Mali: COVID-19 and conflict lead to rise in child trafficking
Child trafficking is rising in Mali, along with forced labour and forced recruitment by armed groups, due to conflict, insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Tuesday.
Some 230 cases of child recruitment were reported during the first half of the year, compared with 215 cases for the whole of 2019, according to a UNHCR-backed study.
Armed groups are also trafficking children to work in gold mines, with the profits being used to fuel the arms trade and finance violence, the agency added.
Meanwhile, adults operating in the mines are subjected to extortionate “taxes”.
Worst forms of abuse
“As a result of conflict and socio-economic deterioration worsened by the pandemic, we are seeing some of the most egregious human rights violations in the Sahel,” said Gillian Triggs, UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection.
“Children are being forced to fight by armed groups, trafficked, raped, sold, forced into sexual or domestic servitude, or married off. Many more children are at risk in the Sahel, a region which is becoming the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world.”
Overall, an estimated 6,000 children, mainly boys, were found working across eight mining sites in Mali, according to UNHCR child protection assessments.
These youngsters are exposed to the worst forms of child labour, economic exploitation, and physical, sexual and psychological abuse.
Working to pay off bogus ‘debt’
Some children arrived at the mine sites on “credit”, meaning a third party had financed their transport and food, while others said they worked for days without being paid. They are expected to work for an unspecified time until they pay of their “debt”.
Additionally, UNHCR said reports of communities of women and girls being abducted, sexually assaulted and raped, have been received from the Mopti region in central Mali, with more than 1,000 cases recorded so far this year.
The agency fears child marriage will also inevitably increase in a country where an estimated 53 per cent of girls are married before they turn 18.
Trafficked in transit
The victims of these crimes are Malians, but also refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
Despite the conflict, and COVID-19 movement restrictions, UNHCR said Mali remains a key transit country for people attempting to reach northern Africa and Europe.
Some of these “people on the move” are trafficked for forced labour in the agriculture sector, while others, particularly women, are trafficked on the way to promised jobs in North Africa, Europe and the Middle East. Others are diverted to the capital, Bamako, or to mining or agricultural areas where they are forced to engage in so-called survival sex.
UNHCR said traffickers and their accomplices range from the echelons of organized crime and outlawed armed groups, tribal chiefs or state authorities, but can even include parents, relatives or community members.
The agency continues to press for greater support for efforts to prevent and respond to trafficking, to protect those at risk, and to provide assistance to victims while also ensuring perpetrators are brought to justice.
However, insufficient funding threatens these efforts, according to a recent report.
Shedding light on the Sun
As questions abound about the Earth’s closest star, scientists are seeking answers critical to forecasting solar flares that threaten satellites and other electronics.
By ANTHONY KING
For most of humankind’s history, it has been hard to explain the Sun as anything other than a powerful deity.
For instance, the ancient Greek god Helios – the personification of the Sun – raced his chariot across the sky to create night and day, whereas the ancient Egyptians worshipped their falcon-headed sun god, Ra, as creator of the universe.
Since then, science has revealed that, for example, the Sun on average turns on its axis once every 28 days. But at its equator, the hot plasma ball rotates once every 25 days, while it takes around 35 days at the poles, creating a swirling soup of piping hot plasma.
Nonetheless, the power of the Sun can still offer surprises, with blasts fierce enough to fry communication satellites or electronics on Earth. Scientists warn of more powerful solar flares as a peak of activity approaches in late 2024 and early 2025.
‘There is this turbulent motion inside our star, called convection, that is a bit like how water wrinkles just before it boils,’ said Professor Sacha Brun, director of research at CEA Paris-Saclay, part of the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission.
An infamous magnetic storm that hit Earth in September 1859, known as the Carrington Event, triggered spectacular auroras far from polar regions and sizzled telegraph systems around the world.
There have been more since. In 1989, a geomagnetic storm caused a blackout in Quebec, Canada, according to Brun.
Greater knowledge about the Sun is needed to predict and understand such events.
That swirling ball of hydrogen and helium is also unimaginably hot – with core temperatures of 15 million °C. And it’s ginormous – more than 1 million Earths fit inside the Sun.
Its peaceful presence on a summer’s day belies the intense nuclear reactions at its core that generate vast amounts of energy. The Sun is a churning ball of plasma, with gases so hot that electrons are booted out of atoms, generating intense magnetic explosions from its surface that spew billions of tonnes of matter into space.
As it spins, the Sun’s mechanical energy turns into magnetic energy – a bit like the dynamo on a bicycle light, where pedal motion is converted into magnetic energy.
On the Sun, twisty ribbons of magnetism rise and break out as sunspots, dark patches at the surface where the magnetic field is 3 000 times more intense than in the surrounding areas.
Sunspots can trigger those solar flares that damage electrical equipment. But this activity isn’t constant.
‘The magnetism of the Sun is variable over an 11-year cycle,’ said Brun, an astrophysicist.
Over that cycle, coronal mass ejections rise in frequency, from one every three days to an average of three per day at its peak.
‘As we go further into the cycle, more outbursts will emerge from the Sun,’ Brun said. ‘People don’t realise that the Earth bathes in the turbulent magnetic atmosphere of our star.’
So there’s an obvious need to anticipate when such solar storms approach. For example, a solar flare in February 2022 knocked out 40 SpaceX commercial satellites by destroying their electronics.
Those energetic particles take just 15 minutes to reach Earth from the Sun. The threat posed by magnetic clouds usually takes a few days, offering more time to brace for any onslaught.
Brun co-leads an EU-funded project called WHOLE SUN to understand the interior and exterior layers of the only star in the Earth’s solar system.
Running for seven years through April 2026, the initiative focuses on the inner turbulence of the Sun and the complex physics that turns the inner turmoil into magnetism in the outer layers.
This requires the most powerful supercomputers in the world. Yet forecasting solar flares means that scientists gain greater understanding of the insides of the Sun.
A star is born
What about the distant past of the Sun? It has been around for 4.6 billion years – 100 million years before Earth. Where and how it was formed would seem to be an impenetrable mystery.
Not so, according to Dr Maria Lugaro at the Konkoly Observatory of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.
Lugaro, an Italian astrophysicist, is researching this very question in the EU-funded RADIOSTAR project. It began in 2017 and runs through August this year.
‘We believe that the Sun wasn’t born alone, but was born in a star-forming region where there’s lots of stars,’ Lugaro said.
She is looking into this past by examining chemical fossils in meteorites today.
Radioactive atoms are unstable. They release energy and decay into so-called daughter atoms, over a certain length of time, which are measurable. The daughters are therefore chemical fossils, offering information about long-gone radioactive atoms.
Lugaro’s research suggests that the Sun originated in a stellar nursery that contained lots of siblings, including exploding stars – supernovas. But digging into the Sun’s history first requires finding meteorites, bits of rock formed before Earth.
These meteorites can contain traces of the radioactive atoms such as aluminium-26 and hafnium-182. It is known that these lived only a certain length of time. Together, traces of such atoms can be used as a radioactive clock to compute the age of the stars that made them, relative to the age of the Sun.
Some radioactive atoms are made in only certain types of stars. Their presence in meteorites helps to recreate a picture of the Sun’s birthplace, albeit one that’s up for debate.
It may be that the Sun was birthed amid dust and gas clouds in a tempestuous region alongside supergiant stars and exploding stars.
Within perhaps 20 million years, the different stars begin to make their own way out of the nursery. But things are far from being scientifically settled.
‘Every year there’s debate: is the Sun normal or is it a weird star?’ said Lugaro. ‘It’s quite fun.’
Research in this article was funded via the EU’s European Research Council (ERC). The article was originally published in Horizon, the EU Research and Innovation Magazine.
Biden is preparing Americans to lose the Second Cold War?
Vladimir Putin’s approval rating is 82%. Joe Biden’s is 42%. Xi Jinping’s is anyone’s guess, but the Chinese near-unanimously trust their government. More than half of Russians trust their government. Less than a third of Americans trust theirs. These statistics are not random but speak to America’s imminent loss in this, the Second Cold War, writes ‘The American Thinker’.
Why aren’t Americans rallying around the flag? Pride, approval, and support for their respective flags in China and Russia, but not the same in America, is not an accident. All governments influence the memories they want their people and foreigners to have of them. It’s called political memory.
A look at how the governments of Russia, China, and the United States are leveraging political memory sheds light on why Russians and Chinese love their governments and rulers, and Americans are souring on America and Biden. This simultaneous occurrence is not an accident. Russia and China are preparing to win the second round of the Cold War, and America is handing them the opportunity to do this.
The goal of Russia’s political memory is “to give students and ordinary citizens a simple and consistent narrative of a powerful nation they can take pride in.” School begins by singing the national anthem and raising the Russian flag. Taking a knee or disparaging the Russian flag is unthinkable. Putin, to be certain of unified support for the actions taken, restore Ukraine to its rightful place, and prepare for Cold War II, launched a new patriotic history in 2022. Putin described the purpose: “A deep understanding of our history… to draw correct conclusions from the past.”
Russia’s political memory constantly conditions Russians to fear existential threats, particularly from the West. It’s why they revere their militaries and have always been prepared to endure heavy casualties in war. The military prevents the Russian state from being subjugated.
Russia’s approach to political memory is consistent with China’s approach and motivated by the same theme: China lives with a perceived existential threat to its independence, particularly from the west. Cold War II will test its resilience.
China began preparing for round two at the end of Cold War I. This is when it began its “Patriotic Re-education Campaign.” Cementing patriotism in China, as in Russia, is key to preparing for and achieving victory in Cold War II.
China’s and Russia’s approaches to political memory are contrary to the U.S. government’s. Instead, America appears to be preparing to wave a white flag, or maybe a rainbow-colored one. Pride in America has been sinking, and this ties to the government’s design for America’s political memory.
This political memory could emphasize things such as America being the first colony to defeat a European empire or its WWII victory over fascism. Or it could tell how, in just over 150 years, America became an economic powerhouse on the back of capitalism and then sustained this with an education system designed to unify Americans and later foster innovation.
Instead, the center of history in 4,500 schools is to depict American slavery via exaggerated interpretations of personal memories, untempered by facts. Instead of a history of patriotism and achievement, the American government is supporting a history of trauma, including systemic racism and inequality.
In 2022, it was reported that the average IQ of Americans dropped for the first time in 100 years. The researchers speculated that it was due to changes in the educational system.
The Biden government’s trauma-centered political memory strategy to divide America politically, and racially has motivated this Russo-Chinese partnership and escalated the likelihood of Cold War II, – writes the “American Thinker”.
Riyadh joins Shanghai Cooperation Organization
Saudi Arabia’s cabinet approved on Wednesday a decision to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as Riyadh builds a long-term partnership with China despite U.S. security concerns.
Saudi Arabia has approved a memorandum on granting the Kingdom the status of a dialogue partner in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, state news agency SPA said.
The SCO is a political and security union of countries spanning much of Eurasia, including China, India and Russia.
Formed in 2001 by Russia, China and former Soviet states in Central Asia, the body has been expanded to include India and Pakistan, with a view to playing a bigger role as counterweight to Western influence in the region.
Iran also signed documents for full membership last year.
Dialogue partner status will be a first step within the Organisation before granting the Kingdom full membership in the mid-term.
The decision followed an announcement by Saudi Aramco, which raised its multi-billion dollar investment in China, by finalising a planned joint venture in northeast China and acquiring a stake in a privately controlled petrochemical group.
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