My dream is to see a world in which extreme poverty is eliminated. But there is a largely hidden problem which frustrates attempts to deal with economic poverty. A recent study pointed out that the number one problem that poor people face in developing countries is not starvation or disease but a fear of violence. Violence keeps people poor and prevents them bettering themselves and their families.
- Imagine living in a community where you are totally outside of the rule of law. Where the police force and courts only look after the well-off and the educated. Where law enforcement is under-funded and cannot cope with the multitude of crimes committed against the poor and the vulnerable. Where the police force and courts are corrupt and accept bribes from the guilty.
- Imagine living in a community where your children could be stolen and made to work as slaves in a factory, a brick making plant or a mine producing rare metals for our mobile phones. Where there is no-one to stop you, your sister or your wife being taken into slavery.
- Imagine living in a slum in a large city in Africa where there are an estimated 150,000 instances of rape a year but only one doctor who is allowed to examine and fill in the necessary forms for prosecution to be even considered. Your wife, your sister, your daughters are not safe to leave the home, and with only a ‘house’ made of wood, cardboard and corrugated iron, even being home does not guarantee security. You may decide to avoid sending your daughters to school at all because there is no protection for them.
- Imagine your family has cultivated a small plot of land for generations but one day bulldozers and thugs arrive to ‘legally’ throw you off your land in a plan to make a plantation growing food for western supermarkets. You have no access to lawyers, because you cannot pay, and no hope of restoration and justice.
- Imagine you are a mother who is granted a micro-loan by an N.G.O. to buy a sewing machine to set up a small business. But there is no security and nothing to prevent the machine being stolen with zero chance of redress. You lack motivation because of the threat, and the loan which was designed to ‘help you help yourself’ becomes a burden and a source of fear.
- Imagine you have suffered violence, theft, rape or illegal exploitation, and go to the police, a magistrate or a court to seek justice. You have two problems. You cannot afford a lawyer who could act on your behalf. You are illiterate and so cannot fill in the necessary forms and you are treated as ‘dirt’ because you cannot read or write.
- Imagine that you have a daily threat of theft, of beatings, of being enslaved, of living with a fear of rape or a fear for life itself. The law, which is designed to protect you, is corrupt, or is inadequately effective. Those who threaten you are ‘above the law’ and untouchable. As far as you are concerned there is no law and no justice.
A world-wide problem
Violence is used throughout the world as a tool to keep whole populations poor so that the rich can be protected and prosper. In developing countries not all the above scenarios may be applicable, but some will be.
Of course, where there is war or armed conflict these problems are greatly increased and people will be aware of them. We look at Syria, Iraq or Afghanistan, people living in refugee camps of war-flattened buildings. But I am writing about countries which are apparently ‘at peace’ but where the poor live in situations indistinguishable from the effects of war.
But even in developed countries there can still be a lack of justice for the poor and disadvantaged. As a fairly middle class Englishman, I feel that the police are on ‘my side’ and should protect me from violence and theft. But ask a person ‘of colour’ living in one of our major cities and you will get a completely different answer. They often feel that the police are against them and only there to protect the establishment.
I am reading a book by Gary Haugen called “THE LOCUST EFFECT” and subtitled “Why the end of poverty requires the end of violence”. It is having a profound effect on me and has inspired this blog article – with more to come.
Amazon are currently selling the Kindle version for £9.78 (reduced from £18). I would recommend reading it – but be prepared to be shocked and inspired.
A typical quote from the book:
But, the world overwhelmingly does not know that endemic to being poor is a vulnerability to violence, or the way violence is, right now, catastrophically crushing the global poor. As a result, the world is not getting busy trying to stop it. And, in a perfect tragedy, devastating much of the other things good people are seeking to do to assist them.
- New Laws. In some cases new laws need to be created, or older laws revised to ensure that the whole population is secure from the threat of violence. But in many cases, adequate laws exist but need to be properly enforced. In India, for example, there are laws against slavery and bonded labour but the problem is still rampant.
- Strengthening law enforcement. There is a good case for western government ‘aid’ money being given to projects which properly fund and encourage local law enforcement.
- Work towards an end of corruption. This needs to take place at the highest of levels before corruption at a street level can be tackled.
- Education of the elite to change attitudes and stop considering poor people as sub-human and not deserving equal justice before the law.
- Education to help vulnerable people know their rights and tackling illiteracy which keeps so many in subjection.
- Infrastructure provision. Street lighting to make slums safer places at night. More local schools so that girls (and boys) can go to a nearby school and avoid being a target for sexual predators.
What can we do?
Assuming that most readers of this article are residents of a developed country, what can I, and people like me, do to help reduce violence towards the poor in other countries.
- Make other people aware of the problem. Write to your government representatives; use Facebook and other social media.
- As a consumer, refuse to use a product or service which relies on slave labour or worker coercion.
- Give to overseas charities which are aware that throwing money at poverty is not enough; charities which promote communities where violence does not destroy otherwise good development goals.
- Support organisations such as the International Justice Mission (IJM) which promote justice at a grass-roots level, work to free people from slavery and sexual exploitation, and seek justice for the victims of violence.
Reducing poverty and tackling the problems of disease, mal-nutrition and exploitation is a complex business. The problem of violence suffered by poor people is largely hidden. But the elimination of extreme poverty must include exposing and fighting against the violence used as a weapon to keep so many under subjection and treated as sub-human.