Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Zooming In

July 28, 2007

Turning Prostitutes into People

Gelf highlights overlooked coverage from local media around the world. In this edition: UAE residents get fatter; Shanghai bans honking; Ireland gets its first black mayor; and more.

Adam Conner-Simons

Some of the most insightful writing from outside the US comes from local media. In this occasional feature, Gelf identifies noteworthy stories that haven't gotten much attention outside local borders.

Graphic created by Paul Antonson
"We just wanted to remove the stigma of the label 'common' prostitute."—a British Justice Ministry spokeswoman on why a new bill was introduced to bar the word "prostitute" from criminal statutes

Graphic created by Paul Antonson


According to The Fiji Times, the Samoa National Olympic Committee recently lifted a ban on gay sex for athletes competing in the upcoming South Pacific Games in August. The memo was published last week and encouraged members not to "embarrass yourself, your family and your country by trying this in the village—[because] it's against the law of God." Committee President Tapasu Leung Wei tried to explain away the statement by saying that the rules represented an "internal memo" not meant to be published, and maintained that Samoa "treats everybody as equal" (New Zealand Herald). But homosexuality is illegal under Samoan law, with penalties for indecency of up to five years in jail. Gay activist Roger To'otooali said that "if [the SNOC] wants to ban sex than they should ban all sexual activity, regardless of sexual orientation."


Last week two teenage girls who were probably sexually active and had a history of running away from home were detained by police, who shaved their heads. The girls, 13 and 14, were found in an abandoned house near East Bank Demerara clad in only their undergarments. According to the Stabroek News, the two teenagers were subsequently handcuffed and "made to walk the streets of the village for all to see." A press release from the police department called the teens' behavior "uncontrollable" and said that the decision to shave the girls' heads was made at the request of the girls' guardians (Guyana Chronicle). That said, the release also said that the police force "will not condone the action taken by the subordinate officer and has since launched an inquiry to determine the facts."

United Arab Emirates

Experts say that the UAE has the second highest prevalence of diabetes in the world, and warn that more than 65 percent of the population could be affected by the illness in 2010. According to Go Dubai's Shamila Jamaluddin, this may be largely attributed to the "sedentary lifestyle" of UAE residents, who have a high-calorie diet and rarely participate in significant physical activity. In response, Abu Dhabi's Imperial College London Diabetes Center has recently introduced an "Executive Health Screening Program" that emphasizes greater awareness and earlier diagnosis and treatment of diabetes.


Beginning in July, drivers in Shanghai are banned from honking their horns, the Associated Press reports. While many people are converting their car horns into recordings of music or voices in an attempt to get around the new regulations, traffic police spokesman Sun Guofu cautioned in an interview with the Shanghai Daily that the new ruling bans all forms of horns. Fines for honking will go as high as 200 yuan ($26), and even police cars will be prohibited except in emergency cases. The new rule stems from Shanghai's problem with street noise, a result of extensive construction and a highly-concentrated city population.

North Korea

The Chinese government, previously strict with its policy on North Korean refugees, is reportedly allowing temporary-resident permits for females married to Chinese men. A South Korean government official was quoted by the Yonhap News Agency as saying that the policy, carried out as early as 2004, requires the wives to have had children with these men and to have lived in China for an extended period without problems. The policy change may be a result of China's gender-imbalanced workforce, particularly in underdeveloped rural areas from which youths often leave to find work in the big cities. In some cases, Chinese men frustrated with the lack of native women actually pay to traffic North Korean women into the country and marry them. Some organizations estimate that there are as many as 300,000 North Koreans currently taking refuge in China.


A new bill in England is proposing to get rid of the term "prostitute" from criminal statues. "We just wanted to remove the stigma of the label 'common' prostitute," a Justice Ministry spokeswoman said. The bill refers, instead, to "persons who sell sex persistently," defined as at least two times every three months. Offenders will also have relatively lax penalties—instead of a fine for their first transgression, they have to attend three counseling meetings. (This story echoes a recent US case of a Nebraska judge banning the word "rape" from his courtroom due to its "loaded" connotations (Slate).)


A Nigerian-born county councilmember has become the first black mayor of Ireland. Last month, Rotomi Adebari, who left his native country in 2000 after intense religious persecution, was elected mayor of the town of Portlaoise, just west of Dublin (BBC). Citing the growing immigrant population in Portlaoise, Adebari said that he "[wants] to encourage immigrants to be a force in their communities" (Associated Press). Bloggers are optimistic that benchmarks like this indicate improved race relations in what has traditionally been an overwhelmingly white country. "We always had an in-house problem of racism [in Ireland]," the Dossing Times writes. "Hopefully stories like this one signal a responsible and open attitude among Irish people."

Adam Conner-Simons

Adam Conner-Simons is a freelance journalist in Boston.

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Article by Adam Conner-Simons

Adam Conner-Simons is a freelance journalist in Boston.

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