Inter Press Service » Education News and Views from the Global South Tue, 03 May 2016 17:30:22 +0000 en-US hourly 1 A Tale of Twin States Thu, 28 Apr 2016 16:54:10 +0000 I.A. Rehman By I.A. Rehman
Apr 28 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Pakistani visitors to India, usually beset with anxiety about their country`s future, are sometimes relieved to find a good number of Indians similarly worried about their country.

This is perhaps due to the fact that the twin states face many identical issues, and their people thus try to find solutions in the subcontinent`s shared culture.

For instance, last week in Delhi the discussion at gatherings of left-inclined intellectuals and social activists was dominated by queries as to what will happen to India if the saffron brigade continued to bring all matters under the stamp of Hindutva.

Sparks of resistance were not denied such as the resistance by writers and artists (in renouncing state awards) or the defiance of the Jawaharlal Nehru University student leaders. But generally, the conclusion was that these actions, highly morale-boosting though they were, did not generate the kind of movement for the rejection of humbug that was needed.

One also noticed a receding enthusiasm among optimists. Perhaps most people were more disappointed with the showing of the liberals (who should not be relied upon in any case) than was objectively necessary. But in the end, somebody or the other would cut the discussion short by claiming that India would never go down in the duel with fundamentalism because the traditions of tolerance in its society were so deep-rooted and strong.

One could not help drawing parallels with similar gatherings in Pakistan where those lamenting the uncertainty of civil society (along with the state authorities) see no silver lining on the horizon.

Does this mean that India and Pakistan both are condemned to suffer for a long time at the hands of people who are equipped with mantras that cannot be spurned without inviting the charge of sacrilege? That said, it is impossible not to find the judiciary challenging the executive or the legislature for transgressing its authority. Last time, it was a former Supreme Court judge taking parliament to task for amending the law so that an 18-year-oldcould be hanged.

This time it was Uttarakhand High Court in a fiery mood in the case of the dissolution of the state government by the president. The president can be an exalted person but he can also go terribly wrong, the court said.

The crisis arose when nine of the chief minister`s supporters joined the BJP opposition and the president accepted the establishment`s view that the government had broken down. Now the BJP was eagerly waiting for an invitation to form the state government. Whatever the final outcome, the BJP will be blamed for manipulating the fall of the state government.

For Pakistani students of politics, there is nothing surprising in this story. In the early years of independence, the ruling parties in both India and Pakistan were extremely unwilling to allow any opposition party to form a state-province government, but one thought the process had ended in India after an Andhra chief minister flew into the capital with all his supporters in the assembly and compelled the centre to take back the orders of his sacking. In Pakistan, the process continued somewhat longer and was overshadowed by frequent sacking of the National Assembly by all-powerful presidents.

With regard to judiciary-executive ties, it is not clear if India is now following Pakistan`s example or whether Pakistan was earlier copying an Indian pattern.

Although Pakistani chief justices in distress might have shed tears in private, there is no record of their breaking down before the political authority. But it must be said for Chief Justice T.S. Thakur that he was pleading the cause of justice and not seeking a personal favour.

One hopes, however, that his tearful plea does not embolden the sarkar to the extent of filling the courts with Modi loyalists. Justice Thakur could have a better bargain with the executive by holding firm as the head of his brother judges.

The Delhi state government`s decision to prohibit fee increases by private educational institutions should not fail to remind the people of Punjab of a similar step taken by their provincial government sometime ago.

The reasons advanced by the educational institutions on both sides are the same: mounting expenditures on teachers, rent and extracurricular facilities. The parents complain of their inability to pay fees they consider exorbitant but they are unlikely to win their case in either Delhi or Lahore.

Although the Indian government earned credit for forcing the private institutions to give relief to poor students, the patrons of private schools are likely to surrender to the argument that they cannot wish to have for their kids anything less than the best. The neo-liberal stalwarts are unlikely to cow before parents who admit to being less affluent.

It is not possible to be in Delhi and not be caught by surprise at the expansion of the metro train network or the odd-even scheme to restrict traffic that has increased the gains of operators of public transport.

The privileged car owners make no secret of their tactic to beat the system by having two cars for each user, one for odd number days and the other to be plied on even number days.

What makes Delhi a lively place despite the heat and shortage of water is the pace at which cultural activities continue.

It was good to see the tomb of Abdul Rahim Khan-i -Khana, the son of Bairam Khan who had secured the throne for the child-king Al Journalists in the doghouse: Pakistan enjoys the dubious distinction of being among the most dangerous places for journalists. In Sri Lanka, before the change of government, journalists were commonly meted out unsavoury treatment. Now Bangladesh too has taken to targeting journalists rather indiscriminately.

But what has happened to the democratic government of Nepal that Kanak Mani Dixit has been jailed? He is not afraid of making enemies, if he is being punished for that, but he must be respected as a leading exponent of the South Asian identity.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Opinion: Increasing Productivity Key to Revive Growth and Support Sustainable Development in Asia and the Pacific Thu, 28 Apr 2016 12:37:28 +0000 Shamshad Akhtar The author is an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Secretary of ESCAP. She has been the UN’s Sherpa for the G20 and previously served as Governor of the Central Bank of Pakistan and Vice President of the MENA Region of the World Bank. The full Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016 may be downloaded free of charge at]]> Shamshad Akhtar

Shamshad Akhtar

By Shamshad Akhtar
BANGKOK, Thailand , Apr 28 2016 (IPS)

The Asia-Pacific region’s successful achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development needs to be driven by broad-based productivity gains and rebalancing of economies towards domestic and regional demand. This is the main message of the Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2016, published today by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. Such a strategy will not only underpin the revival of robust and resilient economic growth, but also improve the quality of growth by making it more inclusive and sustainable.

How should Asia-Pacific policymakers go about implementing such a strategy? Approaches by developing Asia-Pacific economies that are tilted more towards reliance on export-led economic recovery will be ineffective under the current circumstances. Despite extraordinary measures, global aggregate demand remains weak and China’s economic expansion is moderating. The impact of further loosening of monetary policy is also likely to remain muted, and is not advisable. The key reason is a confluence of macroeconomic risks that are clouding the economic outlook, such as low commodity prices affecting resource-dependent economies, volatility in exchange rates, as well as growing private household and corporate debt, the impact of which is likely to be complicated by the ambiguous path of interest rate increases to be pursued by the United States.

The contribution of export-led economic growth to overall development of economies, supported by low interest rates and rising private debt, seems to have plateaued, with economic growth in developing Asia-Pacific economies in 2016 and 2017 forecast to marginally increase to 4.8% and 5% respectively from an estimated 4.6% in 2015. This is considerably below the average of 9.4% in the pre-crisis period of 2005-2007.

Along with the economic slowdown, progress in poverty reduction is slowing, inequalities are rising and prospects of decent employment are weakening. At the same time, rapid urbanization and a rising middle class are posing complex economic, social, and environmental and governance challenges. Such conditions can undermine the significant development successes of the region in recent decades, making it more difficult to deal with the unfinished development agenda, such as lifting 639 million people out of poverty. Had inequality not increased, approximately 200 million more people could have been lifted out of poverty in the three most populous countries of the region alone.

To overcome these challenges, revive the region’s economic dynamism and effectively pursue the 2030 Agenda, policymakers are advised to use all available policy levers, including countercyclical fiscal policy and supportive social protection measures, which critically calls for raising domestic resources. Such interventions would not only support domestic demand but also strengthen the foundations for future productivity-led growth by targeting areas such as: labour quality, including knowledge, skills, and health of the workforce; innovation through trade, investment and R&D; adequate infrastructure in transport, energy and ICT; and access to finance, especially by SMEs.

Fiscal measures, underpinning such initiatives, should be accompanied by sustained reforms towards efficient and fair tax systems which deliver the necessary revenues for the required investment in sustainable development

Sustained increases in domestic demand will also require steady growth in real wages. This requires linking labour productivity more closely to wage levels. Strengthening the enabling environment for collective bargaining is one necessary component in the policy arsenal of governments, with the enforcement of minimum wages as another important policy tool.

After increasing significantly over the last few decades, productivity growth has declined in recent years. This is worrying not only because wage growth has lagged behind productivity growth, but also because wage growth ultimately depends on productivity growth. Specifically, compared to the period 2000-2007, annual growth of total factor productivity has declined by more than 65% in developing countries of the region, averaging only 0.96% per year between 2008 and 2014; labour productivity growth has declined by 30%, reaching just 3.9% in 2013.

The recently-adopted Sustainable Development Goals provide an entry point to strengthen productivity. For instance, raising agricultural productivity and thus lifting rural households income must be the center of the focus to end poverty (Goal 1), to end hunger and achieve food security (Goal 2). This is because agriculture accounts for one in four workers in the region and more than half of the region’s people live in rural areas. Efforts to eradicate poverty and increase agricultural productivity would also foster development of the rural sector and encourage industrialization (Goal 9).

Higher levels of productivity in agriculture will also free-up labour, which would be available to work in the non-agricultural sector. It is therefore imperative to consider a broader development strategy that moves towards full and productive employment (Goal 8) to accommodate the “agricultural push” of labour. This will require mechanisms to provide, particularly those with low skills, access to quality education and lifelong learning (Goal 4).The need to provide quality education cannot be overemphasized in view of the skills bias of modern technology, which reduces the pace of absorption of unskilled labour released from the agricultural sector.

Thus, whereas the Goals will contribute to strengthening productivity, importantly, strengthening productivity will also contribute to the success of a number of the Goals, creating a virtuous cycle between sustainable development, productivity and economic growth.


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HIV Time Bomb Ticks On Thu, 21 Apr 2016 06:48:39 +0000 Naimul Haq 0 Home is School Fri, 15 Apr 2016 21:09:09 +0000 Zubeida Mustafa By Zubeida Mustafa
Apr 15 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The paradox of education in Pakistan is that the children of the poor are not getting enough of it, while the offspring of the rich get a surfeit. Neither is good for the child.

The privileged class faces a dilemma due to the commercialisation of the education system. Mothers with young children complain about the burden of classwork and tuitions. What they worry about is the overload of studies that overflows from school hours to tuition time.

In this context, it is but natural that some enterprising mothers are looking for solutions. A novel one that is becoming increasingly popular is homeschooling. There are a few mothers in Lahore and a growing number in Karachi who have opted to withdraw their young children from school or have not sent them to school at all.

All of them are dissatisfied with our current school system the highly elitist and the not so elitist. The most commonly heard complaint is that our schools rob the child of their childhood. Under the present system, the child is denied the joy of learning. The schools are suppressing critical thinking and destroying creativity, they say.

One angry mother pulled her children out of school when her daughter was appointed the monitor and asked to report those children who spoke Urdu in school. She found this distasteful.

Homeschooling one mother prefers to call it home education is thus the public`s response to the authorities` failure to address theissue ofpedagogyandthecontentofeducation adequately. The Karachi homeschoolers are loosely organised into two groups one in the DHA area and the other in Gulshan-i-Iqbal. The idea of getting together is not so much to regulate their working rigidly as to learn from one another`s experience and make a collective contribution to their children`s learning process.

Visiting the group in DHA gave me the opportunity to watch the children at work.

They seemed to be playing and having fun.

Actually, they were learning. It was Wednesday, when mothers meet at the weekly Book Club to draw up their work plans. There were nearly 20 children and eight or so mothers.

When I joined them, one of the mothers was teaching the children from ages four to ten something about plants. When the class ended the students trooped out into the garden for some real-life experience. As an introductory exercise, they had already visited a farm and studied the different species of trees there.

Since the mothers were highly educated themselves they appeared to be coping well.

Normally, a mother might be homeschooling her own children and also those from anotherfamily. There is plenty of interaction among them and the atmosphere was relaxed. The groups are of mixed ages with the older ones helpingtheiryoungersiblings.

Forever in quest of solutions, many mothers had arranged for tutors for older children to teach subjects at a higher level such as science and mathematics. Ultimately, they aim to prepare children to sit for their `O`-levels examinations privately.

It appeared to be an experiment that held promise but many issues come to mind about which the mothers themselves are sceptical.

They say that the experiment is so new in Pakistan that they donothave ayardstick to measure its effectiveness. Unlike the US where homeschooling operates in a strictly regulated environment, home schools in Pakistan have no constraints. In the US and other Western countries, mechanisms have been created to test the children`s progress periodically.

The mothers acknowledge that they had tomuster courage not to conform; even now they feel they have to ultimately aim at fitting their child into the conventional world of higher education andprofessional life. One said she may ultimately move bacl< to the US from where she returned to serve her country. She was candid enough to tell me that after a year of homeschooling her younger son still misses the regular school he had been attending earlier. But the older one who has learning problems says he would never want to go back to school.What perturbed me was the limited social exposure of homeschooled children to diversity in society. One mother, who is teaching her children at home, told me that homeschooling mothers have to be `quirky` by their very nature. They have to have strong ideas about education and should be prepared to take risks. That is why they tend to come from the same socio-economic class with similar ideological beliefs.Having studied in a convent school where a diversity of class, faiths and culture enriched the classroom environment, I wonder how children growing up in a secluded group with an identical outlook learn to coexist with the `other`.It is time to seriously rethink education.Wouldn`t it be advisable for parents to concentrate their efforts on reforms in the school sector?

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Female Engineers Defy the Odds Wed, 13 Apr 2016 05:19:36 +0000 Kizito Makoye 0 Stepping Out of the Cocoon Tue, 12 Apr 2016 16:10:28 +0000 Nilima Jahan Photos: Courtesy

Photos: Courtesy

By Nilima Jahan
Apr 12 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

To encourage more young women into community media and journalism, and to work for the development of rural communities, in 2013, Bangladesh NGO’s Network for Radio and Communication (BNNRC), in partnership with Free Press Unlimited (FPU), launched a three month fellowship programme entitled “Youth women in Media and Journalism”. In the programme, an experienced mentor trains the attendees how to produce news, reports, features, case study and human profiles.

“We believe that the story of rural underprivileged women can be best depicted by these journalists, as they can bring out their prospects and problems”, says AHM Bazlur Rahman, CEO of BNNRC. BNNRC has a special focus on ‘Dalit’ young women too.

According to a statistics of BNNRC, at present, more than 350 female journalists and volunteers are working in 16 community radios in Bangladesh and they are bringing tremendous success in their own fields. They are mainly covering issues related to women and children- importance of family planning, pre-primary education system, awareness against child marriage, employment of indigenous women in the forest department, violence against women, suicidal tendencies among women, children being victims of pornography, healthcare facilities in local maternity hospitals and many more.

The journey of these promising young women is not smooth at all. Many of them are from very conservative families that don’t accept their daughters’ participation in media. “I was born and brought up in a family plagued with religious bigotry and superstitions. No woman before me here had stepped out of the house, let alone have a job”, says 23 years old Shahrina Sultana Jui, Head of News at Borendra Radio, Naogaon, the one and only female journalist of Naogaon and a fellow of BNNRC’s fellowship programme.

Photos: Courtesy

Photos: Courtesy

“Coming from that family, and becoming a journalist today– it’s like a dream”, she adds. She has produced a number of news stories depicting the miseries of the people of her community and has been able to draw the attention of her community, local administration and law enforcers.

Like Shahrina, many female journalists in different community media are struggling to make a change in the male-dominated rural areas. But very often, they are interrupted by the encirclements. “Some girls joined our radio without informing their parents. But when their parents come to know about it, they take them back”, says Parvin Nahar, station manager of Radio Jhenuk, Jhenaidah.

Apart from these, there are bigger problems in the working areas. Sometimes they need to go a long way on foot for collecting information, sometimes people don’t want to talk to them about sensitive issues, and give wrong information, as they are not aware of their rights. The local administration makes them wait for days for data collection, many a times they don’t provide the data at all.

“When I went to cover a report on family planning issues, people of my community didn’t even want to talk to me. For them, it’s a very private issue to talk about”, says Baishakhy Khatun, presently working as a programme host at Bangladesh Betar (started her career at Radio Jhenuk, under the fellowship of BNNRC). “But later on, that programme got the family planning media award from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare”. Apart from these, Baishakhy received a number of national and international awards for her outstanding achievements for Radio Jhenuk.

Conquering all obstacles, rural women journalists are now creating a platform for people of different communities, by picking up the stories of success and sorrow. They demand an indiscriminate environment for performing their duties properly and yearn to move a long way in future with the help of the initiators.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Violence at Home Mon, 04 Apr 2016 15:09:59 +0000 Asma Humayun By Asma Humayun
Apr 4 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

Amidst robust campaigning by liberal sections to activate the feminist lobby and strong criticism by clerics defending Islam’s endowment of women’s rights, there is a risk of overlooking the essence of what is a major human rights and public health issue — domestic violence.

violence-at-homeToday, domestic violence is recognised as a ‘global’ public health issue that is prevalent in high-, middle- and low-income countries. While the presentation of domestic violence may be culture-specific, it exists in all countries, cultures and religions. The reported rates vary; generally a third of all women suffer some form of domestic violence in their lives.

The aetiology of violence is best described by the model which proposes that violence is a result of factors operating at four levels: individual, relationship, community and societal. These feature low levels of education, poverty, witnessing or experiencing violence as a child, substance abuse, personality disorders, low socio-economic status of women; weak legal sanctions against domestic violence; and broad social acceptance of violence.

Research strongly suggests that domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand. Domestic violence and depression are intertwined and part of a vicious cycle. In addition to depression, domestic violence is strongly linked with physical injuries, chronic poor health, homicide and suicide. Serious adverse effects have also been observed in children.

Domestic violence and mental illness go hand in hand.

According to the 2016 bill proposed by the Punjab government, violence is, “any offence committed against a woman including abetment of an offence, domestic violence, emotional, psychological and verbal abuse, economic abuse, stalking or cybercrime”. Although the bill proposes to address a broad array of violent crimes against women, both within and outside the house, the text fundamentally focuses on domestic violence.

Quite clearly, this is a complex issue where it might be difficult to implement the law.

The definition of violence in the bill is blurred as the term ‘domestic violence’ already includes physical, emotional (psychological, verbal abuse included) and sexual forms of abuse and controlling behaviour, such as economic abuse. More importantly, the prevalent aspect of ‘sexual abuse’ is missing here.

The bill offers protection from relationships through ‘consanguinity and marriage’. Therefore, it goes beyond partner violence and includes abuse from other members of the family. The protection order directs the defendant to ‘stay away’ or ‘leave the house’. This is already difficult to apply in cases where the defendant is the husband; but what if the defendant is, for example, the mother-in-law?

Criminalising the behaviour of the ‘defendant’ might be a deterrent in the short term, but certainly a more comprehensive conflict-resolution approach will be needed to address the underlying causes.

Many cases of domestic violence lack tangible evidence and are hard to verify. It is easier to have a court of inquiry when violence results in physical injury. Similarly, it might be easier to evaluate a single incident of violence in isolation, but domestic violence is usually an ongoing process where it becomes incrementally more difficult, even clinically, to assess the role of each partner in perpetuating violence over a longer period.

Many abused women choose not to report or leave their partners. The reasons may include fear of retaliation; lack of economic support; concern for their children or fear of losing them; lack of support from family and friends; stigma of divorce; or hope that the partner will change. These conflicts make it difficult for outside agencies including the legal system to intervene.

Providing a toll-free number must be followed by effective response. Does our law-enforcement system have the capacity to respond to the huge number of calls that will inevitably come?

Then there is the big question of rehabilitating victims which is, rightly so, a part of the bill. Does the state have the capacity to support, train and employ them so that they can look after themselves and their children in the long run?

The bill proposes the appointment of women protection officers. If this materialises, it might turn out to be a large unwieldy taskforce considering how common the problem is. It might be more feasible if existing ‘public servants’ are trained in psychosocial interventions in order to handle the sensitive nature of these conflicts.

While the bill should be lauded for drawing attention to an important issue, it is equally essential to approach its implementation in a manner in which vulnerable groups find it easy to use it as an avenue of recourse. The initial phase of implementing this bill should focus on identifying families at risk and to provide early-intervention services, including legal advice; social and counselling services for marital discord and referrals for specialised interventions for serious mental disorders.

At the societal level, it is important to build coalitions of government, religious and civil society institutions focusing on behavioural principles and avoiding a confrontational approach that will polarise communities.

The writer is a consultant psychiatrist. Twitter: @Asma Humayun

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Corruption Swallows a Huge Dose of Water Tue, 22 Mar 2016 23:51:46 +0000 Jeff Williams A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

A Somali woman in Garowe drawing water from one of the many man-made ponds dug through a UNDP-supported initiative to bring water to drought-affected communities. Credit: UNDP Somalia

By Jeff Williams
MOMBASA, Kenya, Mar 22 2016 (IPS)

While the United Nations marked this year’s World Water Day on March 22 focusing on the connection between water and jobs, a new report has rung loud alarm bells about the heavy impact of corruption on the massive investments being made in the water sector.

Each year, between 770 billion and 1,760 billion dollars are needed to develop water resources and services worldwide — yet the number of people without “safe” drinking water is about as large as those who lack access to basic sanitation: around 32 per cent of the world’s population in 2015, Transparency International on March 22 reported.

And asked how can so much be spent and yet such massive shortfalls still exist?

“One answer: About 10 per cent of water sector investment is lost to corruption.”

This striking information came out on the occasion of World Water Day 2016, as the Water Integrity Network (WIN) released a new report that documents the legacy of corruption in the water sector.

The WIN report reveals corruption’s costly impact on the world’s water resources. It also shows the degree to which poor water governance negatively affects the world’s most vulnerable populations – specifically women, children, and the landless.

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

Women carry gravel from the river to be taken to a construction site in Indonesia. Credit © Maillard J. /ILO

While access to water and sanitation were formally recognised as human rights by the UN General Assembly in 2010, the reality is far from this goal, says WIN, a network of organisations and individuals promoting water integrity to reduce corruption and improve water sector performance.

“According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, some 663 million people lack access to so-called “improved” drinking water sources globally… this contributes to 1.6 million deaths annually, most of whom are children under 5 years old.”

Although the UN’s new 2030 Agenda includes a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) on water and sanitation as well as a mandate for accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels (SDG 16), action is needed so that pervasive and systemic corruption do not continue to seep from the water sector, according to the report.

The study cites some specific cases. In 2013, Malawi’s reformed public financial management system was misused to divert 5 million dollars in public funds to the private accounts of officials.

Another case: in 2015, an audit of the 70 million euro phase II national water programme in Benin, which included 50 million euro from the Netherlands, revealed that 4 million euro had vanished. Dutch development cooperation with the Benin government was suspended thereafter to safeguard additional funds.

Corruption is, however, not limited to developing countries. In fact, WING cites an example from the United States. “In California, a member of the State Senate in 2015 declared a system of permits that allowed oil companies to discharge wastewater into underground aquifers to be corrupt.”

Further more, the Water Integrity Global Outlook 2016 (WIGO) shares examples of both corruption and good practices at all levels worldwide.

In this sense, WIGO demonstrates how improved governance and anti-corruption measures can win back an estimated 75 billion dollars for global investment in water services and infrastructure annually.

It therefore highlights and draws lessons from those examples of where governments, companies, and community groups have won gains for water consumers and environmental protection.

“The report proposes to build ‘integrity walls’ from building blocks of transparency, accountability, participation and anti-corruption measures,” says Frank van der Valk, the Water Integrity Network’s executive director. “Urgent action by all stakeholders is required.”

WIN works to raise awareness on the impact of corruption especially on the poor and disenfranchised assesses risk and promotes practical responses. Its vision is a world with equitable and sustained access to water and a clean environment, which is no longer, threatened by corruption, greed, dishonesty and willful malpractice.

Formerly hosted by Transparency International, the WIN global network is formally led by the WIN association and supported by the WIN Secretariat in Berlin.


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Will Children of Colombia Know Peace at Last? Tue, 22 Mar 2016 14:22:32 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage By Tharanga Yakupitiyage

“No child in Colombia today knows what it is like to live in a country at peace,” said UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) Representative in Colombia Roberto De Bernardi during the launch of a new report.

The new report, titled ‘Childhood in the Time of War: Will the children of Colombia know peace at last?’, illustrates the profound impacts of the country’s 50-year conflict on youth.

According to national data, collected since 1985, approximately 2.5 million children have been affected by war. Of this population, 2.3 million have been displaced, 45,000 children have been killed, and 8,000 have disappeared.

Children under the age of five comprise of 1 in 10 of those killed, abducted, disappeared and tortured, and 1 in 5 of the total number of displaced persons.

Indigenous and Afro-Colombian children have been especially vulnerable during the conflict, representing 12 percent of the displaced, 15 percent of sexual violence survivors, and 17 percent of those tortured.

“It is time to turn the page,” De Bernardi remarked.

Though there has been some improvement since peace talks were initiated in 2013, people under the age of 18 continue to bear the brunt of suffering.

Persistent fighting between rival groups have displaced 230,000 children, killed 75 children and injured another 180. The UN also estimates approximately 1,000 children—or one child per day–were recruited by non-state armed groups.

Children have also been unable to attend school due to threat of physical and sexual violence, recruitment, and the presence of mines in and around schools.

As peace negotiations inch towards a final agreement, ending one of the longest wars in modern history, UNICEF urges parties to consider and prioritize children’s interests first.

“Even if the peace agreement were to be signed tomorrow, children will continue to be at risk of all kinds of violations including recruitment, landmines and sexual exploitation,” De Bernardi stated.

Though the main parties to the conflict are the country’s Government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) who are currently involved in ongoing talks, other armed groups remain active in the country including the National Liberation army (ELN) which threaten sustained violence and instability.

UNICEF stressed the importance of providing social and psychological support to children affected by conflict, helping them reunite with families and reintegrate into society.

This is especially needed for vulnerable communities with few resources and even fewer options other than to join an armed group in order to survive.

“Unless more and better resources are invested in creating opportunities for children and young people to thrive, long lasting peace in Colombia will continue to be an elusive dream,” De Bernardi concluded in the report.

UNICEF has made an appeal of $52 million to provide essential services to children in Colombia.


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Water and Sanitation Challenges Amidst Social Inequality in Urban Areas in India Mon, 21 Mar 2016 16:01:52 +0000 Fawzia Tarannum Fawzia Tarannum Lecturer, Department of Regional Water Studies, TERI University]]> Water and Sanitation Challenge in Ekta-Vihar Slum in New Delhi

Water and Sanitation Challenge in Ekta-Vihar Slum in New Delhi

By Fawzia Tarannum
NEW DELHI, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

During the month of March 2016 and ironically very close to the World Water Day, the Supreme Court of India had to step in to resolve a water sharing dispute between three contiguous states including the National Capital Region. That, this was not the first time that the Supreme Court had to intervene is a stark indicator of the extent of the water crisis that is confronting India, a country that aspires to be a global power. Earlier Supreme Court had to step in to resolve a bitter dispute on water sharing between two Southern states of India – Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

On the international front, India has been having major differences on water sharing arrangements with almost all its neighbouring countries. For a country that is home to almost 17.5% of the world’s population but has only 4% of world’s fresh water resource; the criticality of sustaining these sources of water cannot be overemphasized. The Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC has identified India as one of the most vulnerable countries due to climate change. The impact of climate change, manifested in the increased incidences of droughts and crop failure, is already leading to large scale rural-urban migration in India. Even though, as per official figures, India’s pace of urbanization is considered to be much slower than the global average, the World Bank brief ‘Leveraging Urbanization in India’ brought out in 2015, disputes this fact and highlights that urbanization in India is ‘messy and hidden’. Statistical disputes apart, what cannot be denied is the sheer size of the humanity affected by this rapid urban sprawl, characterised by lack of access to clean water and sanitation.

Fawzia Tarannum

Fawzia Tarannum

In India, the multiplicity of agencies with overlapping jurisdictions over water and sanitation, have led to diffused accountability and therefore official impunity in denying the basic right to urban slums. While ambitious schemes like the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) were launched in 2005 with an objective to create ‘economically productive, efficient, equitable and responsive Cities’ through capacity building and infrastructure development, the outcomes on the ground have been marginal. Drawing from the experiences of the earlier schemes, the present government launched their flagship programmes like Smart Cities Mission, AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) and Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission) in 2014.

The objectives of these developmental agenda of India are also closely aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). While SDGs have taken of from where the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) left, it has looked at water and sanitation more holistically by including other water related challenges like insufficient availability of water, inequity in its access, efficiency in its usage and sustainability of water resources in its targets. Water being a cross cutting goal has a bearing on achievement of other goals like poverty eradication, quality education, gender equality, good health, sustainable cities etc. Thus, achieving SDG 6 would be like winning half the battle. According to the latest UNICEF report, India accounts for 59 per cent of the people in the world who practice open defecation, a major cause for the diarrheal deaths, malnutrition and school drop-outs among children and health, safety and dignity issues among women. Nevertheless, open defecation has a cultural approval in India and building toilets may not bring about an immediate attitudinal change. In addition, the geographic constraints present in the urban slums in India also pose a major challenge in setting up conventional sewerage infrastructure. Simpler technologies in the form of low-cost communal toilets have not gained popularity due to lack of ownership and odour.

TERI University in partnership with TERI and Coca Cola India and with the support of USAID has been working on a project, ‘Strengthening of Water and Sanitation in Urban Settings’, since 2014. The project aims to help achieve the government’s sanitation targets as well as contribute to the SDG target 6.2, by conducting a Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) risk analysis and socio-economic behavioural assessment in urban slums in two Indian cities. The data thus generated shall be used in developing participatory intervention strategies in urban areas and capacity building of university faculty and students through design and implementation of model sanitation curriculum. The program interventions aim to reach 20 municipal schools, 2500 students through school WASH programs, 50000 beneficiaries in low-income settlements, and over 300 professionals through governance strengthening activities. As part of this project, the alliance has recently concluded an Inter-University National Water Competition designed to create awareness among undergraduate students in the field of water and sanitation. The competition focused on engaging with youth to develop sustainable, replicable and scalable decentralised solutions for water management. Parallely, the team is also engaged in conducting summer schools for stakeholders and training of trainers programme for catalyzing behavioral changes in slum children on WASH.


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Reaping the Gender Dividend Mon, 21 Mar 2016 11:07:09 +0000 N Chandra Mohan By N Chandra Mohan
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, Mar 21 2016 (IPS)

For the first time, an all-female flight crew recently operated a Royal Brunei Airlines jet from Brunei to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. Such a feat certainly appears noteworthy in a country where gender segregation is pervasive. When women are still not permitted to drive a car; where there are separate entrances for men and women in banks, is there a possibility of an all-female crew operating a Saudi Airlines plane from Jeddah to Brunei? Not immediately, as there are disturbing signs that the limited gains on the gender front might face reversals.

N Chandra Mohan

N Chandra Mohan

To be sure, official Saudi attitudes to female pilots are not that rigid as is the case with women driving passenger cars. A couple of years ago, a Saudi woman, Hanadi al-Hindi, became the first to be licensed to fly and she has been followed by others. This was largely because of pressure from a billionaire who wanted her to pilot his small and wide-bodied luxury planes. But the numbers of female pilots are still too small to envision an all-female flight deck crew operating the national flagship carrier. Reform to ease the rigours of gender discrimination is still twisting in the wind.

Paradoxically, Saudi women occupy only 13 per cent of job positions in the private and public sector despite accounting for 51 per cent of graduates according to the central department of statistics and information. More and more women are getting educated both at home and abroad but their participation in the labour market is limited. Only 2 per cent of lawyers in the country are women. Women vote and participate in elections. But only 18 per cent of them in the age group 15-59 years are either employed or looking for work. Their rate of joblessness among women is high at 33 per cent.

How does one interpret these dismal numbers? A conservative view is that women are not used to working and have got used to stay at home. Another is that the 33 per cent number reflects a desire on their part to search for work. An unemployed person is not only out of work but is also actively searching for it. The high rate of unemployment thus reflects a situation where job openings are much less than the demand for work. The bogey that they prefer to stay at home is not quite true as more and more women are getting out of the house to take up or seek employment.

According to an article by Elizabeth Dickinson in Foreign Policy, two-income families have become the norm in Saudi Arabia. As many as 1.3 million out of 1.9 million women in the workforce are married. The latest numbers also indicate that the number of female employees rose by 48 per cent since 2010. These trends are very much in line with economic development and urbanisation. The growing number of nuclear families with both the husband and wife working to support a middle-class standard of living has been observed elsewhere in the developing world.

Interestingly, the current juncture of low oil prices offers the best prospect for Saudi Arabia and other oil producing countries in West Asia to reap a gender dividend. Oil prices have fallen off the cliff from over $114 per barrel in June 2014 to $40 per barrel. They are expected to stay low in the near future as well, which seriously strains the finances of the Saudi government. With back-to-back double digit budgetary deficits – the gap between dwindling revenues from selling cheaper and cheaper oil and rising expenditures, the decks are being cleared for swingeing cuts in subsidies and reform.

So long as crude prices remain low, Saudi Arabia’s royal family must look to a future beyond oil. Following Thomas Friedman’s first law of petropolitics, there is an inverse relation between oil prices and economic freedom and reform. Reformists like Muhammad bin Salman, deputy crown prince and defence minister are now talking about diversifying into mining, subsidy reforms, expanding religious tourism, leveraging unutilised assets, among other ideas. Foreign investments are being attracted. The big global banks are opening branches in the royal kingdom.

More jobs in the private sector are bound to be created. Unlike in the past when expatriate labour would take them up, the preference now is for using educated Saudi youth. Employing more Saudi women could be part of this emerging scenario. But this is not a done deal as the Saudi government is desperately trying to control the supply of oil to ensure that prices head up from $40 a barrel to a more comfortable range of $60 to $80 a barrel. Leading oil producers thus are contemplating a freeze in output when meet in Doha on April 17. Rising and high oil prices weaken the hand of reformers.

There are signs that this is already happening with the return of more conservative elements. The limited gains in on the gender front in Saudi Arabia thus are tenuous when compared to the situation in other Gulf economies like Bahrain. Even in Iran, the situation is much better. UAE recently appointed women as state ministers for happiness, and tolerance and a 22 year-old to head youth affairs. In contrast, the only female deputy education minister in the Saudi government lost her job last year. An all-female Saudi fight deck crew might have to wait for some more time!


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The List of Shame Sat, 19 Mar 2016 16:27:27 +0000 Rubana Huq Photo: Star

Photo: Star

By Rubana Huq
Mar 19 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

He stood there at the reception, with a sling bag filled with documents. He worked for a courier company. He was 10 years old. He was handsome. And he had the brightest eyes I had ever seen before.

His name was Al-Amin. He had a mother who lived in the village, who did nothing, and yet received Tk. 1,000 from her 10-year old son every month without fail. Al-Amin earned Tk. 2,000 from his employers, sent half of his salary to his mother and kept the rest for himself in order to get through the month.

He had studied only up to class three and had totally given up on the thought of going back to school. But he wanted to if given a chance. So when given the option to go back to school and have his mother employed at a garment factory, he bounced back. My next thoughts centered around the social rules of “compliance”. As readymade garment manufacturers, we are not supposed to have “any” trace of child labour linked to the supply chain. If that child were to continue delivering the parcels to our office, I would have to be transparent about it and share it with all concerned. My meeting with Al-Amin, therefore, ended on that note of concern.

A week later, Al-Amin returned with his mother, quite fit and young, who, quite surprisingly, expressed her inability to work in a garment factory. I was shocked and dug a little deeper. She refused to budge and insisted that it would be “difficult” for her to work at this stage of her life.

Here was a mother who was willing to allow her ten-year old to work and earn for her. Having left with no other alternative arrangement, Al-Amin was offered to be enrolled in a free school, meant for workers’ children, and receive a monthly amount of Tk. 2,000 and live and eat at a safe place. I was relieved. After all, saving even one Al-Amin would ease my conscience for the day.

Unfortunately, my relief did not last for long, as my daughter informed me yesterday that she had spotted Al-Amin delivering the parcels last afternoon. My heart sank. Not again! But then this is the reality. Al-Amin must have gone to school in the morning, seized the opportunity to do an afternoon job, earn a little and then returned to his designated safe haven at night.

Now, how do we make sure that we won’t employ a child? How do we make sure that the same child will go to school? How do we make sure that a few of us spot a few Al-Amins every now and then? How do we make sure that our children remain safe out in the streets? How do we make sure that our children don’t go hungry?

1,730 children faced abuse in Bangladesh in the last two years. RAB reports 35 children being killed in August 2014, along with 25 being killed over the two months of September and October of the same year. 968 kids were tortured and killed over a period of three and a half years between late 2011 and mid 2015. According to Ain-o-Salish-Kendra (ASK), 126 children were killed in 2012, 128 in 2013, 127 in 2014, and 69 till July 2015. In between July and August the same year, 13 had been brutally killed, and last but not the least, there was a 61 percent increase in the murder of kids in 2015.

The cycle of violence is on the rise. Starting from July 8, 2015, when Rajan was murdered with the video circulating in the whole of the social media sphere to the August 3, 2015 incident of Rakib in Khulna being tortured to death with a compressor machine pumping air through his back; Nazim being mercilessly beaten up in Khilkhet with a metal rod being inserted to his back in Dhaka on April 13, 2015; Abdullah from Keraniganj being abducted and killed in February 2016, with Solaiman having the same being done to him in Gazipur; two children being poisoned to death in Pabna by their own mother; the Banasri kids being killed by their own mother, Mahfuza Malek, on February 29, 2016; the list just sits there, gets longer, stretches to a point of shame beyond tolerance, and pleads with us to immediately react, resist and protest the brutalities.

The extent of brutality stretches from the 64 bruise marks on the fourteen year old Rajan’s body, to the body of an unidentified kid being dumped in a suitcase bearing burnt marks left near Dhaka Medical College recently, from Rabiul Awal, an 11-year old’s eyes being gauged in Barguna while being accused of stealing fish, from Zahid Hassan (15) and Imon Ali(13) being tortured for apparently having stolen cell phones in Rajshahi on February 12, 2016 to many others who go unreported and unlisted.

Cruelty has no bars. The acts of many of these tortures are videoed and shared on Facebook. Almost 13 million Facebook users have access to these tales of brutality in Bangladesh. According to the report of World Justice Project, Bangladesh ranks 93 out of the 102 countries being surveyed – only Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia rank worse than Bangladesh – in terms of justice. The Children Act 2013 has no definite law relating to the murder of children. But fortunately, death penalties and life imprisonments are now being awarded to such culprits.

My fear is that with so many tales of brutality, we may find it increasingly difficult to read the newspapers, watch the news and maybe we may all just helplessly look away. Before we reach that level, let’s arrest the desensitisation…If there’s a child being employed by your neighbour, report it; if there’s a child walking in your sector, stop it; if there’s a child you spot being harassed or tortured, confront the abuser; if there’s a child who’s gone hungry, spare a meal. Every little kid walking on the street is ours. Their rights equal the rights of our own children. After all, the bar of conscience needs to be raised to a considerable level in this country.

The writer is Managing Director, Mohammadi Group.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Dhaka’s Risky Streets with Kids Driving Buses, Human Hauliers Thu, 17 Mar 2016 14:37:57 +0000 Zahed Khan By Zahed Khan
Mar 17 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

In any country, one has to be an adult to qualify as a driver. But in Bangladesh, one does not have to obey that law to become a driver – and that literally means it is “allowed”.

Monir is 16. He has been driving a human haulier for six months. Underage, he naturally does not have a license. But who cares? You can spot him in the Mohammadpur and Mirpur route. Monir says many of his buddies are also in this same profession.

The Daily Star have also spotted even younger drivers driving minibuses — even on the VIP road right under the nose of the law enforcers.

In most cases, underage drivers are seen driving human hauliers. Drivers say this is because qualified drivers with genuine licenses are not interested to drive these smaller vehicles for prestige issues.

Also, vehicle owners can exploit young and eager-to-please drivers better when it comes to payment.

The most common defence of people who deploy these kids for such risky jobs is that they were very poor and these jobs were providing them with a livelihood.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Increasing Women’s Access to Skills and Jobs Thu, 10 Mar 2016 15:17:32 +0000 Srinivas Reddy With training, nothing is too ‘technical’ for women. Photo: Courtesy

With training, nothing is too ‘technical’ for women. Photo: Courtesy

By Srinivas Reddy
Mar 10 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

“My daughter and I were a burden on my parents,” says 20-year-old Moushumi Akter Mou from Mirpur.

Married off at the age of 14, Mou could not complete her schooling. After her daughter was born, her husband remarried, leaving her feeling vulnerable and hopeless. “I felt that if I had a job, my life might be worthwhile.”

These words are unfortunately common among young women in Bangladesh who, for no fault of their own, are often made to feel worthless and are unable to earn a living for themselves, thus denying them economic and social independence.

Around the world, women face challenges in joining the labour force. In Bangladesh, this is especially a challenge due to the double burden of patriarchy and poverty. One symptom of this problem is the low female participation rate in the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) sector, particularly in formal institutions. Women’s participation in TVET in Bangladesh ranges from 9 to 13 percent in public institutions and 33 percent in private institutions. Only around one in five instructors in technical institutes is a woman.

Underprivileged Children’s Education Programme (UCEP) Bangladesh, a leading vocational training institute, conducted a study recently to identify barriers preventing young women from accessing technical vocational training. The study identified multiple obstacles. Of the girls surveyed, 25 percent highlighted the lack of family support as the biggest barrier, followed by 21 percent who identified society’s lack of acceptance. Also cited were concerns about safety at the workplace, insecurity travelling to and from work and the distance from training centres to home. Once enrolled, some girls dropped out. Of these, early marriage was the most common reason, accounting for more than half of the dropouts. Others cited health and family reasons. The study respondents were from urban locations. In rural locations, the factors may be even stronger.

Over the past decade the Government of Bangladesh has demonstrated a strong commitment to bringing women into the labour force. In March 2012, a National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) for Bangladesh, the development of which was supported by the International Labour Organisation (ILO), was approved. This policy recognises the low participation rates of women in skills development, and states that special efforts are necessary to correct this gender imbalance, particularly in the formal training system. It also proposes several measures such as promoting women’s inclusion in “non-traditional” courses for better employment opportunities; social marketing and awareness raising; separate washrooms for women; and recruitment of female instructors wherever possible.

Subsequently, a National Strategy for Promoting Gender Equality has been formulated with ILO support. This has the explicit aim of increasing female participation in TVET through a comprehensive and holistic mix of social, economic, institutional and systemic transformational measures.

A strategic framework and objectives have been outlined with a clear set of priorities and targets. Objectives include increasing female enrolment by at least 25 percent, transforming mind sets and attitudes to eliminate negative perception towards “non-traditional skills” for women and establishing a gender responsive environment with appropriate support systems. ILO is working with the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs to ensure integration of the gender strategy in their annual plan, budget, and monitoring system and training institutions.

In addition to supporting the Government of Bangladesh in promoting gender equality in the skills system and TVET institutions, ILO’s skills programme which in recent years has been funded by Canada and the European Union, is supporting hundreds of women like Mou in non-traditional occupations. These include carpentry, furniture making, hospitality (e.g. baker, chef, etc.) and food processing. Pilot initiatives in male dominated occupations and sectors help demonstrate ways in which the skills system can be made more gender equal.

As a result of the systemic changes taking place, Mou took up the challenge to learn a non-traditional trade in high demand. She is now a qualified refrigeration and air conditioning technician after having accessed training at UCEP Mirpur Technical School.

“My family members and others encouraged me to go for it. I took those remarks seriously and came to the refrigeration and AC technician trade to make a difference,” she says.

In order to increase girls’ participation in technical and vocational training programmes, efforts need to involve families, society, training providers, employers and government. Ambitious policies and action plans that succeed in transforming gender norms and relationships in society are required to bring about gender equality in the workplace, to create opportunities for more women like Mou.

The writer is Country Director of the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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Enriching Education in Bangladesh Thu, 10 Mar 2016 05:57:53 +0000 Naimul Haq 1 Public Primary Boarding Schools in Pastoral Communities Mon, 07 Mar 2016 06:49:20 +0000 Miriam Gathigah 0 Toys of Violence Wed, 02 Mar 2016 18:23:41 +0000 Mohammad Ali Babakhel By Mohammad Ali Babakhel
Mar 2 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

In this age of advanced technology, where violent forms of entertainment thrive on the screen and in cyberspace, parenting becomes a challenging task, as children want to emulate what they see. The adoption of a resolution last year by the Sindh Assembly demanding a ban on the manufacturing, import and sale of toy guns often used in actual hold-ups was a step in the right direction.

Those who purchase toy guns, despite the fact that they promote `hyper tendencies` among children, are clearly indulging in irresponsible behaviour. Such toys convince children that weapons are the solution to all their problems.

Look at the hgures. The totalrevenue of the global toy market is $84.1 billion. Recent years have seen an accelerated trend in the sale of toy guns. With 6,000 toy enterprises producing 75pc of toys manufactured across the world, one can see the profit motives of the sellers and why they would want to produce an item that is popular.

The issue is not a trivial one. Though toy guns, for the most part, cannot physically harm children although the example of Afghanistan cited in this article shows that it is possible they can do psychological damage. Hence the need for policy guidelines, parliamentary deliberations, as well as input from academia and psychologists for a subsequent law to be formulated.

There have been administrative measures such as the one in Peshawar stemming from the demand of a civil society organisation to impose a ban on toy guns. A onemonth ban was indeed imposed. But the malaise cannot be tackled through administrative orders alone, and there must be realisation of the inherent dangers of exposing children to tools that emulate violence.

Even in a tribal society like Afghanistan where guns are considered the ornaments of menfolk, there is growing awareness of the role of guns in undermining the already fragile rule of law. Last year`s ban on toy guns in Afghanistan shows that many realise the negative impact on children of a culture of violence. Afghanistan took this decision after reports that more than 100 children were injured by toy guns over Eid, some of which have plastic or rubber bullets.

According to the US Bureau of Justice, during 1987, over 1,400 toy guns were used in crimes in New York City. Cracking down on crime from January 1985 to September 1989, US police departments reported they had confiscated 31,650 imitation guns.

But the danger does not lie in the possession of toy guns alone. Syllabi may also encourage violent tendencies. Even at thenursery level, children are made to learn `G is for gun` and `T is for tank`. Play stations, video games, even cartoons and shows, may project violence. In rural areas especially, parents are totally ignorant of the negative consequences ofsuchtoys and gadgets.As a result, the majority believes that conflict is always to be resolved through violent means.

In games like `Counter-Strike` and `Call of Duty`, children are tempted either to join the law enforcers or terrorist groups. Violent media images and objects that stimulate fear and anxiety give rise to a heightened `fight or flight` response in children.

Research shows that while watching a violent movie or playing video games with violence as the dominant theme, a child`s pulse rate accelerates, hands sweat, his mouth goes dry and his breathing accelerates.

Playing games like cops and robbers, target shooting etc, children unconsciously shuttle between `good` and `bad` passions.

According to George Gerbner`s `cultiva-tion theory`, the media cultivates its own culture and when children are exposed to violent games and movies they believe they should imitate the characters being shown. According to him, `heavy consumption of vio-lence-related television content leads viewers to believe that the world is more dangerous than it actually is`.

To discourage violence-inducing toys, the role of parents and teachers is more important than that of governments. So many parents, especially those living in the rural areas, do not know about the consequences of playing with toys that generate aggressive tendencies. These toys glamorise war and conflict. Surely, it is better to select toys that infuse the spirit of team-building and sharing.

In 2013, to bring down the crime rate in Mexico`s capital city, police destroyed thousands of toy guns to stop them from becoming a real threat on the streets. In 2011, in an Indian village, children voluntarily burnt their toy guns. In Costa Rica, an increasing number of criminals are using toy guns, hence it becomes difficult for the untrained eye to differentiate between the fake and the real.

It is important to conduct further research on the impact of such toys and games and focus on alternatives that can teach children about peace rather than conflict.

The writer is a police officer.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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Schools are in for Summer Wed, 02 Mar 2016 06:43:39 +0000 Ashfaq Yusufzai Taliban-damaged school in Federally Administered Tribal Areas.  Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

Taliban-damaged school in Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Credit: Ashfaq Yusufzai/IPS

By Ashfaq Yusufzai
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Mar 2 2016 (IPS)

“We are extremely jubilant over the rebuilding of our school that the Taliban destroyed it in 2013, due to which we used to sit without a roof,” Mujahida Bibi, a student of 8th grade in Government Girls Middle School North Waziristan Agency, told IPS.

North Waziristan Agency — one of the seven districts called Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) — has been the headquarters of the outlawed Tehreek Taliban Pakistan. Since the launching of military operations in June 2014, this area has been cleared and activities are rapidly returning to normal.

Like Bibi, Abdul Qadeem, 16, is also enjoying his new school, in the adjacent South Waziristan Agency. “Taliban damaged our school in 2012 due to which the rich students shifted to other safer areas to continue studies while we the poor ones stayed in the roofless building for three years,” Qadeem, a ninth grader, told IPS. The school was rebuilt three months ago. “Now students are enthusiastic to study,” he added.

Fata located alongside the Afghanistan border was thick with militants since 2002, when the Taliban government was toppled by US-led forces. The militants were forced to cross over to Pakistan and take refuge in the sprawling Fata.

From 2005, they started attacking government-owned buildings, schools, hospitals and offices not only in Fata but also in the adjacent Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), one of Pakistan’s four provinces, in their bid to deprive the people of modern education, which they considered against Islam.

However, with the Taliban’s defeat at the hands of Pakistan army, the reconstruction of the schools began. Taliban damaged a total of 750 schools, including 500 in Fata and 250 in KP. In Fata, 17 per cent of the destroyed schools have been rebuilt, mostly through assistance by donor agencies. “We have deployed 10,000 paramilitary troops to protect the schools from militant attacks,” Javid Shah, an education officer, told IPS.

Before military operations, Taliban blew up schools at their own will, especially those for girls, because Taliban were under misconception that female education was disallowed in Islam, said Shah, adding that “there are several stances that when the authorities rebuilt a school, the militants destroyed it again.” Besides, putting in place security measures, we have also involved local people to protect the schools, he elaborated.

According to him, committees comprising, local elders and officials, have now been entrusted with the responsibility to take measures for security: “the committees have deployed local people as watchmen to protect the schools in nights, because all the destruction was carried out by Taliban after evening.”

The KP government has also completed reconstruction of the 200 schools, Education Minister Atif Khan told IPS. “We have allocated $60m for reconstruction of schools. Only 50 Taliban-damaged schools remained to be rebuilt”, he said. Standard operating procedures have also been issued to the concerned authorities to prepare security plan for educational institutions in their respective areas.

“Under the Sensitive and Vulnerable Establishments and Places (security) Act, we have also asked the private sector to improve security of schools by ensuring installation of CCTV cameras, deployment of security guards and increasing height of the boundary walls up to 10 feet,” he added.

Musarrat Naseem, 13, is also among the fortunate students who have started studying in a new school in the Khyber Agency of Fata. “Our school was destroyed in 2012 due to which we faced hardships. We often took classes under trees in summer and in the sun in winter because of unavailability of required facilities,” said Naseem an 8 grader. Fata has a total of 5,572 educational institutions which have around 574,512 students. “Number of students has increased in our school after its rebuilding. Students from remote areas are also coming to seek admission here,” Samir Ahmed, a teacher in Mohmand Agency of Fata, told IPS.

Taliban destroyed 127 schools in Mohmand Agency, of which 99 have been rebuilt, he said. About 10 per cent students have left schools because of the lack of building and security but now there is boom in admission, he said, elaborating that “parents are coming in droves to enroll their kids in school.” Free books and uniforms have been provided to encourage the poor people to put their children in schools.

Abdul Wakeel, a mechanic in Bajaur Agency, Fata, says that his three children read in a government-run school which was destroyed three years ago: “Since its rebuilding three months ago, my kids are very happy.”

The Taliban wanted to eliminate schools and send our children back to the Stone Age but we are determined to thwart their conspiracies and provides better education to our generation, Wakeel stated, arguing that “we can defeat Taliban militants through education”. Taliban’s campaign against schools has triggered a desire for education among children. Taliban inflicted losses on the poor but their intentions have been exposed. Parents are eager to see their wards educated, he added.


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Political Violence, “Rational Ignorance”, and “Political Illiteracy” in Bangladesh Tue, 01 Mar 2016 13:29:05 +0000 Taj Hashmi This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh]]>

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

By Taj Hashmi
Mar 1 2016 (IPS)

There was yet another shocking headline in this daily (February 22): “Priest killed, devotee shot”. Some “unknown” assailants raided a Hindu temple, slit the throat of a priest, and shot a devotee at Panchagarh in northern Bangladesh. This wasn’t a random violent crime. Of late, there is nothing exceptional about premeditated attacks on minority communities or on people holding divergent views on religion and politics across the country.

Unfortunately, many Bangladeshis, first of all, don’t consider such violence as politically motivated; and secondly, people are no longer that vocal against random or selective killing of people by criminals, terrorists, or law-enforcers unlike their predecessors, who wouldn’t remain quiet at any violent attack on fellow citizens by anybody. This was the norm across Bangladesh up to the mid-1980s.

Although the average Bangladeshis still take interest in local and national politics, their interest is dwindling. Firstly, the bulk of Bangladeshis seem to have become thoroughly depoliticised; and secondly, they don’t know whether politics has everything to do with violent attacks on minority communities, women, writers, journalists and others.

This apathy has nothing to do with the victims’ religion, political views, gender, or profession. The number of unresolved killings and “disappearance” of people has desensitised people; and to some extent, this apathy may be attributed to what political scientists consider “political illiteracy” and “rational ignorance”, which have devastating effects on political order, social cohesion, democracy, and freedom. Desensitised, apathetic, apolitical, and ignorant people throughout history have succumbed to absolute dictatorships in the name of religion, racist nationalism, or communism.

I’m going to elaborate these concepts with regard to the prevalent political culture of Bangladesh. Despite what many Bangladeshis say about themselves as being one of the most politically conscious people in the world, the overwhelming majority of people in the country are actually among the least politically conscious, and disillusioned people anywhere. Most decent people in society have shunned politics altogether, and rogue and corrupt elements have filled in the void.

While in some cases, the least desirable people have become politicians and fabulously rich through the “profession of politics”, hardly anybody ever raises this question, and nobody seems embarrassed about this weird state of affairs in the country! On the one hand, people’s lack of interest in raising questions about people’s illegitimately acquired wealth and power through politics is fear-induced; on the other, it also reflects people’s political apathy or “rational ignorance”, and “political illiteracy”.

The understanding of “rational ignorance” and “political illiteracy” requires an understanding of what democracy and politics are all about. People everywhere learn about the intricacies of politics not only from textbooks, but also from enlightened politicians. What’s Bangladesh today is no exception in this regard. People here used to learn about democracy, people’s rights and responsibilities, and about politics in general from political stalwarts like A.K. Fazlul Huq, Maulana Bhashani, H.S. Suhrawardy, and Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. There was a dialogue between leaders and their followers; they understood each other, and learnt a lot from each other too. Not anymore!

One of the most famous political scientists, Robert Dahl, believes everything in human relationship in power perspective is political. He thinks politics in a democratic setup is what “A” is getting from “B” to do what “A” wants through rational or manipulative persuasion, inducement, influence, authority and power. Since coercion and the physical force to back it up are integral to autocracy, democratic politics is all about effective participation, equal voting rights for all, and inclusiveness.

Thanks to the prevalence of unethical politics in Bangladesh, people in general don’t trust politicians. In a society devoid of mutual trust and respect, politics in Bangladesh is all about what “A” can get from “B” in the most unscrupulous way. Thus people here believe it’s irrational to learn anything more about politics – especially from politicians – as they see no benefit in politics.

Renowned economist and political thinker Anthony Downs’s theory of “rational ignorance” is very pertinent to our understanding of political apathy in Bangladesh. In his seminal work An Economic Theory of Democracy, he has defined political apathy as “rational ignorance” of people when they find the cost of learning something more expensive than any potential benefit from what they learn.

This has consequences for the quality of decisions made by large numbers of people, during general elections, where the probability of any one vote changing the outcome is very small.

“Rational ignorance” perpetuates blind political support or loyalty among citizens to particular political parties, X, Y, or Z. The loyal voters are too lazy to investigate if the old policies of their party has changed, or not suitable in the present, or the new leaders are less honest and capable than their predecessors.

What famous German playwright Bertolt Brecht has defined as “political illiteracy”, is the next most logical stage of a “rationally ignorant” nation. Despite the popular perception in Bangladesh, thanks to the manipulative and corrupt politicians, the overwhelming majority of people in the country are among the most “rationally ignorant”,and “politically illiterate” in the world. The fatal combination of “rational ignorance” and “political illiteracy” has turned the brave nation of Bangladesh – which in our recent memory was a nation of freedom fighters – into a nation of supine underdogs and conformist subalterns.

It’s time that politically conscious and patriotic elements in the country tell the people nothing is more important to know than the reality that everything that affects our living is political. We need to pay heed to what Brecht has said in regard to “political illiteracy”:

“The worst illiterate is the political illiterate, he doesn’t hear, doesn’t speak, nor participates in the political events. He doesn’t know the cost of life, the price of the bean, of the fish, of the flour, of the rent, of the shoes and of the medicine, all depends on political decisions. The political illiterate is so stupid that he is proud and swells his chest saying that he hates politics. The imbecile doesn’t know that, from his political ignorance is born the prostitute, the abandoned child, and the worst thieves of all, the bad politician, corrupted and flunky of the national and multinational companies.”

Politically apathetic people lose their sense of belonging to a nation, or even to a bigger entity called humanity, which are larger than their families, clans and ethno-religious communities. They become apathetic self-seekers, most unwilling to do anything for collective benefits of people not related to them by blood or by mutually beneficial ties. German pastor Martin Niemöller has beautifully narrated what happens to perpetually apathetic people in totalitarian countries.

Niemöller – who spent seven years in Hitler’s concentration camp – wrote a poem about the fate of politically indifferent people from his own experience: “First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out –Because I was not a Socialist…. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out – Because I was not a Jew.Then they came for me – and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Unless Bangladeshis shun political apathy, doctors fight for journalists and truck drivers; engineers defend garment factory workers’ rights; professionals fight for equal opportunities for all; men fight for women, and women for men; rich fight for the poor, and poor for the rich, the country will remain politically inert, socially backward, and economically stagnant without any rule of law and equity. I believe political apathy is the mother of all evils in Bangladesh. There’s hardly anything in life beyond politics. We’re all related to each other in power perspective.

The writer teaches security studies at Austin Peay State University. He is the author of several books, including Global Jihad and America: The Hundred-Year War Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan (Sage, 2014). Email:

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Radio rage in India Sat, 13 Feb 2016 07:45:59 +0000 Neeta Lal 0