July 16, 2018 Posted in CultureVIENTIANE, The Lao government has expressed its regret and disappointment over visa sanctions imposed by the U.S. government against officials in Laos, local daily Vientiane Times reported on Monday.The United States has claimed that Laos had inadequat...Read More
Despite a recent report by an NGO promoting children's rights that indicated Laos performed poorly last year in dealing with childhood malnutrition and stunted growth, Lao officials have painted a rosier picture of the situation.
U.S.-based Save the Children's report titled The Many Faces of Exclusion ranks 175 countries based on a range of indicators related to childhood, including chronic malnutrition, stunted physical growth, child marriage, and adolescent pregnancy.
In the report released at the end of May, Laos fell two places to 132nd beneath regional neighbors Thailand (85), Vietnam (96), and the Philippines (104).
According to the most recent available data cited in the report, Laos had an under-five mortality rate of nearly 64 deaths per 1,000 live births and a roughly 44 percent rate of stunting among children less than five years old.
About 19 percent of Lao's children of primary and secondary school ages did not attend classes, and just over 10 percent of youths aged five to 17 engaged in child labor, the report said. It also noted that about a quarter of Lao girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are married, and the country has about 64 births per 1,000 girls of the same age range.
Out-of-school girls are held back by barriers related to cultural norms, as well as poverty, early and forced marriage, teen pregnancy, rural residence, refugee conditions, and gender-based violence, the report said.
An estimated two-thirds of girls who are out of school worldwide are from ethnic minority groups in their countries, it said, noting that in Laos, ethnic Hmong girls are three times as likely to be out of primary school as girls belonging to the majority Lao ethnic group.
Stunting and child mortality remain big challenges for Laos," said Deborah Leaver, Lao country director for Save the Children, in an article on the Laotian Times website.
"Save the Children works with the government of Laos and with the support of donors such as USAID, the European Union, and the Australian government to reduce these numbers, she was quoted as saying.
Save the Children has been working in Laos for more than 30 years, and we've seen a lot of improvements in this time, she said. But there is a lot more work to do, and we will continue working to improve the situation for children in Laos.
One of the report's findings differed though from a figure indicated in a survey conducted by the Nutrition Department under Lao's Ministry of Health and published by state-run media in June,
The department said that the rate of stunting from malnutrition among children under 5 had dropped to 33 percent in 2017 from 44 percent in 2011.
An employee from the Nutrition Department, who declined to give her name, repeated this figure when contacted by RFA's Lao Service in July.
The rate of malnutrition is still high at the present time, but it has been reduced from occurring in nine provinces to eight provinces, she added.
Phongsaly, Sekong, Xieng Khouang, Xaysomboun, Saravane, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang, and Hua Phanh are the provinces in which nutrition officials are most concerned about child malnutrition occurring, she said.
The causes of malnutrition and stunting in the country can be attributed not only to a lack of food, but also to a lack of knowledge about proper nutrition in daily meals, she said, adding that government is addressing these shortcomings through education programs for villagers and schoolchildren.
Between 2016 and 2020, the government has been implementing a program in which the country's education ministry provides school lunches, and the agriculture ministry teaches children and villagers gardening skills, she said.
She also told RFA that the agriculture ministry will teach villagers and schoolchildren how to raise chickens, ducks, and other livestock for food, while the health ministry will teach them about nutrition.
Tackling child malnutrition
This isn't the first time that the Lao government has addressed the issue of malnutrition among children.
The health ministry and the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) teamed up to conduct a seminar on the topic in September 2017, under the chairmanship of Lao Health Minister Bounkong Syhavong.
Representatives from the WFP and World Health Organization, related international organizations in Laos, and health officials from provinces including Savannakhet, Phongsaly, Sekong, Oudomxay, and Phongsaly attended.
Malnutrition obstructs the development of the country so that all related departments should cooperate with development partners to develop strategy and a national plan to tackle malnutrition in Laos from this year to 2025, Bounkong Syhavong said at the time.
He also said that with the help of development partners in the past, the rate of malnutrition in Laos among children under five had declined to 36 percent in 2015 from 40 percent in 2012, and that the country planned to further reduce it to 25 percent between 2016 and 2025.
More recently on July 12, the Lao government organized a conference on malnutrition under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, which included representatives from many international organizations and relevant departments.
Bounkong Syhavong told conference attendees that the country's efforts had reduced malnutrition and stunting among children aged five and under to 33 percent, but that more work needs to be done to reach the ministry's goal.
A March 2018 assessment by the World Bank said that Laos' gross domestic product grew by an average of 7.8 percent over the last decade, and that the country has halved poverty, reduced hunger, and improved education and health outcomes in recent years.
But the institution also said it continues to lag in other key areas � most notably on child nutrition � citing the same 44 percent of children under five years of age with stunted growth, as does the Save the Children report.
Copyright (copyright) 19982016, RFA. Used with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036Read More
TAIPEI A surge in naval maneuvers in the South China Sea by Western allies this year is keeping China from any further expansion into the contested waters, analysts say.
Vessels from Australia, France, Japan and the United States have sent ships to the 3.5 million-square-kilometer sea in 2018. They believe the sea rich in fisheries and fossil fuel reserves to be an international waterway, but China claims about 90 percent of it and has militarized several key islets.
The foreign military exercises, naval ship passages and ports of call, along with one U.S. B-52 flyby have effectively stopped China from pushing ahead with expansion that's also opposed by five other maritime claimants in Asia, experts believe.
You take a realist perspective of power, and it's a way of ensuring the South China Sea is permanently contested, said Alan Chong, associate professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
So, the Chinese will issue angry statements and so on, warning of consequences, but the fact that all these multinational navies keep doing it in spite of Chinese warnings, it defies Beijing," he said.
Year of military exercises
The number of hours of that navy ships have spent in the South China Sea has hit a high this year, said Carl Thayer, Asia-specialized emeritus professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The U.S. Navy has sailed naval vessels into the South China Sea eight times over the past 18 months and flew two B-52 bombers over it last month. This month the United States and the Philippines kicked off their own joint naval exercises to train Manila's navy.
Australia passed three ships though the sea in April en route to a goodwill visit to Vietnam, and Japan anticipates sending an Izumo-class helicopter carrier through the sea again this year as it did in 2017. Last year military officers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc boarded the Izumo.
France passed a frigate and an assault ship through near Chinese-held islets in May.
Reports in May of Chinese missiles deployed to the sea's Spratly Islands galvanized much for the foreign naval attention this year, Thayer said.
On Monday the U.S. Navy wrapped up its biennial RIMPAC exercises, which are based out of Honolulu. The series of live-fire drills and scenario-based exercises brought together 25,000 people from 25 countries including South China Sea claimant states such as Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
The Philippines gained from RIMPAC by becoming comfortable with allies and learning to operate smoothly with them, said Jay Batongbacal, a University of the Philippines international maritime affairs professor.
All four Southeast Asian countries contest some of the waters that China calls its own. The United States dis-invited Beijing from RIMPAC this year.
China criticizes these movements and often responds with its own. It cites historical records to back its claim to most of the sea.
Chinese vessels followed their Australian and French counterparts. Its navy sent an auxiliary general intelligence ship this month to track the RIMPAC exercises near Honolulu, according to American media reports quoting a Pacific Fleet spokesman.
In April, China held military drills for two days in the sea. They brought together about 10,000 personnel and 48 naval vessels.
China wants to keep the others away, said Jonathan Spangler, director of the South China Sea Think Tank in Taipei.
There's the demonstrating that you are a world leader politically and militarily, the power projection thing, and there's the deterrent aspect, Spangler said. There's also the sort of insurance policy aspect. In the off chance there's a conflict, then (China) will be prepared.
But use of the sea by Western navies effectively keeps China from building up more islets � many of which it has landfilled since 2010 � or testing the patience of the Southeast Asian maritime claimants, experts say.
China cannot assume on a roll and can take the South China Sea by stealth as they build economic ties to get on the good side of other claimants, Chong said. Too much pushback against other navies would scuttle Chinese statements that it's a good neighbor in Asia, he added.
Western-allied ship movement now follows a Cold War pattern where American and Soviet ships tested each other's influence, Thayer said. U.S. and Soviet vessels had faced off, for example, in the Indian Ocean.
China may have called off plans to build on Scarborough Shoal, which is contested by Beijing and Manila, as former U.S. President Barack Obama sent ships, he said. A U.S. carrier strike group reached the sea in 2015.
Both sides are contributing to the tensions in the sense that anything America does China will push back, he said. Several years ago, the expression was you do 1 we do 1.5 times, you do two, we do 2.5.
Source: Voice of AmericaRead More