Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Why can’t children be children?

I always thought of myself as reasonably internet aware and understood the controls, that as a parent, I could put in place to ensure the kids did not access inappropriate sites. We even made sure that the computer was located in the house where we could see what the family were doing on the internet and monitor how long they were on-line.

However this week I have had my eyes opened by members of the Youth Assembly who are advocating for better awareness and more control. I learned about aspects that, to be honest, never crossed my mind. It would appear that I can put all the parental controls in the world on the family computer but this provides no protection if you access the internet or an e-mail account on a mobile phone. I am sure, like me, many parents knew about parental controls on a pc but not that they did not work on a mobile phone, so that means that your children could be accessing all sorts of internet sites via their phones.

As the week has progressed I have learned more and more about the serious problems we have in this age of technology. Did you know that paedophiles can make contact with youngsters via their Xbox and that within 2 minutes they can identify someone they would like to “groom”? The games are often played on line; therefore, other people joining in may not be actually interested in the game but the youngsters who are playing.

And so my education goes on – 38% of 11 – 17 year olds have received sexually explicit texts or emails; up to 25% of kids have seen adult images online or on TV, but half of parents don’t know; 4 out of 5 16 year old boys and girls regularly access “adult” websites.

Childhood is a time to explore and become in a safe, loving environment. It is foundational, setting their feet on a path. It is too precious to be stolen or hijacked. I therefore applaud the Church’s Youth Assembly who are championing a campaign to desexualise childhood - through internet protection and stopping manufacturers putting completely inappropriate slogans on t-shirts for children.

It is time we took a stand against the sexualisation of children - safeguarding their right to be children. It is our duty as adults to engage with technology and the marketplace, taking back control of what our children are exposed to and knowing how to help them protect themselves as they grow.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

What kind of Society are we?

What kind of welcoming society are we? There are around 140 asylum seekers in Glasgow who are facing imminent eviction from their accommodation currently provided by Ypeople (formerly the YMCA). Why? The contract has now gone to Serco and this leaves Ypeople in a difficult position.

They have accommodated these asylum seekers over many years with compassion and helped those whose claims have been exhausted and have nowhere to go. Because of a government policy decision related to tendering Ypeople can no longer continue their support and these asylum seekers now face eviction and potentially homelessness.

The level of compassion towards a group of vulnerable people shown by organisations such as Ypeople is clearly not shared by local and central government.

These are vulnerable people living in our midst who are unable to return to countries where they will most certainly encounter oppression and violence. They now also face fear and uncertainty here in Scotland too – a country who offered them sanctuary and a place of safety.

We must now stand beside our international brothers and sisters. I have written to local and national government to urge them to act with compassion and address this situation urgently.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Food Speculation

One of the papers coming to the General Assembly this year from Church and Society Council is “Give us our Daily Bread”. The awful pictures that appear on TV about famines highlight how many people are hungry. More and more seem to be affected. What we discovered is that often the hungry are living where there is food but they cannot afford to buy it. Between 2006 and 2008 the Food and Agriculture Organisation recorded an increase in cost of 71% in essential foodstuffs. Rice and grain increased 126% but fell back again. In this country and similar developed countries households spend 10% of income on food. In developing countries this rises to 60 – 80%. For these people the spikes in prices leave them unable to purchase basic foods.

Why did the price spike in 2006? It can be explained by bad harvests, agricultural neglect, and production of bio fuels. That does not explain the entire rise in price. The other factor is speculation on futures of commodities. A farmer who wants to have a guaranteed price for the harvest makes a contract with a miller for the price before the grain is planted. This used to be done directly but now an intermediary (hedger) negotiates with both the farmer and the miller. The hedger was seen to stabilise prices. However more financiers joined the hedger particularly when the property market collapsed and the speculators moved to look at agriculture commodities. The speculators treated food as a financial commodity and created instability. The futures market was out of control.

The EU is discussing controlling the speculation on basic food items however there is reluctance to limit the Hedge Funds and Index Funds.

Legislation and regulation needs to control markets so that speculators do not make a profit at the expense of those living in extreme poverty.