Friday, August 10, 2007

Chilean infidelity and Latina domestics

The local paper reported that despite a fire that took firefighters two hours to put out, no police or government agency has initiated any investigation into who started the fire. Strange.

There was an interesting tidbit in the paper that reported on the Chilean divorce law. Chile has permitted divorce only since November 2004. At that time, it was the only Western country, that didn’t allow divorce.

But the civil code, article 128, establishes a difference between men and women in their right to remarry after a divorce. While men can remarry immediately, women must wait 270 days. And she can’t remarry at all if she’s pregnant. Why? In order to avoid confusion about paternity should a child be born in this period. The supposition is that if a child is born in the nine months after the divorce, it’s the child of the ex-husband.

Wow, what suppositions that makes about women’s fidelity during marriage. At the same time, I’m reading a book about Chile by Isabel Allende, Mi Pais Inventado, in which she claims that 58% of Chilean women are unfaithful in marriage. In a lecture I heard by Princeton biotechnologist Lee Silver, he told the audience that five percent of the people in the auditorium have biological fathers different than those they assume.

Would be nice if the most modern country in South America, which has a female president, could recognize paternity tests over marital status, as the most effective means of determining fatherhood.

Another article in El Deber writes about a study of Latin American women, in which it was found that half of Latina women, aged 20-24 work full-time in unpaid domestic duties. At least 50% of women over age 15 don’t have their own income, compared to 20% of men. And the female population works an average of 72 hours a week, within and outside the home, paid or unpaid, compared with the 48 hours the countries in the region have identified as the maximum in their labor codes.

The report, emitted by the Comision Economic para America Latina (Cepal) cites growing tensions, as women continue to have to take responsibility for the home work, even when working outside the home. It calls for public policies that incentive shared duties.

It’s no surprise, in these circumstances, that more Latina women emigrate than men. The distribution by country is shockingly skewed in favor of the United States. Between 2000 and 2007, the article lists the numbers of emigrants heading to the following destinations:

U.S. 20,500,000
Spain 1,600,000
Other OECD countries 800,000
Canada 600,000
UK 300,000
Holland 300,000

Remittances sent back to Latin America have grown from $20.2 million in 2001 to $62.3 in 2006.

I see the need for the low-end labor in many of these countries. And it’s a good opportunity for hard-working but disadvantaged people to try to get a leg up and help their families. The money sent back, just like the money the Kyrgyz send back from Russia, makes a huge difference to those left behind.

But the question is whether they ever go home. My impression is that most people in Bolivia who go to Spain intend to stay a few years, then return. Of course some stay. But usually a worker will go alone, without their family. And the draw of the family will eventually bring them back. I get a different sense in the U.S., that after a certain time in the country, people feel the right to stay. This is complicated by the children they bear on American soil having U.S. citizenship.

When the U.S. has 13 times more emigrants than the next country (and in Spanish, they actually speak Spanish), it’s a sign of the situation being out of control. Twenty million people arriving in a period of seven years, generally poor and without a knowledge of the country’s official language, seems like too much to be able to successfully integrate. They don’t contribute to taxes (though that’s a failure of the legal and immigration system rather than the immigrants themselves), yet have access to medical, educational and other public services. The current situation is unsustainable. Something needs to be done, to both formalize those who can and should stay, and to limit the numbers in the future, giving preference to those whose skills are needed in the economy.

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