Mail Call

The Only-Child Debate Our April 23 cover story on globally falling birthrates and the rise of the only-child phenomenon prompted a highly partisan response from most letter writers. Unabashedly, they either applauded the trend or condemned it. Reminding us of "our planet's still-growing population," the head of International Planned Parenthood scolded: "This is hardly a development to be lamented." Another respondent demurred: "Having siblings is healthy because it makes one tolerant of other people's ideas." And two adolescents, both only children, listed their reasons for lamenting: "Most only children long for a sibling as we do." The World's Shrinking Families Couples worldwide are making a choice to have only one child and using birth control: that's hardly a development to be lamented ("The Rise of the Only Child," SOCIETY AND THE ARTS, April 23). Over half the people in the world still live in countries where the average family includes more than two children, and couples in these countries want to reduce their childbearing, too. Many cannot, however, because the U.S. government does not live up to its obligations under the Cairo Accord to fund voluntary family-planning and other health measures in countries where women desperately need them. President George W. Bush's Global Gag Rule will only divert family-planning funds away from the most effective providers, thereby increasing unintended pregnancy even more. Voluntary reduction in population growth, and wiser consumption patterns, can help balance our planet's still growing population and its resources. Lamenting the lack of younger workers to prop up national pension schemes is shortsighted. Surely, life on earth is more than a Ponzi scheme to pay Social Security to our elders?
Alexander C. Sanger, Chair, International Planned Parenthood Council--New York, New York

I must protest on behalf of all siblings. From your picture gallery of seven purported only children, you have borrowed at least two from our ranks. Christopher Columbus had a brother, Bartholomew, and Oscar Wilde had an older brother, William. To paraphrase Wilde (a beloved fellow citizen), to make one mistake may be regarded as a misfortune, but to make two looks like carelessness. On this matter, I think Wilde would say, "An only child? Fie, sir, not I!"
Mel Kirwan--Swords, Ireland

Editor's note: NEWSWEEK regrets the error.

Far from being an only child, Oscar Wilde was in fact one of an extended family of altogether six children. Sir William Wilde, Oscar's father, had three illegitimate childrenc--Henry Wilson, Emily Wilde and Mary Wilde--whom he had sired with another woman before he married Oscar's mother, Jane (pseudonym Speranza). With Lady Jane, he had three more children: William, Oscar and Isola. The entire family spent time together, so Wilde was not deprived of siblings--except for the fact that all three of the girls died young.
Traude Slaughter--Donegal, Ireland

The World Book Encyclopedia says that Christopher Columbus was the oldest of five siblings. In fact, his next brother, Bartholomew, helped plan Columbus's great voyage and was his right-hand man.
Stephen Lauer--Kobe, Japan

The one-child family is becoming a growing trend in our society because it is difficult to raise more than one child. Toys, education and leisure-time activities cost much more than in earlier times. Something your article does not mention, however, is that though siblings often argue and criticize each other, this is a healthy act that is likely to make one more open to criticism and tolerance for other people's ideas.
Martina Farrugia--Mellieha, Malta

While many countries' birthrates are declining, I do not understand why that is considered bad. This is actually a good thing. Imagine if First World countries had the fertility rates of most developing countries. We have too many people as it is.
Adrian M. Gonzalez Guerra--Monterrey, Mexico

What next, NEWSWEEK, a cover showing siblings sparring in full-fledged rivalry? We all know people who are "off the wall," yet no one would ever suggest that their behavior stems from the fact that they have siblings. Anything an only child does is assumed to be due to his being an only child. The only time I regretted being an only child was when I had to care for my dying parents, until one of their doctors told me that it made his job easier, taking directions from one child instead of several who argue about the next step to take. There are pros and cons to most things in life.
Madeline Gelis--Chicago, Illinois

Although many children will have less rich lives because they won't know what having a brother or sister is like, the only-child trend is a positive one and is desirable for the planet. The only way to promote the earth's sustainable long-term development is by controlling population growth and by eventually leveling it off to zero or to a very small growth.
Jesus Nieto--Cambrils, Spain

Your report on only children is well timed. Even in India, we're seeing more and more families with only one child. What is interesting, though, is that primarily because of the reasons stated in your article, it is the affluent who are opting to have one child; the poor still have more than a couple of children due to a lack of education or the desire to have sons. However, the only child in India is usually not as pampered as his counterparts in affluent countries, because we have many extended families here. My older brother's 6-year-old daughter, an only child, acquired a younger "sister" when I became a father; before that she shared her things with our cousins' children, because we all live together. Most of us have only one child, and we plan to keep it that way.
Gagan Arora--Delhi, India

We are two adolescents, both only children, and we have very different opinions from the statements in your article. We think that the self-esteem of an only child is lower than that of children who have siblings, because we do not have as much experience in socializing with other children. Without constant interaction, only children may tend to be more shy and unsure of themselves. They are also not necessarily friendlier or more communicative, because they are not used to relating to other people their age. They can be socially inept, as we sometimes feel when interacting with our peers. Only children are also not necessarily closer to their parents. Of course this depends on the family, but it seems that having a sibling might bring one closer to one's parents. Most people have long perceived only children to be pampered, self-centered and living in a bed of roses. We believe that most only children long for a sibling, as we do.
Aaron Ong and Rachel Tan--Singapore Taking Aim at Pokemon In the PERISCOPE section of your April 23 issue, you publish a photo that shows a cartoon of an Arab chasing Pikachu, a character in the popular children's game Pokemon ("Taking Out a Hit on Pokemon"). I am the person who created that cartoon, and I believe that you portrayed the cartoon in a way that gave it the opposite meaning of what I intended. The picture was cropped so that it cut off part of the Israeli tank with a laughing Ariel Sharon inside it. This makes it look as if my cartoon was an Islamic poster condemning Pokemon, when in fact it meant to illustrate the silliness of the fatwa issued by Islamic religious leaders. Obviously Sharon and his big tank pose a much larger threat to the Islamic world than Pikachu does.
Emad Hajjaj--Amman, Jordan

Editors' note: NEWSWEEK reprinted the cartoon as it was cropped by the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour.

In the cartoon of the Arab chasing a Pokemon character, the bold headline implies that the world is laughing at the Arab nations for their ignorance in focusing on a minor issue like Pokemon and forgetting about the major tragedy and suffering of Arabs.
Ramzi Adel--Amman, Jordan

It is true that some Islamic scholars have spoken out against the gambling nature of card swapping and the unsuitable idea of evolution that is part of the Pokemon craze. However, your article completely ignores the cultural clash that is the real core of this issue and turns it into an opportunity to once again mock Islam. By claiming that Islamic scholars believed the world was flat, you add insult to injury. You should have known better than to try to feed your readers this image of ignorant Islamic religious leaders' believing outdated theories. The Quran speaks of human embryology, of the orbit of planets, of the creation of heaven and earth from gaseous heated particles, and of night and day from the revolution of the globe--all while Europe was still in the Dark Ages. Surprisingly, you also failed to report that many schools in the United States have banned Pokemon for distracting their students from studies, and that churches from Mexico to Slovakia have called the game demonic.
John Marshall, Editor, Newsofthegulf.com--Dubai, United Arab Emirates Africa's Gravy Train Your article on the corruption in the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Kenya ("The Nairobi Connection," WORLD AFFAIRS, Feb. 26) should be read along with the statement, in the same issue, about the Sydney Olympic Committee officials who bribed Kenya and Uganda IOC members to obtain their votes ("Who Gets the Gold?" ASIA). The real question is, where does corruption start? Does hiring a brother or niece (nepotism to Westerners) for a government job, an acceptable African practice, constitute corruption? If African leaders skim money for their own benefit, are their voters going to say no? Corruption filters down from the top. From Kenya to Zimbabwe to South Africa, "gravy trains" are sucking the lifeblood of the economies. The "African" system fails to encourage true merit but encourages incompetence and mediocrity by centralizing authority (witness Thabo Mbeki's gagging of his ministers over the HIV/AIDS debacle). An unsophisticated voting populace in African "democracies" assumes their leaders will help themselves. The people only hope that some of the "gravy" will spill over to them. Some chance!
Andrew B. Smith--Cape Town, South Africa Old School Ties I am very fond of your magazine and understand your criticism of my school, the Ecole Nationale d'Administration ("Old School, New Age," EUROPE, April 23). But it is unfair to allege things that are clearly untrue. If your reporter had come to the ENA here in Strasbourg, he would have seen that we are all very good at surfing the Web.
Thomas Lambert--Strasbourg, France Understanding Falun Gong Ron Javers's Feb. 12 OPINION piece "Making Sense of a Suicide" takes Falun Gong out of its context and appeals to popular fears of things unfamiliar. Fueled by Javers's own traumatic experiences in Jonestown, Guyana, more than 20 years ago, the article claims that Falun Gong is a cult, and that it is prone to violence. More correctly understood, however, it is a form of traditional Chinese qigong , a form of self-cultivation for refining the body and mind. Branding the more than 70 million people who practice Falun Gong in over 40 countries as "cult members" is just not right.
Levi Browde, President, Falun Dafa InfoCenter--New York, New York

In his article on the Falun Gong suicides, Ron Javers is mistaken in drawing parallels between the cult followers of Jim Jones and a movement based on the ancient Chinese traditions of tai chi and meditation. As for the suicides, during the Vietnam War, Buddhist monks committed similar acts of self-immolation. Yet no one would suggest that Buddhism is a flaky "cult." The truth is that Falun Gong followers face the same despair as the dispossessed people of Tibet: they are victims of a cynical regime that tramples freedom, confident in the knowledge that the world will look away. The United States and the European Union appease China, preserving "good relations" for the sake of commercial gain. China is courted by everyone, including media barons like Rupert Murdoch, who censor critical comments from their publications. This is what drives good people to acts of desperation.
Kerry Marshall--Brighton, England

I am a Singaporean living in Shanghai, China, for the past three years. I travel extensively around China, and I can tell you that Falun Gong is no different from other cults. Do we need to wait for another Aum Shinrikyo or Jim Jones situation to take place before we realize that it is just as dangerous as the others? The immolations in Tiananmen are just the beginning.
William Tan--Singapore

I see no similarity between the Jonestown massacre of 1978 and Falun Gong: the people in Jonestown were forced to drink poison. They were members of a cult, kept there by armed guards. But Falun Gong people live all over the world and are free to think and act independently. They are not an isolated group with a single powerful leader controlling their daily lives. Furthermore, no one associated with Falun Gong has ever recommended suicide. Falun Dafa is a peaceful way of life, practiced by millions of people. It has no hidden agenda. Please don't be fooled by the Chinese government's propaganda. I have practiced Falun Gong for two and a half years, and never once have I wanted to kill myself.
Pamela McLennan--via internet

The Chinese government has conducted an all-out war against Falun Gong since July 1999. The fact that millions of Falun Gong practitioners in China have endured a tremendous amount of persecution during this time is indisputable. Even if those people who set themselves on fire were Falun Gong practitioners, didn't the government drive them to it? Why did Ron Javers's article contain no reference to the role that the Chinese government has played in this tragedy? There is always another side to the story.
Rae Song--Houston, Texas