No. 286 I 31 January 2008
A recent police operation saw numerous underage prostitutes removed from the streets, raising questions about the effectiveness of the current law.
President Bush's final State of the Union Address touches on many important issues, but fails to focus adequately on the many pressing domestic issues facing the United States.
The new Lisbon Treaty, now being ratified, could help make the European Union function more efficiently, but it may also undermine national sovereignty.
Underage prostitutes, as young as thirteen, have been picked up in a police operation in South Auckland in the past few weeks. Over a two week period, 25 people were arrested for various offences that involved engaging in sexual services with workers under the age of eighteen, while sixteen underage sex workers were removed from the streets. This alarming number of underage girls and boys raises questions about how well the Prostitution Reform Act is meeting its objectives and what changes need to be made to the law in order to ensure these vulnerable young people are afforded adequate protection against such a harmful trade.
Although the numbers are shocking, Detective Senior Sergeant, Dave Pizzini, said on TVNZ's Breakfast programme that they were unsurprised by the number of underage prostitutes they found. He also pointed out that evidence shows that "there are up to a minimum of twelve clearly underage girls working the streets in South Auckland on any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night." He also said that some provisions in the Act are "problematic," and have made it difficult for police to arrest those purchasing underage sex.
Prostitution is harmful to all involved and as a society we should be concerned when even one young person is engaged in such an activity, let alone sixteen found in South Auckland within such a short time period. The Prostitution Reform Act, which aims to "protect them [sex workers] from exploitation," and to "prohibit the use in prostitution of persons under 18 years of age," instead makes it extremely difficult for purchasers of underage prostitutes to be prosecuted. Unless the purchaser makes a confession, it is often impossible to get enough evidence to hold up in Court and so the offender goes uncharged.
The Prostitution Law Review Committee is expected to release a report by the end of this year that critiques the Act and how well it is achieving its objectives. It is hoped they will take notice of these problems and alter the law accordingly. It is much too easy to ignore reality and pretend that this sort of abuse is not happening or to suggest that it does not harm those who are involved. Before anything else, we need to acknowledge that this is a problem and that it is causing both physical and emotional harm to vulnerable young people. The law must make it easier to punish those who purchase underage sex, while the community needs to question how we have let these girls and boys end up on the streets and what we can do to help them find a better future.
This week, George W Bush presented the final State of the Union Address of his presidency which will end in January 2009. The State of the Union address is a requirement set out in Article II, Section 3 of the United States Constitution, the first one being delivered by George Washington in 1790. It requires the President to "give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient." This annual address has evolved throughout the twentieth century into a speech that promotes the President's agenda and outlines the accomplishments of his term in office to the American people.
President Bush's speech this year concentrated heavily on the war on terror. More than one-third of his address was dedicated to this topic. While it is a significant issue for the United States and obviously needs to be addressed, there are also other pressing matters that warranted more of a mention. Bush used the opportunity to press for an indefinite military presence in Iraq. He also declared that the Afghanistan intervention was progressing steadily, praising the United States and its allies for the successful implementation of democracy in that country. Iran was once again in the spotlight; Bush condemned the Iranian government for the harsh oppression of its people and for its active support of terrorist groups. He also called for Iran to stop its nuclear advancement.
The speech contained only minor mentions of important domestic issues such as housing, health care and education. The state of the failing economy, though, was at least the secondary theme of the speech, with Bush acknowledging the uncertainty of many Americans over the weakening economy. He encouraged Congress to pass an economic stimulus package worth US$150 billion to deal with the slowing of growth in the short term. However, given the concern the American people feel about the economy and the far-reaching impact of financial strife in the United States, the economy should have held a more prominent place in Bush's speech. With elections just around the corner, the country needs to be looking to the issues that they should be assessing presidential candidates on. It would have been good to hear more detail on other areas, as well as the war on terror.
It looks like after years of deadlock over a constitution, Europe may have finally found a way around the issue. Britain's House of Commons is currently ratifying the Treaty of Lisbon, a new agreement reached by the members of the European Union (EU) to improve the way governance functions in the EU. By 2009, all 27 member-states are expected to have ratified the agreement, ending more than six years of arduous constitutional reform. Functionally the Treaty may help streamline the Union, but it also impinges on national sovereignty—a high price to pay for efficiency. The tension lies in striking the right balance between fostering greater prosperity and security throughout Europe, through mutual cooperation, and protecting national sovereignty from erosion. While more flexible than a constitution, the Treaty is still far from ideal.
The Lisbon Treaty will help make the leadership of the EU clearer by introducing a full-time President of the European Council and a single EU foreign policy representative. The number of Commissioners will also be capped at a rotating two-thirds of the number of member-states. Further, when matters cannot be settled by consensus in the Council of Ministers (which represents member-states' governments), a double majority vote will take into account the size of each country's population so that small states do not have disproportionate power. This means, however, that not all countries will have direct representation all the time. Another worrying step is the abolition of national vetoes in 50 decision-making areas.
Rather than having to reach consensus on Justice and Home Affairs issues, this Treaty will mean they are instead dealt with like ordinary EU business. Britain and Ireland have both opted out of this provision as it would have meant that British law could be overridden by the EU.
While the Lisbon Treaty has edged European integration forward, it arguably cedes more of each member-state's sovereignty to the EU in vital areas of foreign policy, defence, justice, social welfare and taxation, at both the national and international level.
IN THE NEWS
State of the Nation
This week has seen both John Key and Helen Clark deliver their "State of the Nation" speeches, setting this election year off to a competitive start. During their speeches both leaders of the major political parties announced proposed policy with a particular emphasis on youth education. John Key spoke about a "universal educational entitlement" that will encourage sixteen and seventeen year olds to take up alternative forms of training free of charge if they wish to leave school early, while Helen Clark announced a policy for "boosting teenage participation in formal education" that intends to see all youth under the age of eighteen in "school or some other form of education or training."
The 2008 Index of Economic Freedom has been released, an index put together by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. The report sets up ten different categories of freedom and gives each of the 162 countries analysed a percentage ranking for each category—with 100 percent being "an economic environment or set of policies that is most conducive to economic freedom." New Zealand did extremely well in several categories, scoring 99.9 percent in business freedom, 96.0 percent in freedom from corruption and 90.0 percent in property rights. There were several areas that let New Zealand down, however, with our lowest scores for freedom from government (56.0 percent) and fiscal freedom (60.5 percent).
"... teaching the people themselves to ... discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness, cherishing the first, avoiding the last, and uniting a speedy, but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws."
President George Washington 8 January 1790, The First State of the Union Address of President George Washington
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