Parental Licensing and Jeffrey Baldwin – Child Abuse in Canada

As part of my Children’s Rights in Canada course we are required to watch a documentary every week a participate in a discussion by answering questions related to the documentary. One of the most shocking documentaries I’ve seen to date was the documentary from week 9 titled Failing Jeffrey (you can watch the documentary here). The documentary is about one of the worst cases of child abuse Canada has ever seen and what I was most shocked about is just that – that the case took place in Toronto, Canada.

Five-year old Jeffrey Baldwin was found dead in 2002 after being abused and starved to death by his grandparents Elva Bottineau and Norman Kidman who were ultimately arrested and convicted of second degree murder. Both Bottineau and Kidman had a history of violence and abuse, yet they were approved by the Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society to be foster parents to Jeffrey Baldwin and his siblings.

Workers from the Toronto Catholic Children’s Aid Society regularly checked up on Bottineau’s home yet did not think anything was wrong. Meanwhile, Jeffrey was horribly abused, starved and maltreated. I will not get into details about what Elva Bottineau did to Jeffrey (you can watch the documentary for a more detailed account of the case) but he was disgustingly treated for an ongoing period that ultimately led to his tragic death.

Jeffrey’s grandparents, Elva Bottineau and Norm Kidman

The most tragic thing about this case that many people will agree with is that Jeffrey’s death could have been prevented. Catholic Children’s Aid Society workers regularly visited the house, while Jeffrey’s aunt and uncle also lived in the same house along with another lodger. How did they not know what was going on? Well, as it turns out, a couple of them had their suspicions but when they confronted Elva she told them everything was fine and that she had just taken him to the doctor. He had not visited the doctor since he was a baby. Out of fear of Elva and some dependency issues (they lived in her house without paying rent) and because of her manipulation, no one said anything. Elva wouldn’t even let anyone see Jeffrey’s bedroom. When Jeffrey’s body was discovered, so was his room, covered in urine and feces, with a lock on the outside so he couldn’t get out when he was locked in.

Some of the questions that came up in this week’s discussion were: should parents be licensed? And would parental licensing promote children’s rights? Would it have saved Jeffrey Baldwin?

Many compare parenting to other potentially dangerous dangerous activities that require licenses like driving a car or practicing medicine and believe that parents should be licensed as such. I do not believe that parents licensing would promote children’s rights. One argument against parental licensing is that it fosters the conception of children as parental property which may negatively affect the child’s development. Also, parental licensing promotes blame among parents as it will make parents and other individuals constantly skeptical of who is fit to be a “good parent”. On this note, there is no concrete criteria and no appropriate test to accurately determine who makes a good parent. In the documentary Failing Jeffrey, Elva Bottineau was approved by the Catholic Children’s Aid Society to look after Jeffrey and his siblings and passed each visit and inspection by children’s aid workers. This sad and tragic case shows that the system cannot always be trusted and that people can slip through the cracks whether it be through lies and manipulation such as Elva or by other means.

Parental licensing would not promote children’s rights because such a program could never adequately, reasonably and fairly be enforced. There are cases of violation and unplanned pregnancies where parental licensing and determination for what happens to such babies would be extremely difficult. Parental licensing would surely have numerous negative repercussions, especially on the family as an institution, and as it stands such a program is unfair and simply unfeasible. Children’s rights would better be promoted through education and through the improvement of existing social services such as the Catholic Children’s Aid Society that failed Jeffrey Baldwin.

When it comes to international development, a lot of people think of traveling abroad to the developing world to create positive change. While development is obviously needed on a global scale, we should not be quick to overlook social injustices that occur much closer to home.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Do you think that parents should be licensed in order to promote children’s rights?


Boycotting is Not the Solution

One of my fellow INDEVOURS, Anusha, recently wrote a blog post about LEGO’s controversial partnership with Shell (check out the video here!) as Shell is planning to drill in the Arctic for oil causing serious environmental damage. What I liked most about Anusha’s article is that she didn’t discriminate LEGO or tell people to never buy from them again; she presented Greepeace’s petition intended to urge LEGO to rethink their partnership with Shell and make a difference.

Something I haven’t really thought of before is that boycotting is not a solution. In my high school religion class, we watched a documentary about Walmart and it’s negative impacts on workers and local businesses.  I thought “if people would just boycott Walmart, then it would go out of business and this wouldn’t be a problem anymore.” But, there are people that are going to keep shopping at Walmart (I still do) because the thing is, people like a good deal.

I recently came across another article on the internet featuring shoppers in the United Kingdom that have bought clothing from Primark only to find secret messages sewn into the tags.

The first woman discovered a message that said “forced to work exhausting hours” stitched onto the tag of her dress.

The second, a woman who bought an item of clothing from the same Primark store discovered a tag stitched with “degrading sweatshop conditions.”

About a year ago, Primark was also featured in the media because one of their factories in Bangladesh collapsed killing hundreds of factory workers. Upon reading this news along with the more recent news of the Primark dress tags stitched with cries for help I thought, if I was a Primark shopper, I wouldn’t want to shop there again. Then, while reading more into the issue, I came across another blog post titled Why I Won’t Be Boycotting Primark. In it, the author writes about how countries llike Bangladesh rely on an expanding garment trade and that boycotting may result in a quick-fix solution by brands who will just pull out of the country, whereas a commitment to long-term, actual and lasting change is required. The author also adds:

“We urge people not to boycott the brands involved. Instead put the workers at the centre of the issue, and ensure their rights are respected. In response to a boycott, brands may cut production or pull out of factories. This would lead to the loss of jobs, garment workers struggling to feed their families and being unable to send their children to school.”

Finally, she ends on a more positive note when she writes:

“Recent campaign successes, such as the 2,800 Indonesian workers from the PT Kizone factory who won a landmark settlement against Adidas, illustrate the power inherent when workers, unions and consumers worldwide unite. By signing petitions and writing to brand CEOs, you can make a positive impact by pressuring them to respect their workers rights.”

Signing petitions and writing letters are important actions that I will also try and practice more of. For now, I urge everyone to become more aware of where their food products and other merchandise are coming from and to find out what we can do to become a voice for those who are exploited for their labour.

Share any thoughts or comments with me below!



Nicaragua: An Unsafe Country for Women

The above photo depicts a woman in Managua Nicaragua protesting against Nicaragua’s high incidence of female murders; her poster translates to “no more femicides”. Nicaragua is regarded as one of the safest countries in Latin America; however, over the past decade, gender-based violence has been on the rise and the country has seen an alarming rate of female murders.

In high school, I went on two separate trips to Nicaragua to participate in solidarity with community members in rural villages on community development projects. It was after the first trip that I fell in love with the country and with Spanish and Latin American culture and it was when my interest in international development was sparked. Because of this and the fact that I’ll be working at the Emergency Centre for Women in Tarapoto, Peru come September, this article caught my eye.

According to the article, Nicaragua’s small nation of just six million people has reported 46 female murder victims in only the first three months of 2014. The article also says that Nicaragua’s Women’s Network Against Violence has reported 72 murders of women last year, 85 in 2012 and 63 in 2011. Considering these statistics, it is about every three days that a women is murdered in Nicaragua which is ridiculous. Also, the murders are following an alarming trend which is younger women attacked by young men, usually their partners; clearly, Nicaragua’s patriarchal society and deep-rooted sexism are a growing concern as this issue is progressively getting worse. What is happening to these women is tragic and what is worse is that the aggressors are rarely getting punished as they are fugitives from justice and flee once the crime has been committed.

Last year, Nicaragua passed “Ley 779”, a law expected to punish men that murdered women. However, this law infuriated conservatives and some members of the Catholic Church who claim that it will affect families and become a way to blame and punish men. Abelardo Mata, bishop of the diocese of Estelí in northern Nicaragua is even quoted as saying, “we have said repeatedly that the Mark of the Devil is no longer 666 […] It is now 779, because this law is destroying families. How many times have people who accused a husband, uncle or cousin out of anger or revenge then said – once the storm had passed – that they had been too hard on them and so decided to drop the case?”

I am absolutely shocked by this. It appears that this church official is defending the men and accusing women of overreacting. Nevertheless, the law was changed to include the condition of mediation that requires women to negotiate with their aggressors after denouncing them. This shocked women’s groups as it maintains that women must face their abusers insteadPresident Daniel Ortega should allocate a portion of the budget to a campaign to raise consciousness and prevent gender-based violence while abusers continue to go unpunished. Evidently, the implementation of this law has not worked in combating the issue as the violence and murders have continued.

Reyna Rodríguez, the national coordinator of The Women’s Network Against Violence believes “The law is important but there is no effective intervention because the state does not guarantee the funds to implement the measure.” She also adds that president Daniel Ortega should allocate a portion of the budget to a campaign intended to raise consciousness and prevent gender-based violence in Nicaragua. I agree and believe that serious changed must be made in regards to the security and well-being of women in Nicaragua. It is not enough to pass a law although returning to the original Law 779 may make a difference better than the current law in place. The country must focus on education on gender equality to break free from the deeply-rooted sexist and patriarchal society of Nicaragua. I am interested to learn more about gender-equality and how to combat domestic violence against women once I begin my 8-month placement in September.

Please leave any thought or comments on this issue.


Living the Peruvian Dream

Recently I came across a publication on the Spanish newspaper El País’s Planeta Futuro webpage called Prosperar en el Perú mas pobre or Prosper/thrive in the poorest Peru. The post showcases a collection of photos titled Viviendo el sueño peruano – Living the Peruvian dream.

The photos take place in a slum outside of Lima called Gosen City, showing the city’s homes and markets. Over the years, economic growth in Peru has benefited even some of the country’s poorest residents. The president, Ollanta Humala, has promised to reduce poverty by 15 percent by July 2016; according to official statistics, 490 000 Peruvians were lifted out of poverty just last year. Some of this change is really starting to show, especially in Gosen City.

Above is Fabiola Tuesta, a 54 year-old and Gosen’s sole hairdresser. She says it was impossible to open up a salon in Gosen before because no one had any money to spend on luxuries. Now, women and girls have their hair cut and pay for hair removal services and business is improving. A cut costs five soles ($1.79).

Here, Roberto Taboada poses in front of his new home beside his former home in Gosen City next to a dumpster on the outskirts of Lima. After years of living here and doing small jobs as a handyman, he has finally saved enough money to build himself a house of better quality.

Teodora Martinez wakes up at 3am to bring fresh vegetables to her shop. Now, the other residents of Gosen City buy from her shop everyday and they buy more than they did before.

Antonio Abad is one of the carpenters in Gosen City. He arrived in 1995 when it was still a small settlement, helping neighbours build their homes. Now, he has his own workshop where he can build windows, doors and other furniture.

Lucia Liaza used to just work and eat, earning one sol ($0.36) a day but now, as business is growing, she takes home up to 80 soles ($28.50).

These are just some of the ways that people’s lives have been transformed by economic growth and efforts to reduce poverty in Peru. Oftentimes, poverty seems like a huge and impossible issue to overcome. These examples from the slums of Peru show that even the lives of the poorest can be changed for the better and that there is hope in situations where there seems to be no hope. We just have to keep trying. To see the rest of the photos check out the photo gallery here!

From Canada to Peru

As the departure date for UW’s International Development students’ 8-month placements draws nearer, my excitement is growing stronger. On days when my nerves start getting the best of me I find that I must remind myself what an amazing learning and growing experience this will be and, most of all, that everything will be okay. This post will be dedicated to where I will be living for 8 months of my life starting this coming September (only 2 months away!!) and the organization I will be working with.

I’ll be living in Tarapoto, a city in northern Peru about an hour away from Lima – the country’s capital – by plane. Tarapoto’s main activities are tourism, commerce, and agriculture. It is a set-off point for tourist excursions into the Amazon Rainforest as well as river rafting and hiking in the Andes. As for climate, Tarapoto is hot and humid year-round with average highs of 31-32 degrees Celsius which means I won’t have a winter but I don’t mind!


I will be working with The Red Nacional de Promoción de la Mujer – RNPM (National Network for the Promotion of Women), a civil association created in March 1990. The RNPM is composed of 24 departmental coordinations – all civil society organisations – for a total of 700 members throughout the country. RNPM envisions gender equity between men and women through promoting the formulation, management and surveillance of public policies within the National Program for the Promotion of Women and Sustainable Human Development framework. RNPM’s main fields of intervention are:

  • Women’s health
  • Women and girls’ education
  • Political participation
  • Violence against women

They do this through training, communication, consultancy, negotiation at decision-making levels, policy management and proposals, advocacy, community surveillance, and local development. So far, a couple of their accomplishments include having developed a National Consultation on the Plan for Equal Opportunities for women and men, in collaboration with the Ministry of Women and Social Development, in Lima and in 12 departments and being a founding member of the Network for girls´ Education, which prompted the Law for the Promotion of Education for Rural Girls and Adolescents.

Tarapoto’s Emergency Centre for Women is part of the RNCM and is the organization I will be working with in September.

I have received my mandate for my placement with The Red Nacional de Promoción de la Mujer an now have an idea of what I will be doing with their organization. My responsibilities may include:

  • Supporting the implementation of plans and promotional activities for the reduction of domestic violence and violence against women;
  • Participating in the process of training groups of women, associations and social organizations in the province of San Martin
  • Supporting the search for strategic partners for CEM (Emergency Centre for Women)
  • Proposing and monitoring the actions performed with the municipalities of the district to reduce violence at the provincial level
  • Ensuring the participation and representation of women and men in all activities
  • Drafting reports required by the host organization and the Uniterra program.

I’m looking forward to building new relationships and learning as much as I can with this great group of individuals and living in this new country.


Planeta Futuro

la foto
“Planeta Futuro” is Spanish for Future Planet. During this term in my Spanish 301B class, one of our tasks was to choose an article from the major Spanish newspaper El País, summarize the article and present it to the class. We included why we chose the article along with our own opinions on the topic featured. Like most newspapers, El País has its articles organized into different sections – Sports, Society, International, Technology, etc. While choosing my articles to share with my class, I wanted to choose articles related to development studies so I could educate myself on these issues and then educate my classmates. My article presentations included topics such as human trafficking in Spain and Europe, and Gambia and Uganda’s anti-gay laws. At times, it was difficult finding articles that were both interesting and focused on important issues.

While browsing the El País website today, I was so excited to discover that they are now launching a new portal called Planeta Futuro focusing on sustainable global development, with the collaboration of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Planeta Futuro organizes articles by categories of Human Rights, Illnesses, Millennium Goals, Poverty, Environment, Immigration and Development Cooperation.
According to El País:

Planeta Futuro, a project that is being launched with the collaboration of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is aimed at bolstering the coverage in EL PAÍS of issues relating to sustainable human development, and helping to enrich the political and social debate regarding these challenges. The Foundation already counts on similar agreements with other international organizations, such as the British daily The Guardian and the US TV network NBC. The project is being launched at a time when the financial crisis and the world economy are threatening to sideline the ambitions of the MDGs and postpone the establishment of new global sustainability goals. […] the (future) Sustainable Development Goals will have to deal with ‘global challenges in sectors such as energy, food, climate and employment.’

Lydia Aguirre of El País writes:

“Carmen Garrigós coordinates a UNICEF program to wipe out polio in Afghanistan; the Methodist reverend Paul Verryn takes in more than a thousand people without resources in his South African parish; Alicia Amarilla fights for the rights of land workers and indigenous communities in Parguay; Ousmane Keita, a youngster from Ivory Coast, dreams of getting to Italy; famers in Tanzania check the prices of their products via cellphones… These are the faces of a multi-faceted and unequal planet, which is stumbling toward the universal finish line [for the Millennium Development Goals] of 2015.”

I’m looking forward to keeping up-to-date with articles in Planeta Futuro, and learning more while practicing my Spanish! I’m sure I’ll have tons of new topics to write about in my blog as well. Again, I’m really excited about this and I think this is a great feature that El País is introducing that more local and global newspapers should definitely consider incorporating.
For a look at Planeta Futuro’s mini site, click here: Planeta Futuro

Any Spanish speakers interested in development will find it very interesting!

Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts on this new global newspaper feature? Do you think other newspapers should do the same? How can we (or the media) help better inform people about both local and international development issues? Let me know in the comments!


Green Your Skincare Routine


Hey everyone! Today’s post is going to be talking about skincare products and some safer and more environmentally friendly alternatives to some of the harmful products we use every day. As you may or may not know, our skin acts as more of a sponge than a barrier, absorbing about 60% of whatever we put on it. This is why it is extremely important to scan ingredients lists on products for chemicals that may be harmful to our bodies and to the environment.

According to a U.S. researchers report, “one in eight of the 82,000 ingredients used in personal care products are industrial chemicals, including carcinogens, pesticides, reproductive toxins, and hormone disruptors.” The FDA claims that these ingredients are safe in small quantities; however, no one really knows the cumulative effects of these chemicals and their effects in combination with other chemicals. In Canada, over 500 chemical ingredients are banned by Health Canada for use in cosmetic products. Compare this with over 2000 banned by the European Union. Canada uses a risk based assessment approach, meaning that even if a chemical is known to have associated health risks (like BPA) it can still be used in consumer products if the risk to exposure is considered low enough.

Here is a list of harmful chemicals to avoid when shopping for body products:

1. BHA and BHT

Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

2. Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number

In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics are also assigned Colour Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively).

Look for p-phenylenediamine hair dyes and in other products colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits.The U.S. colour name may also be listed (e.g. “FD&C Blue No. 1” or “Blue 1”). Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.

3. DEA-related ingredients

Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer. Harmful to fish and other wildlife. Look also for related chemicals MEA and TEA.

4. Dibutyl phthalate

Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives

Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.

6. Parabens

Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.

7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)

Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics — even in some products marketed as “unscented.” Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity. Some harmful to fish and other wildlife.

8. PEG compounds

Used in many cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Also for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., polyethylene glycol).

9. Petrolatum

Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.

10. Siloxanes

Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane). Harmful to fish and other wildlife.

11. Sodium laureth sulfate

Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).

12. Triclosan

Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria. Harmful to fish and other wildlife.


(David Suzuki Foundation, 2014)

How these chemicals negatively impact the environment:

These chemicals negatively impact the environment as they are washed into the drain and enter our water supply system. This contaminated water is then used for agricultural purposes, watering livestock and cattle, and for household purposes. The manufacturing processes of products containing chemicals is also harmful.

To learn more about chemicals in cosmetics I recommend watching this short video called The Story of Cosmetics:

There are a number of products you can use to replace any products with harmful ingredients. In my opinion, the simpler, the better! Over the past several months, I’ve made a few changes to my skincare routine as I try to transition to all natural, organic products. Here are some of the products that have worked for me!


–        Lush Herbalism Cleanser: a gentle, exfoliating cleanser of kaolin clay, rice bran, rosemary, nettle and chamomile, among other great ingredients. Ideal for oily, blemish-prone skin, and Lush reuses the containers which is awesome!


–        Rosewater: Rose water is a by-product of steam distillation, the process that’s used to isolate the plant’s essential oil. It’s anti-inflammatory, gentle, refreshing, and moisturizing!

–        Witch Hazel: witch hazel is a great, simple product for combating acne, soothing and moisturizing the skin

–        Lemon: freshly squeezed lemon juice is great for the skin as it is high in vitamin-C which is important in collagen production, it helps with brightening the skin, diminishing scars and tightening pores


–        Coconut oil: organic, cold-pressed virgin coconut oil has endless benefits. It’s a great moisturizer for the skin. I like to use this at night as it can be too oily for daytime use

–        Grape seed oil: I like grape seed oil because it is more easily absorbed than coconut oil and is a little lighter. This is also great for dealing with oily and blemish-prone skin


–        Raw Honey: about once a week, I like to do a raw honey mask, just applied to freshly cleansed skin. Raw honey has antiseptic and antimicrobial properties making it a great healing agent. It also contains gluconic acid, a mild alpha hydroxy acid that brightens the complexion, evens out skin tone, and lightens scars and age spots. Raw honey can also be used as a cleanser.

I hope you all found this post informative and helpful! In the future, I plan on going into greater detail about these products, focussing on each one individually. Chemicals are not necessary in body products and tons of natural alternatives are available that are way better for you and the environment while still being effective! Remember, simplicity is key! The less ingredients, the better.

What natural products do you use in your skincare routines? What changes would you like to make?

Thanks for reading!