Economist 2/29/16

  1. IN LATE February the citizens of Delhi were made painfully aware of a grievance borne by the Jats of Haryana, a state that surrounds India’s capital on three sides. The Jats are a caste-like community spread from Pakistan across much of north India. Since India’s independence, the government has made provisions to uplift the most downtrodden members of the caste system, known as Dalits, most often by means of state favours known as “reservations”: jobs and slots at universities set aside for the people who had been least likely to enjoy their benefits.But since 1990 the national government has allowed other, somewhat less disadvantaged groups to claim similar benefits, if they can establish that they belong to the “Other Backward Classes” (OBCs). There are 11 formal criteria for admission into the ranks of the OBCs, but these are open to interpretation. Dalits and OBCs together may claim as many as 50% of a given state’s reservations. The Jats of Haryana, like the Patidars of Gujarat or the Kapus of Andhra Pradesh, all want to be counted among the OBCs to gain a slice of the social-welfare pie to which lowlier castes are entitled.
  2. For children born out of wedlock, however, the nightmare of bureaucratic non-recognition persists in China. Attitudes to sex have been changing fast in China, but not the taboo surrounding extramarital births.The government imposes stringent penalties on the very few unmarried women brave enough to have children. Giving birth requires permission from family-planning authorities. They will not give it without proof of marriage. Violators usually have to pay the equivalent of several years’ working-class income.Then there is the problem of registering the child. Until last month it was impossible for many of those born in violation of family-planning rules to get identity papers. Now it is easier, as long as both parents can prove they are related to the child. But a mother who does not know who the baby’s father is, or who cannot convince the father to submit to a DNA test, is out of luck. The child cannot be registered. Hence it cannot obtain other vital documents such as an identity card.To avoid such horrors, some unmarried women leave China in order to have their children.Most women, however, try their best to avoid extramarital births altogether. Abortions are readily available.
  3. Marrying a close relative markedly increases the chance that both parents are carriers of dangerous recessive genes, which can then cause disease when a child inherits a copy of the gene from both parents, as will happen in 25% of cases. The gamut of such illnesses runs from known ones such as microcephaly (in which children have unusually small heads) cystic fibrosis and thalassaemia, a blood disorder, to wholly new disorders.Once common practice in Western societies, estimates suggest the Middle East, along with Africa, continue to have the highest levels in the world. In Egypt, around 40% of the population marry a cousin; the last survey in Jordan, admittedly way back in 1992, found that 32% were married to a first cousin; a further 17.3% were married to more distant relatives. Rates are thought to be even higher in tribal countries such as Iraq and the Gulf states of Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Kuwait.
  4. Today the first reason men and women look to wed within the family is because they know a lot about their relatives: who they are, what they earn, any past blunders.Tying the knot within also ensures property remains in the family. In Upper Egypt, a rural farming area, rates are the highest in Egypt.Unlike in the West, there is no social stigma; quite the opposite.To reduce genetic disorders, some countries have made blood tests mandatory for fiancés, which have helped reduce incidence of diseases such as sickle cell anaemia. In Tunisia, the government mandates premarital counselling for all those betrothed to a relative.
  5. But after three years of decline the national murder rate in Mexico jumped in 2015 and has continued to rise this year. The number of murders in January was 11% higher than during the same month last year. This does not portend a return to the horrific violence of 2010-12; almost 40% of the recent rise is accounted for by gang-infested Guerrero.An astonishing 99% of all crimes are never punished, a level of impunity that encourages criminality of all sorts. Mexico came 58th out of 59 countries in a global impunity index.Mr Peña’s response to the public revulsion caused by the students’ disappearance was to announce a ten-point anti-crime programme. It is making halting progress.Political wrangling is holding up a measure that the president considers vital, a federal law that would subject Mexico’s 1,800 or so local police forces to the control of the 32 state governments, a policy known as mando único (unified command). Like his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, Mr Peña relies on the army and navy to combat serious crime, largely bypassing local police forces. Under mando único state police forces, which are supposedly more competent and effective than local ones, could play a more active role.In Guerrero, mando único could “decontaminate” some of the local police forces that have been infiltrated by organised crime, says Gabino Solano of the state’s Autonomous University. But what Guerrero needs more, he says, is a rigorous federal response to such problems as its weak economy, poor health and education and the lethal competition among drug gangs.

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