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HANOI – At a small Hanoi cemetery, Nguyen Van Thao opens a fridge and pulls out a bag of bloody foetuses to prepare for burial — a grim reminder that Vietnam has one of the highest abortion rates in the world.

Around 40 percent of pregnancies in the country end in abortion, according to a report by doctors from Hanoi’s Central Obstetrics Hospital, the figure is double the rate given by official statistics.

A legacy of childbearing quotas, poor family planning advice for the young, and conflicting messages about sex have created a situation where some are relying on abortion as a form of contraception.

There are 83 abortions per 1000 women of childbearing age in Vietnam, compared to between 10 and 23 abortions per 1000 women in much of western Europe and the US, according to sexual health non-profit group, the Alan Guttmacher Institute.

“On our busiest ever day, we received 30 foetuses,” said Thao, who for around a decade has led a team of mostly Catholic volunteers in collecting foetuses, normally disposed as medical waste, from abortion clinics across the capital.

“It’s hard to count how many we’ve buried,” said volunteer Nguyen Thi Quy, 62, who helps Thao shroud the foetuses before giving them a proper burial at the cemetery in Hanoi’s Soc Son district.

For decades, communist Vietnam enforced a two-child policy, using a mix of administrative penalties and subsidised family planning to limit population growth. The scheme has since been scrapped, but its effects linger.

Abortions have never been socially taboo and the official rate of some 500,000 per 2.4 million pregnancies — around one in five — only counts procedures from state-run clinics.

“Sexually active young people have a problem… the public health system is not catering to (them),” said Hanoi-based United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) representative Arthur Erken.

Sexual behaviour among young Vietnamese has radically transformed in the last few decades — they have sex earlier and marry later — but the state’s old-fashioned family planning services offer little advice or suitable contraception to young, unmarried couples, experts say.

As a result they suspect that abortion — permitted up to 22 weeks and widely available, particularly at legal but largely unregulated private clinics — is being used to prevent unwanted pregnancies more often than in other countries.

“There is no systematic checking on private clinics. There could be another half million (officially unaccounted) abortions,” said Erken.

He added this would put Vietnam’s abortion rate at around one million for 2.4 million pregnancies and warned this figure “will increase unless we do something”.

– Uninformed youth –

Abysmal sex education in schools, a general lack of information on reproductive health, and no access to free family planning services mean that for many young Vietnamese, unwanted pregnancies are a fact of life.

“I’ve done this three times,” said Hoa, a fashionable looking 20-year-old, speaking to AFP after her third abortion at a private clinic in Hanoi.

“I was a bit scared the first time but now I’m used to it,” said Hoa, adding she didn’t understand why she kept becoming pregnant although she and her boyfriend had taken precautions.

Many young Vietnamese have no knowledge about contraception, said Le Ngoc Bao, country representative of family planning organisation Pathfinder International.

And while society has become more permissive, giving birth out of wedlock is still frowned upon.

“If they get (an) unwanted pregnancy… the only way (out) is to get an abortion,” he said.

As many young people don’t “fully understand the negative consequences of abortion” the immediate costs of buying condoms or pills might seem more significant than the abstract risks of not taking precautions, he said.

Moreover, Vietnam’s high abortion rate comes even though statistics show widespread use of contraception — a sign of poor family planning advice and counselling, Bao added.

In both private clinics and state-run facilities, even post-abortion counselling is limited, so some young women end up having repeated abortions.

Vietnam urgently needs to improve its provision of sexual education and contraception to young, unmarried women, Doctor Tran Ninh of the Vietnam Family Planning Association said.

– Pressure on fertility –

Vietnam’s two-child policy, while not as draconian as China’s notorious one-child limit, has long forced families to restrict the number of children.

“If they have three kids, it’s a big problem for their career, they will not get a promotion or a salary raise,” said Giang Dang, a development expert at the Center for Community Support and Development Studies.

Dang added that the idea of a two-child family became “ingrained” and suggested that although it’s been officially scrapped, local officials may still tacitly encourage it as “for them what counts is population growth being controlled”.

Cultural preferences for male children have also led to high rates of sex selective abortions in certain areas of the country.

In a bid to prevent this, Vietnam has made it illegal for medical staff to reveal the sex of a foetus before birth — although experts say the law is hard to enforce and widely flouted.

As a result of the high abortion rate and decades of family planning aimed at limiting family size, Vietnam has one of the fastest ageing populations in the world, said UNFPA’s Erken.

He explains: “The pressure that puts on society — for pension reform, for example — is phenomenal.

A ceremony to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was held Wednesday, with Mayor Kazumi Matsui stressing the importance of sharing the memories of the victims and calling for the elimination of nuclear weapons around the world.

About 45,000 people braved pouring rain to attend the ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima to mourn the atomic bomb victims and pray for peace.

It was the first time since 1971 that the annual ceremony was held in the rain.

The ceremony was attended by atomic bomb survivors, representatives of bereaved families, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and delegates from 68 countries and the Delegation of European Union to Japan. The countries sending delegates included those possessing nuclear weapons—Britain, France, Russia and the United States.

At 8:15am, the time the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945, representatives of bereaved family members rang the Peace Bell, and the attendees offered a silent prayer for souls of the victims.

In his Peace Declaration speech, Matsui talked about the experiences he heard from four atomic bomb survivors.

“People who rarely talked about the past because of their ghastly experiences are now, in old age, starting to open up. To make sure the tragedies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki never happen a third time, let’s all communicate, think and act together with the hibakusha,” he said, using the Japanese term for atomic bomb victims.

The mayor also asked leaders of the nuclear powers to visit the atomic bomb site as soon as possible.

As representatives of local children, Yuichiro Muta, 11, a sixth-year student of Onaga Primary School, and Reiko Tamura, 11, a sixth-year student of Ushita Primary School, read out a commitment to peace.

With next year marking the 70th anniversary of the atomic bombing, Abe said in his speech that he “would spare no efforts in working toward the total abolition of nuclear weapons and the realisation of eternal world peace.”

In regard to relaxing the criteria last December to certify sufferers of the aftereffects of radiation exposure in the atomic bombings, Abe vowed to make efforts so that as many sufferers as possible will be recognised.

As of the end of March, the number of living survivors of the atomic bombing across the nation was 192,719, down 9,060 from a year ago. The average age of the survivors rose to 79.4, up 0.6, from the previous year.

During the ceremony, name lists of 5,507 atomic bomb survivors whose deaths were confirmed in the past year were placed in the Memorial Cenotaph for atomic bomb victims.

Kennedy’s ‘somber reflection’

US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy attended the memorial ceremony as part of her first visit to Hiroshima in 36 years. Kennedy, who was wearing a raincoat, closed her eyes as the Hiroshima Peace Bell rang.

“This is a day for somber reflection and a renewed commitment to building a more peaceful world,” read Kennedy’s comment, which was released by the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo on the day.

In January 1978, Kennedy, then 20, visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum with her uncle, Sen. Edward Kennedy. At that time, she met hibakusha, or atomic bomb survivors.

Maybank IB Research has slashed 43 per cent off its target price for Malaysia Airlines (MAS) to a mere 12.5 sen on concerns the ailing airline cannot wait six to 12 months for a new turnaround plan.

This is the lowest value tagged to MAS in recent times by a brokerage. Maybank IB Research’s target price is 44 per cent lower than MAS’ last close of 22.5 sen.

Despite the grim prognosis, the stock gained half a sen yesterday on heavy volume of 45.37 million shares, making it the day’s third most-active trade across Bursa Malaysia.

Bloomberg data showed that the 15 analysts covering MAS had target prices ranging from as low as 10 sen (Affin Research) to 27 sen (AmResearch).

This translates to a consensus target price of 17 sen for the flag carrier, implying a 24 per cent downside to its current price.

Only two analysts have put a “hold” rating on MAS, with the remaining 13 calling a “sell”. There were no “buy” calls as at press time. Shares of MAS are down 27 per cent for the year.

Maybank IB Research said in its latest note on MAS that time was running out for the national carrier on the back of its weakening financials.

“We had initially hoped for a restructuring within the next one to two months and the statement (from Khazanah Nasional Bhd) disappointed. Our analysis alludes that MAS’ financials are very weak in their current form.

“With a cash burn rate of 5 million ringgit (US$1.56 million) per day, MAS could exhaust its entire free cash resources and gearing could soar to five times by the end of 2015.

“Hence, a revival plan by end-2014/mid-2015 may be a tad too late,” explained the research outfit.

Khazanah had said recently it would unveil a plan to restructure MAS yet again within the next six to 12 months.

“The market took this news favourably and MAS’ share price has surged by 29 per cent since the announcement,” Maybank IB Research said.

According to the brokerage, MAS’ upcoming second-quarter results are expected to be its worst ever due to seasonal weakness, flight cancellations and low industry yields.

“We advise investors to sell MAS ahead of weaker results ahead. The situation is dire, as the industry continues to be plagued by weak yields and MAS is burning its limited cash resources fast.

“Furthermore, there are unconfirmed murmurs that the management will accelerate the disposal of old Boeing 777-200ER from the fleet.

“We are positive on this, but it will require massive impairment charges and will further diminish the group’s balance sheet.

“We don’t foresee any miracle reversal in fortunes for the industry in the horizon. The only way for MAS to sustain its operations in its current form is to raise fresh capital, in our view,” added Maybank IB Research.

Rohingya Muslim students hope for better lives

Posted by pakin On June - 23 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

But education discrimination persists against this minority of 1.3 million people

MYANMAR’S most repeated motto under President Thein Sein is: “Building a modern developed nation through education”.For thousands of Rohingya Muslim schoolkids, education is a way of escaping from lifetime tragedy in locked internally displacedperson (IDP) camps and villages in Rakhine state. Such an environment, human rights groups say, is akin to the world’s” biggest openair prisons”.

The struggle to get away is incredible.Rohingya Muslim students need higher marks in the Grade 11 examination. And only the highly competitive medical study is allowed. It’s a winner-take-all contest as the Rohingya Muslim students are not permitted to apply for other subjects at Sittwe University. They are banned from studying liberal arts or sciences such as English or zoology, as a result of the sectarian violence in June 2012.

Last year, nevertheless, an IDP Rohingya teenager, Maung Min Naing, from the camp here with outstanding grades was permitted to enrol in the medical school in Magway in central Myanmar.

“Students at medical schools are a good role model for Rohingya kids. It’s the only channel opened for them to continue their studies since they cannot study at the university level in Rakhine,” Hla Kyaw, a Rohingya teacher in the Thet Kay Pin IDP camp in Sittwe, said recently. The teacher has been privately tutoring a group of 11thgraders at a bamboo house to prepare them for the next academic year. He lamented that just 16 Rohingya students from camps in Sittwe took the Grade 11 exam last March.

“Two students out of 16 passed the exam and one with two distinctions,” said Hla Kyaw, who

graduated from Sittwe in chemistry in 1996. “I often think about a hundred Rohingya students joining the exam next March.” More than 150,000 Rohingya Muslims from Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine, were driven from their homes during the sectarian violence in June 2012. At least 200 were believed to have been killed and 13 Muslim quarters out of 14 were burned down.

The government of Myanmar set up temporary camps for hundreds of thousands of internally displace persons, most of them Muslims, around the north of Sittwe. Now entering the third year, there are still no signs that these residents can return to their homes in Sittwe town.

“We fled from the town and took refuge here. I thought it would be a few months. But now temporary means permanent,” said Daw Sandar, who runs a pharmacy in the camp.

“Alongside a host of problems, the one we are most worried about for our kids is their education.”

According to IDP camp committee members,about 200 Muslim students who werestudying at Sittwe University before the violence are barred from returning to the university. Just one high school was

allowed to operate in the 2014 academic year. In the following year of the violence, Muslim students in IDP camps were depending on a middle school to further their education.

“My daughter was in the 10thgrade when we fled from the violence. But in the camps, there was no high school education available,” Daw Sandar said.

“So my daughter went repeatedly to a middle school for Grade 9.” It is a tearful panorama that Sittwe

University is located just within walking distance from Muslim IDP camps north of Sittwe. It is out of reach for Muslim students.The university entrance is still heavily guarded by riot police in khaki uniform and soldiers in green. Muslim students can only watch with dismay as three-wheel motorcycle taxis carry Rakhine students to the university passing through Bumay, a Muslim village near Sittwe University.

“We are just sitting at teashops or corners of dusty roads, seeing my friends going to the university,” said Mohammad Shari, or Maung San Oo, his Burmese name, who was studying psychology before June 2012.

“Of course, I am shattered.”Last year Maung San Oo and his friends signed a letter to Sittwe University authorities, requesting to continue their studies. But there were only told that only correspondence courses might be provided. The Education Ministry merely says the situation there is not conducive for Muslim students.

The request letter was sent to U Shwe Kan Kyaw, a student affairs administrator at Sittwe University. When asked about the future of Muslim university students and why they are kept out, he wiped sweat from his face.”Decisions for the Muslim students came from Nay Pyi Daw due to security, not from the university. So we can only allow them to reenrol if we get the green light from Nay Pyi Daw.

“As teachers, all of us staff at the university want to see all students studying at the university

equally.”

This education discrimination among the Rohingya Muslim minority with an estimated 1.3 million population reflects a likely apartheid policy in western Myanmar alongside the restrictions on freedom of movement and access to healthcare.

Since March 27, all international NGO healthcare workers at Rohingya camps were suspended after Rakhine mobs attacked their offices in Sittwe. Before the violence, Rakhine and Muslims were living side-by-side for generations. In many instances, it was an employee-employer relationship as most of Rohingya Muslims worked in Rakhine’s shops, restaurants and houses as labourers. While Rohingya Muslims drove trishaws in Sittwe, Rakhine were their passengers. The situation took a turn overnight in the middle of 2012 following photos of a raped and murdered Rakhine girl that appeared on social

media such as Facebook and the streets of Rakhine. Three Muslim were accused. The incident ignited sectarian violence between Rakhine Buddhist and Muslims across Rakhine in the following days, and hundreds were killed and millions of dollars worth of properties were destroyed.

The government in Nay Pyi Daw now separates and bars the two communities from using barbed wire and security forces on grounds of preventing hatred and further violence.

Many people in the country including those in Rakhine feel that such tactics are fruitless in the long run since they don’t address the root causes of the crisis.

“Muslim refugees without hope for education can be more dangerous,” said U Khaing Kaung Zan, director of the Wan Latt development foundation in Sittwe.

“People without education can become extremists at any time.”

As Rohingya are banned from higher education,an increasing alternative education resource for Muslim teenagers has become “Madrasa” religious schools set up in the IDP camps and villages.

A major Madrasa is the Dar Paing Madrasa near Sittwe. Ahmad Hussein, the headMaulana, said the student bodies at religious schools have dramatically increased in the past two years from 50 to 350 members.

“Students cannot go to high school and the university. So we are getting more students,”said Ahmad Hussein, who wears a Pakistani long white dress and sports a beard. Asked whether there are extremists among young Rohingyas since they are living in a heart-breaking environment, Hussein said his preference is escape rather than resistance.

“As long as I’m alive, I’ll be patient in this situation. If I could not live here, I would be ready to run away elsewhere,” he said.

For some teenage Rohingya Muslim students in the private tuition class organised by teacher U Hla Kyaw, escaping from this tragedy takes on another meaning. They believe hard study to get good marks at the university entrance exam is a ticket out.

“I’m trying to get as high marks as I can in order to go to the medical school in Magway,” said Maung Soe Than Htut, a 15-year-old Rohingya student referring to one of four medical universities in Myanmar.

“I know if I cannot get good enough grades to attend medical school, I will be still be locked in here,” he said.

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