The Dec. 15 article on bonded labor in Pakistan, "In Pakistan, 'slavery' persists," doesn't mention the group most vulnerable to this form of near-slavery: Afghan refugees.
Often living in poverty and marginalized within Pakistani society, Afghan refugees are easy prey to those offering "loans" to people in need. More than 1.5 million Afghan refugees remain in Pakistan.
A recent study on Pakistan's brick-kiln industry by the Afghan Women's Resource Center, for example, found that 80 percent of the workers are Afghan refugees, many of whom are trapped in bonded labor trying to pay off loans.
Young boys are often drawn into working to help repay family loans; this forces them to experience one of the worst forms of child labor. Conditions in the kilns are deplorable and dangerous.
The international community must investigate Pakistan's brick-kiln industry, as well as its widespread problem of child labor; thousands of Afghan refugee children work in the carpet-weaving industry; many others are garbage pickers. We cannot allow these abuses to continue.
New York Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children
Regarding John Hughes's Dec. 10 Opinion column "Glimmer of hope, but miles to go on AIDS": AIDS is devastating poor African societies. At current rates, experts predict AIDS will kill 70 million people by 2020, compared with 20 million in its first 20 years. It is expected to leave 25 million children orphaned by 2010.
We are in the midst of a disaster that will destabilize countries and make them ripe for terrorist activity. A recent report estimated that a girl child born in Southern Africa today has a greater chance of contracting HIV than of learning to read. We should lobby Congress to double the amount it spends in the global fight against AIDS.
Regarding your Dec. 8 article, "US spending surges to historic level": Generally over the past few years, the company I work for has paid out in taxes (payroll, sales, property, income, etc.) roughly the same amount we earn as profit. In other words, until July, any profit we earn goes to the government.
As your article pointed out, US federal spending is increasing, and we are seeing similar increases at state and local levels. With increased spending comes increased taxes, and fairly soon we will be working for the government until August and then September and so on.
Diane Cameron raises an interesting point in her Dec. 16 Opinion piece, "Holiday giving but still wanting more," when she discusses the tension, or ambivalence, an individual feels when trying to decide between giving to charity and spending money on him or herself - or, more accurately, how much to give away and how much to keep.
Jewish law addresses this dilemma directly and I believe the path it lays out for Jews holds much value for people everywhere, regardless of their religion. Giving to the poor is an obligation in Judaism, a duty that cannot be forsaken even by those who are themselves in need.
According to Jewish law, Jews are required to give one-tenth of their income to the poor. This is generally interpreted as one-tenth of net income. Those who are living on the edge of subsistence may give less. The obligation includes giving to both Jews and Gentiles.
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