Letters: Refugee girls pay price for Syria’s chaos

These letters were published in the 24th January edition of the Independent

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As Syrian diplomats squabble in Geneva this week, those trapped inside Syria and at the borders are in desperate need of humanitarian assistance and protection.

In the refugee settlements I visited last week in the Middle East, a largely hidden and seemingly unrelenting cycle of violence has taken hold. In the camps in Lebanon and Jordan, scores of women and girls are beaten and humiliated as a direct result of the stress and despair of displacement.

Teenage girls there are vulnerable to sexual harassment and, in an attempt to protect them, they can be pushed into marriage, often to much older men, consigning them to the extreme risks posed by pregnancy in bodies so young. As one doctor asked me, how can it ever be OK for a 13-year-old to miscarry, and then to fall pregnant again?

They cannot wait any longer for the political settlement needed to end the unacceptable, shocking cycle of violence that has gripped their homeland. For the sake of all Syrians we hope talking in Geneva brings relief, if not peace.

Leigh Daynes, Executive Director, Doctors of the World UK, London E14

Outside Liverpool Street station in London is a statue reminding us of the Kindertransport scheme which rescued thousands of mainly Jewish children from Nazi-occupied areas of Europe on the eve of the Second World War.

Ten thousand were resettled in the UK. Surely something like that could be arranged for the most needy of the Syrian refugee children, especially those who have been orphaned. The people want to help.

Elizabeth Morley, Aberystwyth

Behind the fall in unemployment

When hearing Mssrs Cameron, Osborne et al trumpeting a record fall in the unemployment rate to 7.1 per cent, let’s remember there are still 2.3 million unemployed, struggling to make ends meet, even on the official figures. 

And, lest we forget, many so-called “employed” are in fact under-employed, being trapped in zero-hour jobs or self-employed with a very small, erratic income. And, of course, some people, so discouraged, appear in no official figures at all.

Mind you, there are the lucky few who are unemployed, with no need to work, having got something for nothing – no, I don’t mean those on benefits, but those who have benefited from inherited wealth.

Peter Cave, London W1

So we have just seen the second biggest drop in unemployment on record. I blame all these EU immigrants, coming here and taking our jobs and ... Oh, hang on a minute ...

Francis Kirkham, Crediton, Devon

Rennard: time to make peace

Chris Rennard should realise that what to him may have been a gesture of friendship could have been deeply unpleasant to the recipient. He should not allow his intransigence to damage the future of the party he has done so much to build.

Representatives of the parties concerned should get round a table with a neutral mediator to thrash out an acceptable form of words with which Chris could apologise without prejudicing his position in any possible (but unlikely) legal proceedings.

Andrew Sturgis, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

Dear Lord Rennard,

As a fellow liberal, and fellow bloke in his mid-50s, I would like to offer another view to help staunch the hurtful and misleading bile that has been flooding on to our newspaper pages recently.

We all have our way of expressing understanding and comradeship. Yours is allegedly of the more tactile variety. No doubt you make no distinction between old and young, male and female, attractive and plain; there will therefore no doubt be a number of older women and male colleagues able to vouch for your tendency to place a compassionate hand on the leg, or run a caring hand up the back from time to time.

Any unpleasant rumours that you are a philandering and lecherous slimeball would then be scotched once and for all.

David Scott, Horsham, West Sussex

Having worked in mixed offices for many years, starting in the Sixties, I know that some men don’t know how to behave. 

One man in particular was a real pest until I elbowed him sharply in the ribs after he’d crept up behind me and flipped my bra strap. How was I to know he was nursing two broken ribs following a car accident? He never did it again to me or anyone else.

Sue Thomas, Bowness on Windermere, Cumbria

Children in a toxic world

It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that young people’s lives and mental health are being substantially compromised because of the demands of modern life (“Mental health risk to children trapped in ‘toxic climate’ of dieting, pornography and school stress”, 20 January).

Sue Palmer and I composed two open press letters on this issue back in 2006 and 2007, signed by several hundred expert authorities from across the globe. But still, after all our campaigning, articles and books – still, hardly anything has changed. This is an appalling indictment of the toxic world that we adults are creating for our children. Effort must be focused upon those areas where we can make a difference.

Most notably, if the will is there, governments have the ability to rein back the noxious “audit and accountability culture” that has engulfed our schools since the 1990s, in which we are examining and testing our children to death – and in some tragic cases, quite literally.

Parents also need to view themselves as the proactive creators of modern culture, and not its hapless victims, especially in relation to the rampant technologisation of human communication, which should have absolutely no place in early and middle childhood.

The Save Childhood movement and its “Too Much Too Soon” campaign are just two examples of emerging cultural initiatives which are challenging these trends, and which all concerned citizens can throw their weight behind, if we’re really serious about genuine grassroots change on this vital question.

Dr Richard House, Senior Lecturer in Early Childhood Studies, University of Winchester

What’s so special about dolphins?

I read your piece on the 200 dolphins trapped in a bay to be killed by Japanese hunters (21 January) and agree that this is a shocking practice. But why do we mostly focus on the cute and the dramatic, such as dolphin culls and racehorse injury, when far worse and much more routine suffering is commonplace in many areas of our consumer society?

For example industrial-scale fishing decimates stocks and nets all kinds of species besides the target fish, with those animals sometimes spending hours (or days) in nets before they finally die.

Next there is the rubbish and the toxins that our throw-away, industrialised society emits to the sea, with us now discovering that microscopic, indestructible particles of plastic have spread throughout the whole of the oceans. 

And then the rearing of animals to supply us with cheap meat normally involves them spending their short lives tethered in cubicles, being given feed from dubious sources (such as rainforests felled to allow industrial cattle-feed production) and being filled with antibiotics to ensure that they survive in this inhumane and unhealthy environment.

So, yes, the treatment of these dolphins is brutal but spare a thought for the life of that cow or that pig next time you head for the discounted meat department in your supermarket.

Alan Mitcham, Cologne, Germany

They are still watching you

I can sympathise with Bob Gilmurray’s desire (letter, 21 January) to have the occasional day free from the prying eyes and ears of various national spying agencies. However he is sadly mistaken in his belief that by simply switching off his phone he can avoid their glare.

Most modern mobile phones continue to relay signals to the telecom providers allowing the spy agencies to detect the location of the phone even when the device is turned off. One way to avoid this unwanted intrusion is to remove the battery and sim when travelling, or better still bin the phone altogether.

Cían Carlin, London N8

Enter Lloyd-Pack, stage left

Way back in 1986 we saw Roger Lloyd-Pack (Obituary, 17 January) as Mandelstam, with Jack Shepherd as Gumilyov, in Dusty Hughes’ Futurists. As good an example of TV stars doing serious and challenging theatre work as you could wish to see.

But we were overjoyed to find that the tickets we’d bought for the National’s Cottesloe theatre were categorised “unrestricted left”. Sounds like something Roger would have appreciated.

Mary Pimm and Nik Wood, London E9

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