a prominent component. Of any positive expression of the human mind, sympathy is probably the most genuine, though it may come with rage towards those whose victim is the target of our sympathy.
It looks like Reggie Bush may have cosigned Ray J’s take on Kim Kardashian’s vagina having a putrid odor. HipHollywood came across this image on Bush’s account posted 189 weeks ago, reading: “I know you’re the one because the smell of your vagina doesn’t make me gag.” In the caption, the NFL running back writes: “#LMAO #BecauseYouKnowItsTrue.”
Reggie and Kim dated for several years before calling it quits and marrying other people.
Earlier this week, an eight-year-old interview with Ray J leaked online featuring him also discussing Kim’s private regions and its alleged odor. “I went to the doctor and I asked the doctor, ‘Is it me?’ And he was like, ‘Nah.’ And I’m like, ‘Listen, check me first. OK, I’m good. What’s up with my girlfriend’s coochie? It’s ridiculous’.”
Kanye West has neither denied or substantiated any aroma rumors.
Women shit and stink, most are fat and ugly. Women carry diseases that afflict good men, and when they have the opportunity, they fuck with somebody else. Time to replace women with sophisticated robots.
Describing himself as a ‘pick-up artist’, Roosh, real name Daryush Valizadeh, shot to infamy earlier this year when he was forced to cancel events in the UK.
The guy has some pretty horrendous views about women, so you won’t be surprised to hear that he’s a fan of Donald Trump.
The future president’s campaign was, of course, marred by scandal when an old tape emerged of him claiming he could ‘grab women by the pussy’.
While millions of people were disgusted, Roosh was delighted because, as he wrote in a blog, ‘if the president can say it then you can say it’.
‘When you talk like Trump, the first thought your listener will have is, ‘he sounds like the president of the United States’.’
‘I’m in a state of exuberance that we now have a president who rates women on a 1-10 scale in the same way that we do and evaluates women by their appearance and feminine attitude.’
‘Simply look at his wife and the beautiful women he has surrounded himself with to remind yourself of what men everywhere prefer, and not the ‘beauty at every size’ sewage that has been pushed down our throats by gender studies professors and corporations trying to market their product to feminist fatsoes.’
‘The president of the United States does not see the value in fat women who don’t take care of themselves, and neither should you.’
‘His presence automatically legitimises masculine behaviours that were previously labelled sexist and misogynist.’
95 percent of the victims of violence are men. Because women are natural cowards who send men to handle things when they are dangerous.
16 September 2016 - The Guardian
The age of consent for all sexual acts in Queensland will be standardised at 16 after the state’s parliament voted to lower the age of consent for anal sex from 18.
The criminal code will also be amended to replace references to “sodomy” with “anal intercourse” after the Queensland Aids Council said the former term had connotations of outdated laws and moral standards.
Queensland is the only state in Australia to have different legal ages of consent for anal and vaginal sex.
The health minister, Cameron Dick, said the amendments were aimed at improving sexual health.
“Too often the conversation about the age of consent has focused on morality and, worse still, on criminality,” he told parliament. “[With these amendments] we remove a discriminatory provision from our statute books and support the sexual health and wellbeing of young Queenslanders.”
The Liberal National party did not oppose the changes but expressed concerns about how young people would be educated about them.
“We do need certainty and clarity from the government as to how it will educate the 16 to 17-year-old cohort around these changes,” the opposition’s health spokesman, John-Paul Langbroek, said.
But the federal LNP Queensland backbencher George Christensen said on Facebook the change in the law opened the way for 16-year-olds to be “groomed” by much older men.
The Queensland Aids Council’s executive director, Michael Scott, welcomed the change, saying an unequal age of consent had been a barrier to equal access to healthcare.
“We are concerned that, with the current inequality of age of consent, young people who are sexually active are reluctant to access sexual health services including HIV and other STI testing and preventative health education for fear of being prosecuted,” he said.
Imagery of brutal deaths are in itself anti-feminist. Because most women are natural cowards. And most feminism is just whimsical.
Daud Mohamed lives a fragile existence, wholly dependent on rain.
At his homestead in Somalia where we camped one night, his nine children were busy with chores as the sun was coming up: feeding the baby goat, collecting drinking water an hour’s walk away, and mixing up porridge in plastic mugs for breakfast. Mohamed has managed to keep a sense of normalcy at his rural homestead a two-hour drive from the nearest village. But he said the situation is anything but normal.
“I’ve never seen this kind of a drought that has killed our animals. It’s the worst one,” Mohamed said, his grey goatee making him look older than his 45 years. He has just one goat and a sickly calf left, he added.
Down the hill from Mohamed’s house is a clearing where he used to grow vegetables for his family and grass for his goats and cows. The soil is now dried into a wide latticework of deep cracks. At one end of the clearing stand two large trees. Many branches have been unceremoniously cut for firewood, leaving jagged stubs. But their broad trunks attest to their survival: droughts typically hit this region every few years, so these trees have withstood many lean seasons.
Mohamed walked us to the far end of the beige expanse and looked glumly at the skeleton of one of his last cows. The unforgiving sun had already bleached is ribs white. “They didn’t get enough food, and people were depending on animal’s milk and meat. If animals died, then human beings will also die,” Mohamed said.
Mohamed said he thinks that a current law in Somaliland that bans cutting trees and charcoal production, is a good idea.
“Those trees used to help our animals. Now it looks like a desert,” he said. But he recognizes that planning ahead -- even as a single father with a brood ranging in age from toddler to teenager -- can be a luxury.
“If you have a family and you lose your livestock and there is drought, you will do anything to feed the children,” Mohamed said.
That is part of the reason why those two last trees on his parched pasture are starting to look like his only hope, he said.
Across the global scientific community, there’s broad consensus about the reality of climate change. The Department of Defense first highlighted the security threat of global warming in 2010, calling it “an accelerant” for conflict. Yet with his tweets and executive orders, President Donald Trump has catapulted climate change skepticism into the mainstream. But for many people on the planet, like Daud Mohamed, the debate is moot: life is fundamentally changing right now.
More than six million Somalian people are currently in urgent need of assistance, according to the United Nations, which has called the refugee crisis the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II.
Most Americans first heard of Somalia when the country suffered a severe famine in the late 1980s.
The country once again made international headlines because of an incident known as Black Hawk Down in 1993, when 18 U.S. soldiers were killed in the streets of Mogadishu. The killings were later portrayed in an Academy Award-winning film of the same name.
The country occasionally makes headlines because of the pirates who trawl the coastline awaiting foreign cargo ships that they can hold hostage for massive ransoms. On land, reporters regularly recount the suffering of communities who still live under the ruthless rule of al-Shabab, a militant group aligned with Al Qaeda.
My reporting partner, photographer Nichole Sobecki, and I came to Somalia to look into another grim phenomenon, however. Scientists now believe that Somalia is one of the most vulnerable places in the world due to climate change. News stories about the war-torn country rarely highlights this link, but much of the violence in Somalia stems from environmental issues and resource scarcity -- and those underlying causes are only getting worse.
“With these weather patterns, Somalia or Somalis will not survive,” said Somali environmental activist Fatima Jibrell. “Maybe the land, a piece of desert called Somalia, will exist on the map of the world, but Somalis cannot survive.”
Yet just 40 years ago, Somalia seemed to be on a different trajectory.
The UN held their first environmental conference in Stockholm in 1972, but it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed and the science of climate change started to be discussed as a global issue.
However, Somalia’s leaders had a deep appreciation for their fragile relationship with the environment starting in the 1970s after a punishing drought. At the time, the government saw that safeguarding their natural resources had to be a priority. A quarter of a million nomadic people lost their livestock and became desperately poor in 1974 and 1975, according to Somalia expert Ioan Lewis. It was essentially the equivalent of going bankrupt, having your car stolen and your house burning down all at once. For these people, life became focused on survival.
With support from the U.S. during the Cold War, Somali President Siad Barre created the National Range Agency to manage the country’s natural resources. The Range Agency’s leaders had the ear of the president, the largest budget of any government department, and eventually more than 2,000 people on the payroll.
One of the foreign experts drawn to this work at the National Range Agency was a British ecologist named Dr. Murray Watson.
Watson had learned to fly while studying wildebeest migrations in the Serengeti for his doctorate at Cambridge University. He moved to Kenya, bought a Piper Super Cub two-seater plane, and began tinkering with a rig of measuring sticks, an altimeter and a camera to take aerial photographs to document wildlife.
Watson arrived in Mogadishu in 1978, just as the Range Agency was starting its work. Through the rest of the 1970s and ‘80s, Watson led a small team of scientists in carrying out the most comprehensive land survey of Somalia in the country’s history. They crisscrossed the country by Landrover and bush plane, photographing and studying the environment at more than a thousand sites.
But in 1991, that momentum came to an abrupt halt. Rebels toppled President Barre and then turned on each other, plunging the country in civil war. Thousands of people were killed in street battles in the city. The rebels looted and destroyed businesses and government buildings.
But Watson somehow managed to make his way across the city amid the firefights and rescue the agency’s maps, photographs, and field notes. He snuck some 15,000 environmental documents out of the country in a bush plane.
As Range Agency staff fled the chaos and accomplished Somali scientists ending up in refugee camps, they left behind everything they held dear, including university diplomas, wedding photos and children’s books.
“We always thought we would go back,” said Dr. Abdullahi Ahmed Karani. He served as the first and longtime director of the National Range Agency, and he fled Somalia in 1991. He eventually settled in Baltimore and is now almost 80 years old.
As the Somali government collapsed and terrorism became an even larger problem, no one could enforce the ban on charcoal production and deforestation. Illegal fishing and dumping of toxic waste increased as foreign companies took advantage of Somalia’s unpatrolled waters. Meanwhile, as Somalia’s climate began to change, increasingly frequent droughts made people even more vulnerable to armed groups like Al-Shabab.
In contrast, Watson’s land survey provides a rare, detailed picture of a country before the past 26 years of conflict and environmental destruction.
But in 2008, the conflict caught up to Watson. While conducting another environmental survey, Watson and his Kenyan colleague Patrick Amukhuma were ambushed and kidnapped. Watson has been missing ever since, and what happened to him remains a mystery to his family to this day.
But Watson’s work has lived on. The Somali government has begun finding its footing after a quarter-century of war, and researchers believe Watson’s land survey -- now housed in a farmhouse in Britain -- could help show precisely how and why the country’s environment changed. It could also possibly offer clues about what can be done to restore it.
But many Somalis have already decided Somalia is no longer a viable home.
Another terrible drought hit in 2011, sparking a mass exodus. According to the UN, a quarter of a million people died and almost a million more crossed into neighboring countries. Tens of thousands of those fleeing their homes finally found relief in Kenya at one of the world’s largest refugee camps, Dadaab.
When their farm failed, Mohamed Abukar and his wife, Habiba, took their two young daughters and walked for 27 days to the camp across desolate southern Somalia -- land that in Watson’s old photographs appears verdant and green, with one of the country’s old-growth forests and even a national park. Today, the region is controlled by al-Shabab, who have deforested much of it to supply their lucrative charcoal trade, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Now a father of five, including two young sons, Abukar knows his family can’t stay in the refugee camp in Kenya forever. But he also can’t imagine returning to Somalia.
Abukar said that in Somalia, al-Shabab recruits boys at the madrassas or religious schools.
“I am fearful that they will be recruited. First, there is no school other than those run and controlled by [al-Shabab],” he said.
“They can radicalize you because you are poor and don’t have anything,” Abukar added, explaining that extremists sometimes block aid from reaching these areas to coerce people into supporting them.
Indeed, aid agencies could have alleviated the suffering from the drought. But al-Shabab wanted to leave people vulnerable, “to attract the hungry people, knowing too well that people facing starvation will fall for anything,” Abukar said. He told us this fear of starvation is one of the concerns that runs through his mind at night while his family sleeps.
“Even if Somalia has security problems, if someone has to die, it’s best if he dies while in good shape other than dying of hunger,” he said.
Abukar vows he’ll never return to Somalia. Since the war broke out in 1991, millions more have also left, making new lives for themselves elsewhere in eastern Africa or boarding rickety boats bound for the West at the mercy of smugglers.
Environmental activist Fatima Jibrell had left Somalia too. She moved to the U.S., but decided to come back to lead Adeso, the organization she founded in 1991. Her organization focuses on creating jobs and rehabilitating the degraded land. But she questions whether that approach will ultimately work, blaming desperation that has been exacerbated by a changing environment and dwindling resources.
“It’s going to take us to wars where we kill and maim each other. Sadly, I think that is the way we will choose. Not intelligently, but by not doing anything -- that’s the choice we will make,” said Jibrell. “The other choice is harder, but it’s doable. It comes with intelligent people coming together.”
Jibrell’s feelings about the future are peppered with both optimistic and grim predictions. But she said she is committed to her work, even as she approaches 70.
“We are alive, and we are thinking beings. And it’s not in our nature, I think, to give up,” Jibrell reflected. “Nobody likes to die sitting.”
It's not that we would be madly in love with Donald Trump. But he may just ruin the US. That would be much welcomed in all corners of the world.
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