October 27, 2006

Children of the Bogey Gods

Richard Dawkins, in a highly watchable British Channel 4 TV show, The Root of all Evil, has accused religion of child abuse (imho, rightly so; for the broadband have-nots, a good summary is available on Wikipedia)! Dawkins contends that children, who are genetically programmed to obey adults, are being systematically abused by religious parents and other significant adults in their life. The abuse often takes the form fear of hell and other horrific punishments, for what the religious adults may consider as sins. I found a couple of recent news items on the pernicious influence of religion on child health much more disturbing than injecting the fear of bogey gods in a child's mind.

IOL reports from South Africa that "the refusal of a father to allow his six-year-old daughter to have an urgent brain operation - because the traditional healers he had consulted said he should not give his consent - nearly led to the little girl's death." Fortunately for the child, "the Centre for Child Law at the University of Pretoria intervened and the child is now due to have the operation within a day." The operation is fairly simple, and involves placing a shunt to drain the fluid from a cyst in the girl's cranium.

Hundreds of children afflicted with polio in the state of Uttar Pradesh in India have not been so fortunate. According to a recent report in the Time magazine, a handful of Muslim clerics in the state have been spreading a rumour that the polio vaccine to be given to the children, is part of a Western conspiracy to sterilize Muslims. Aravind Adiga writes from New Delhi,

...India seemed to be on the verge of eliminating polio last year, when it reported just 66 cases of the disease, down from 1600 in 2002. This year, however, things have gone horribly wrong with India's polio elimination campaign; 325 cases have been reported already, and at least 23 of them have been fatal. What's caught people's attention is that 70% of those infected with polio this year are Muslim, even though Muslims account for only 13% of India's population. What's even stranger, and frightening, is the reason: some Muslims believe that the polio drops are part of a conspiracy to sterilize their children, and are refusing to let them be vaccinated...

What's worse is that India has now gained the dubious distinction of exporting the particular strain of polio virus found in UP to other parts of the world, including Angola, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The rumour claiming that the polio vaccine contained anti-fertility agents designed to sterilize Muslim girls originated in Nigeria in 2003, and then spread,along with the polio, to Pakistan, Kenya, and other parts of the developing world, particularly, the Muslim dominated countries. The polio infection may have "traveled from Nigeria in a uniquely Muslim way – via the pilgrimage to Mecca (the hajj), which took place in January 2005. Testing confirms that all three Asian strains of the disease originated in northern Nigeria". Saudi Arabia now has mandated polio screening for the Hajj pilgrims to Mecca.

It's pertinent to note here that Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires that the "States Parties shall take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children."

  1. A doctor working in the kutchch region on a CARE project had told me how it was impossible to distribute free vitamin tablets in the region and ensure results because they were thrown away at the instruction of the village chiefs who consiodered them suspect. This is a village where they still brand small children with hot iron to ensure growth!
    And again when he went to work in a rajastan village for a christain charitable institution, the same thing happeend. the free medicines were thrown away at the insistence of the local politician who told them that it was a conspiracy to convert them!

  2. The branding was supposed to be a protection against evil spirits.


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