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Week of 16 April 2004 · Vol. VII, No. 28

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Newsday: “Crack baby” a destructive label

An article in the April 10 Newsday tells how several young people who were born to drug addicts or grew up in homes where drugs were prevalent — and subsequently given labels such as “crack baby,” “slow,” or “dirty” — are being helped by writing for Represent, a publication of Youth Communication. Youth Communication is an organization helping young adults in developing reading, writing, and other necessary life skills. One writes that after his fourth-grade classmates began to call him names, he “started to believe those things about myself . . . I felt stupid and worthless.” Now a college student and about to get his associate’s degree, he writes, “I have a lot more things I want to accomplish in my life, and I am letting no one or no label hold me back from achieving anything.” Deborah Frank, a MED associate professor of pediatrics, a BMC pediatrician, and a lead author and investigator on a number of studies of children with and without cocaine exposure, maintains that such labeling is dangerous. “Children internalize and regard themselves as damaged and mentally retarded,” she says. “There is no such thing as a crack baby, no such syndrome. Back in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there was an extraordinary hysteria, very subtle findings in babies to label these kids as retarded, or violent misfits. The idea that this was a unique insult to children unlike anything that anyone had seen before is simply not true.” She adds that maternal smoking, poor nutrition, and stress are just as likely to contribute to problems in newborns, such as low birth weight. “The effects of having impoverished, poorly educated caregivers usually accounts for more of the child’s deficits than prenatal exposure,” she says.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation: Are Afghans ready to head to the polls?

On April 13 on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation, discussion centered on what has happened in Afghanistan since U.S. and Afghan forces defeated the Taliban and its al-Qaeda allies following the 9-11 attacks in the United States. A new government has been installed, along with a constitution, and a nationwide election is scheduled for September. Host Neal Conan and callers to the show asked Thomas Barfield, a CAS professor and chairman of the anthropology department, to comment on the upcoming election. According to Barfield, what Afghans want is “to see this as the first step towards normality. It would really be the first chance since the mid-1960s to elect any leaders at all, let alone the head of their country. So I think what they’re seeing it as is a test to move on to a new political system. I think proving that the process can work is probably the most important thing to most Afghans.” When asked whether he thought the Afghans were being pressed too soon into an election, he said that “the people are certainly ready; the question is: Can we provide the conditions in which they can vote? The Taliban have threatened to disrupt it. We don’t have the registration up and running. And people talked about setting the dates for elections before they talked about how we are going to be able to provide security. So I think the people of Afghanistan are certainly ready for elections; the question is: Can the international community make them happen?” One caller said he thought that the Afghans, who are unfamiliar with democratic rule, would be better served by starting at the local rather than the national level. Barfield replied that “ironically the Afghans are probably at their most democratic and organized at the local level. That’s one of the reasons they’ve survived 25 years of war and anarchy. They do know how to run their own areas. But one of the difficulties that they have and where they’re looking upon the international community to help them is how does a local community get rid of a warlord and his militia. How does a local community deal with the outside world? How does a local community deal with Pakistan or Iran? The Afghans understand that government comes at many levels, and they are perfectly capable and probably more competent to run their local affairs than we give them credit for. But what they know and what they’ve suffered from for 25 years is if you don’t have a credible, strong, national government, your neighbors take advantage of you.”


16 April 2004
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