As this blog will soon be devoted to regular updates from my time in Ghana, I thought I would write a bit about the overriding problem that International Justice Mission seeks to address. IJM states that it is an organization which “protects the poor from violence in the developing world.” This statement demands answers to a few basic questions: who are the poor, why not more traditional forms of assistance to the poor, and what type of violence? I hope to answer these questions and give a better picture of the global problem IJM seeks to address.
The vast majority of this post is adapted from the chapter “The Hidden Crisis at History’s Inflection Point” in The Locust Effect, a book written by IJM founder Gary Haugen. It can be purchased here. I think the chapter does a fantastic job of concisely stating the problem of violence people in the developing world face, and so I am passing a very stripped down version on to you. It is not my intention to pass off the statistics or research in this post as my own. Instead, I merely hope to inform you and raise your awareness about the depth of the problem IJM, and the world, faces. It is my sincere hope you will read The Locust Effect for yourself, as well as other works that can give you a deeper understanding of the problems facing the poor around the world.
Who are the poor?
In economic terms, poverty is defined by how much an individual has to live on day-to-day. With respect to the economic aspect of poverty, there has been much progress made over the last few decades. In 1981 52% of people in the developing world lived on less that $1.25 a day. In 2010, only 21% of people in the developing world were living on $1.25 a day. While that is certainly fantastic progress, that still leaves approximately 883 million people living in extreme poverty. Moreover, the number of people living on between $1.25 and $2.00 a day doubled between 1981 and 2008 to 1.18 billion. So, are we making progress, or is the global fight against poverty a Sisyphean task?
- The number of people living on $2.00 a day was 2.59 billion in 1981 and was 2.47 billion in 2008. However, in 1981 70% of people in the developing world lived on less than $2.00 a day, but by 2008 that had dropped to 43%
- 7.6 million children under the age of 5 die from preventable and treatable causes each year, but 30 years ago the number was 15 million.
- 780 million people worldwide do not have access to clean drinking water, however since 1990 2 billion people have gained access to clean water.
- Approximately 16% of all people in the developing world are undernourished, and globally 925 million people are undernourished. Yet, in 1981 approximately 25% of people in the developing world were undernourished.
- Worldwide, 67.5 million children do not go to school at all, and 775 million adults cannot read or write. However, from 1999 to 2008, 52 million children were given the opportunity to get a primary education where previously there had been none.
- Globally there are 1.6 billion people in substandard housing, and over 100 million homeless. But, globally the percentage of people living in slums has dropped from 46% to 32%.
From these facts two things become clear: we have made remarkable progress in combating global poverty, and we still have a long way to go.
Why not offer more traditional forms of assistance to the poor?
The reason is quite simple, violence is an intrinsic aspect of poverty that has long taken a backseat to more readily apparent problems. To quote Gary Haugen in his book The Locust Effect. “The way our world works, poor people-by virtue of their poverty-are not only vulnerable to hunger, disease, homelessness, illiteracy, and a lack of opportunity; they are vulnerable to violence.”
Haugen highlights three reasons why the hidden nature of violence makes it unique. First, the perpetrator is willfully attempting to conceal it. Second, violence is a part of life that people find difficult to discuss, because it is uniquely traumatic. A human being who has been intentionally humiliated, violated, dominated, defiled and degraded by violence often feels ashamed. This creates a paradox where both victim and perpetrator may seek to keep the violence hidden. Finally, for many poor people, violence becomes such a normal part of life that they no longer see it as a distinct phenomenon. A study by The World Bank confirms that violence is frequently the problem that poor people are most concerned about, and is one of the core reasons they are poor in the first place!
The United Kingdom’s Department for International Development puts it succinctly, “Poor people want to feel safe and secure just as much as they need food to eat, clean water to drink and a job to give them an income. Without security there cannot be development.” Protection from violence is foundational to reaching development objectives. But that raises the next question, what do we mean when we say violence?
What type of violence?
Sexual violence grows out of an even larger problem, gender violence. Gender violence combines sexual violence, domestic abuse, and other forms of coercion that females endure from males. The statistics are horrifying.
- 1 out of 3 women in the world has been beaten, forced into sex, or otherwise abused during her lifetime. Studies suggest:
- 49% of Ethiopian women will be assaulted, as will:
- 48% of Ugandan women
- 62% of Peruvian women
- 35% of Indian women
- and 34% of Brazilian women
- The World Bank estimates that gender violence kills and disables more women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 than cancer, traffic accidents, malaria, and war combined.
- However, gender violence in the developing world takes on even more insidious forms
- 5,000 women are murdered every year in so-called “honor killings.”
- Approximately 15,000 women and girls are murdered every year in India in family disputes over dowry.
- Each year in the developing world, millions of girls are forced into marriage before the age of 15.
- Every day approximately 6,000 girls around the world are faced with female genital mutilation.
It is important to note that this violence against women and girls is actually against the law in most of the countries where it occurs. Sadly, this plague of sexual violence has an outsized impact on what is referred to as “The Girl Effect.” Which is the disproportionately positive impact that occurs when girls from the world’s poorest communities have a chance to get an education. Tragically, according to the World Health Organization, school is the place where many young girls in the developing world are victimized. The impact of this is seen in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where enrollment of girls in school shows a sharp decline when women reach adolescence.
Sexual violence is also a booming business around the world, and generates revenues of $18.5 billion in developing countries. There are between 4.2 million and 11.6 million people currently held in forced commercial sexual exploitation. In the course of IJM’s work it is common to see many individuals held in forced prostitution to be compelled to endure sexual acts with 3 to 10 customers a day. If this is the experience of just half of the individual held in forced prostitution, then globally, every day, between 6 and 50 million people (almost exclusively men) pay for sexual acts compelled by force (rape or sexual molestation). This is a form of violence that overwhelmingly targets the poor.
Sadly, there are more people held in slavery today than ever before in human history. Historians estimate that approximately 11 million slaves were taken from Africa during four hundred years of the Atlantic slave trade, today 20 – 45 million people around the world are currently being held in slavery. Even in the developing world, these victims of forced labor will produce $7 billion a year in profits. The victims of modern-day slavery are the poorest and most vulnerable people, and low-income countries tend to have higher levels of slavery. The numbers are sobering.
- The Society for the Protection of the Rights of the Child in Pakistan estimates that landlords hold nearly 7 million of Pakistan’s poorest children in forced labor on plantations and in private homes. Others are held in carpet weaving, mining, glass, and fishing industries, with about 1 million being held in Pakistan’s brick factories alone.
- In Mauritania, a local anti-slavery organization called S.O.S. estimates that between 10 and 20 percent of the population live as slaves.
- Haitian officials with the Restavek foundation confirm that 250,000-300,000 Haitian children are sent from their homes to live as domestic slaves in the households of Haiti’s wealthier families.
- In Ghana, thousands of boys as young as 10 are sold into forced labor on fishing boats, where they work for 12-16 hours a day under dangerous conditions. Many ultimately drown.
- The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 660,000 victims of forced labor in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Officials from the Pastoral Land Commission of the Episcopal Conference of Brazil estimates that 25,000 Brazilian rural laborers are lured into slavery every year.
- In India, a nation with a population of 1.3 billion, 410 million Indians live on about $1.25 a day. 46% of Indian children are malnourished and 78 million people are homeless. 18 million people living in India, 1.4% of the population live as slaves.
- Other countries with high populations of slaves: China 3.4 million, Bangladesh 1.5 million, Uzbekistan 1.2 million, North Korea 1.1 million, Russia, 1 million, Nigeria 880,000, Congo – Kinshasa 870,000.
Much of this forced labor is made possible by the complicity of the local authorities. The victims live in a world of terror and violence we do not see, often cloaked in the guise of legitimate businesses. Schools, clinics, and economic programs provided for their benefit are present but not available to these impoverished victims of violence.
Violent Land Seizures
“Property grabbing” is a phrase used in the developing world to describe the practice of violent land seizures in the poorest communities. The truth is that that most of the world’s poorest people can be summarily thrown out of their homes and off of their land because there is no record keeping system to demonstrate ownership of real property. Even if there was, there is little willingness to enforce those rights on the behalf of the poor.
- 90% of rural sub-Saharan Africans (370 million of whom are considered to be poor) live and work on land that has no formal or secure title. This is also true for:
- 40 million Indonesians
- 40 million South Americans
- 40 million Indians
- A further 350 million poor indigenous people around the world.
- Approximately 1.5 billion urban poor live without any secure property rights.
An official with the UNDP has stated: “With limited and insecure land rights, it is difficult, if not impossible, for the poor to overcome poverty.” It is women in the developing world who are most affected by the lack of property rights.
- In sub-Saharan Africa 80% of food production is performed by women, but almost none of the land they cultivate is owned by women.
- With the high mortality rates in the developing world, the number of widows is enormous.
- There are more than 115 million widows in extreme poverty around the world.
- Approximately half a billion children depend on the care of these widows.
- In some countries the majority of the children depend on the care of widows: 70% in Rwanda, 60% in Mozambique, and 35% in Cambodia.
So, over 100 million widows and a half a billion children are in danger of being thrown out of their homes because of the lack of enforceable property rights. Moreover, corrupt government officials are often complicit in the forcible removal of families from their homes. After being forcibly removed many families are forced into even more extreme poverty, they begin to suffer the effects of malnutrition, disease, and are more vulnerable to other forms of violence like forced labor. What begins as a property crime soon turns into total devastation for the victims.
Sadly, while the institutions of law enforcement in the developing world are meant to solve issues of violence, often they add to the problem. In fact, in many places the single greatest criminal presence is the indigenous police force. The World Bank study “Voices of the Poor” concluded that for many poor people in the developing world “the police are just another gang.” Police officers in Cambodia, India, Philippines, Guatemala, Thailand, Kenya, Zambia, Bolivia, Malaysia, Honduras, Uganda and many many other countries exist within a system of extortion and bribery that reaches all the way up to the very heights of the command structure. Moreover, police officers are also often perpetrators of sexual assault on young women in their own communities. Thus, men fear being detained or beaten by the police for the purposes of extortion, and women fear being sexually assaulted and raped.
Furthermore, many police forces in the developing world frequently engage in abusive detention. This practice most often exhibits itself in pre-trial detention. Essentially, pre-trial detention means that a prisoner is being held in prison before they have been convicted of a crime. In the United States the percentage of the prison population being held in pre-trial detention is 20.3%. This ranks the United States slightly ahead of Germany (20.7%) and behind Estonia (19.7%). If you are an American lawyer reading this, that figure probably makes you slightly nauseous. Sadly, things are much worse throughout the world. In a global ranking of the percentage of national prison populations held in pre-trial detention, with 1 being the nation with the highest percentage, the United States ranked 144 out of 217 nations putting it in the bottom 1/3. To be clear, that means that 1 in 5 prisoners in the United States is being held in prison before they have been convicted of a crime, and this is a lower percentage than 2/3 of the nations on earth.
As an aside, I am not asserting that pre-trial detention is a bad thing in and of itself. There are many factors utilized in the United States to determine whether a prisoner should be allowed to bond out. In Georgia, Superior Court judges determine whether the accused:
(1) Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;
(2) Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;
(3) Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and
(4) Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.
Furthermore, our laws demand that timely hearings be held and judges make written findings to explain why a prisoner has not been permitted to post bail. Our system is by no means perfect, and is in need of its own reforms, but as will become clear, the protections it affords prisoners is far ahead of what many developing countries provide. Here, are some of the countries who have the worst rates of pre-trial detention
- Libya 90%
- Paraguay 77.9%
- Benin 74.9%
- Bangladesh 74%
- Congo – Kinshasa 73%
- Haiti 72%
- Cambodia 70.6%
- Central African Republic 70.2%
- Yemen 70.1%
- Pakistan 69.1%
- Bolivia 69%
- Nigeria 67.9%
- India 67.2%
While these figures are horrifying in themselves, it must also be added that in many countries in the developing world the police need no evidence whatsoever to detain someone. Thus, an individual can be detained absent any evidence of a crime being committed. So, for an individual in the developing world, the question then becomes, how long can you be detained? In the United States authorities are required to charge you with a crime and demonstrate that you are legitimately detained within a short time after your initial detention. However, in the developing world, this process might take months or even years. As an example, the average length of pre-trial detention in Nigeria is 3.7 years. In India, there are approximately 30 million pending cases in an overworked court system, the average time a case has been pending? 15 years. A review of pre-trial detention in Bangladesh found:
- Almost all of the detained prisoners were poor
- 73% had never been tried for a crime
- Many had been in prison waiting for trial longer than the maximum sentence allowed for the crime of which they were accused
- Most prisoners had never received legal counsel
- Most prisoners entitled to release on bail never received it.
The Open Society Justice Initiative estimates that 10 million people are held in pre-trial detention every year. Moreover, “the vast majority of torture victims in our world today are common, everyday poor people in the developing world-and most of the torture takes place in pre-trial detention.” Violence is a plague on our world that disproportionately affects the poorest and most vulnerable people. This is the problem IJM seeks to address.
Christians, how should we respond?
- “Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:17
- “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and the needy.” Ezekiel 16:49
- “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” Isaiah 58:6-7
- “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” James 1:27
- “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry, defending the fatherless and the oppressed, so that mere earthly mortals will never again strike terror.” Psalm 10:17-18
- “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
- “do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Galatians 5:13-14
- “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
- “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” Zechariah 7:9-10
- “The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Proverbs 29:7
The answer seems quite clear.
I hope this has been a sobering read. My purpose has not been to depress you or overwhelm you, but simply to lay out the massive problems with violence that people in the developing world face on a daily basis. This is the fight I will be joining as I move to Ghana in June to begin a legal fellowship with IJM. I hope this post causes you to reflect not only on the advantages you enjoy, but also on how you might find your own unique way to join in this fight. It could be advocacy, or fundraising, or raising awareness, just do something. My next post will focus on the work IJM does and the model it employs to address these systemic issues.
Should you desire to do so, there are two ways you can support me financially during my fellowship, which I am doing pro bono. Should you wish to make a tax-deductible donation, please make your check out to “Lasting Hope, Inc.” and put my name in the memo line. You can mail your check to:
Lasting Hope, Inc.
C/O Paul and Cathy Crafton
1971 McCollum Pkwy. NW
The second option is to make a donation through my GoFundMe campaign. Please feel free to share this information, and this post, with anyone you think may be interested in following my journey.