08 March 2009

Privatization Quest for Human Rights

As an American, I have an ingrained ideology that you own your own land. The house you grew up in is yours and the government cannot take it away on the drop of a dime. If you simply do not own land you can still attend public school and receive government assistance. More importantly, society will not frown upon you. A person can still maintain their dignity and their children can receive public education.

However this is not the case in the slum communities of Khon Kaen, Thailand. Privatization of the land gives the slums basic human necessities. In the slums that line the State Railroad of Thailand, running through the center of the city, people are denied the privatization of the land by the government. Therefore, they are not given a house number and consequently denied basic human rights. By not having a house number in Khon Kaen a family is unable to receive government water, electricity, healthcare, and in many cases educations, since all of these resources are based on your local address. In fact, many families are forced to pay over three hundred baht a month for water, where the average family pays nothing. Many families are unable to receive local healthcare because they have a house number in a province forty kilometers away. In order to receive the universal healthcare benefits they must go back to that province.

Another example of the importance of privatizing the slums to allow the resident, who have lived there for the past forty years right to the land, is the lack of access to public education. Many of the slum children are unable to attend school because they do not technically live in Khon Kaen. When walking in Nong Wang slum, there are various posses of loitering teenagers because they are unable to go to school. And many young school age children play in the streets during the day because they do not have and address for that school district. Furthermore when, the children are admitted to the schools, the other students and parents prohibit the slum children from attending. The other kids create such a divide that many slum children feel unsafe attending school.

Though the local government has begin the slow transition of numbering the houses in the slums, and creating renting co-ops, many communities are still living in squalor conditions. Until the Thai government recognizes the slum communities as a significant part of the city this will continue to be the marginalized part of the city. These people will continue to struggle to find there human dignity and place in society.

The right to privatize in Khon Kaen, Thailand is not the war against big corporations like Wal-Mart and Big C taking over the local business (though that is another issue) but of people’s right to have their basic human rights filled. In Thai society your address is not simply your social standing, but your identification. It becomes your Thai citizenship; without a house number many of the slum dwellers simply do not exist in the government’s eyes.

--Elizabeth Baldetti, Marist College

1 comment:

beanmina said...

I was really interested to read about the privileges that the privatization of land affords, especially since I saw many parallels with what I have observed in Mexico and the readings that I have had thus far. I visited a school this week called La Buena Tierra that is located in a community on the former train tracks that ran through Cuernavaca. The woman that started the school gave us a little history on how it developed and why. I got the impression that the community developed on the tracks because it is public land as well, and therefore an affordable place to live. One of the biggest problems about this sort of development has been that there is no corresponding infrastructure, so the neighborhoods became a health hazards for the residents really quickly. One of the biggest problems that the woman observed while working in the community was that the children who attended the local schools were doing much worse than their peers who did not come from the tracks. They were also being taken out of school at younger and younger ages in order to help their families monetarily. They faced many of the same obstacles in attaining the basic human rights you mentioned (healthcare, education, water and electricity).
However, this visit was actually really an optimistic one because so much change has come from the development of the school. They provide pre-kindergarten classes and tutoring for all their graduates throughout their education. It has really impacted the performance of their students when they enter the state schools and it also influences their retention rate in the schools. The school has also helped to be a mediator between the rivalries between the residents on both sides of the tracks that have historically existed. Teaching the students health and sanitation has resulted in a cleaner neighborhood as well. There was a good example of how the teachers in the school would take their students out every tuesday to clean the trash in the streets near their school. After a while of doing this, they noticed that people were cleaning up on Monday nights because it was embarrassing to have their children cleaning up after them. Now they don’t even have the cleaning projects because the residents clean up after themselves and there is no need for the children to help out. I thought it was inspiring to learn about how the education of children has really been the base for transformation of the entire community. The entire neighborhood has been transformed through the teaching of their children.