Inter Press Service » Education News and Views from the Global South Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Menstrual Hygiene Gaps Continue to Keep Girls from School Fri, 27 May 2016 21:16:02 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Poorest Countries Have Progressed but Fragile Countries Lag Behind Thu, 26 May 2016 15:13:53 +0000 Tharanga Yakupitiyage 0 Middle-Class Ethos Tue, 24 May 2016 17:47:45 +0000 Niaz Murtaza By Niaz Murtaza
May 24 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan)

The middle class is viewed as a positive force for progress given its higher education, mobility and wealth. But this view is based on its role in developed states in fostering egalitarian progress, democracy and the rule of law by initiating social movements.

In lower-income states like Pakistan, the middle classes usually eschew this role. They become passive agents under unfair systems or even their partial supporters. Why is this so? As a social scientist, I believe in structural explanations. Structural approaches view widespread negative traits not as coincidentally rampant individual moral failings but the result of broader structural factors which shape societal behaviour potently.

Western middle classes played positive roles within rapidly growing and transforming post-Second World War economies. Such change reduced the conflict between middle-class personal progress and broader egalitarian national progress. Thus, they easily adopted liberal outlooks and supported egalitarian struggles. In contrast, middle classes in places like Pakistan face anemic economies. As such, their personal progress can often only be achieved under unfair national systems which marginalise the masses.

Sections of the middle classes in such situations often become conservative. In fact, as Western economies have stagnated, their middle classes too have done so.

The Pakistani middle class, though small proportionately, totals tens of millions of people because of our large size. This and the lack of concrete data make sweeping generalisations hazardous. But though my daily interactions do not yield a random sample, I come across some conservative traits so frequently that I feel they afflict large sections of middle-class people because of the structural factors that have been mentioned.

The first trait is skewed knowledge of economic and political development issues among many. This has two sides. Firstly, many largely define development in narrow physical terms such as big malls, sleek motorways etc. or narrow economic measures like GDP growth rather than egalitarian, propoor and sustainable development.

Secondly, they view the drivers of development simplistically in terms of single causes like the presence of an honest leader, especially a military one. There is often insufficient appreciation of the multiple, complex causes of development encompassing historical and current, national and global, social, economic and political factors.

Obviously, people from other fields cannot have such deep knowledge. However, even when such information is presented in simple terms, many show little interest in absorbing it, subconsciously knowing it runs counter to their class economic interests. The second issue related to their analytical skills. Social science analysis on complex phenomena like national development involves painstakingly identifying multiple causes and their interrelationships, collecting data about how they have co-evolved in the past in similar contexts and then making tentative predictions and recommendations for effecting gradual future change.

But a large section of the middle class seemingly believes that huge changes can happen instantaneously and the future has little to do with the past. Within such a historical views, there is a firm belief that immediate glory is waiting just around the corner for Pakistan if we could do some simple tasks like electoral reforms or punishing Panama leaks villains under a non-elected regime.

The third trait is illiberal values. Many educated people claim Pakistan`s problems can only be solved by the danda and killing thou-sands of people.

There is widespread support for crude tools like the death penalty, public hangings and military courts. Anyone challenging them on human rights basis is dismissed as impractical.

The final issue isattitudes that can be seen as arrogant, passive and elitist. Despite incomplete knowledge on development and governance issues, there are many among the middle classes that are loath to admit that they could be wrong, and resent being asked for logic and proof. This reveals a faulty view that every-day analysis need not be based on evidence but unsupported opinions.

Even though the corruption scandals of upper-class politicians are a source of great outrage for them, this will still not drive the majority to join social movements. They expect generals and judges will deliver them a clean system in the comfort of their homes.

Finally, they look down upon the masses as lazy, untrustworthy and part of the problem.

Fortunately, some change is evident and one at least sees some desire among a growing number of middle-class people to support progressive causes benefiting the masses.

But even so, those interested in progressive change can only expect at best partial support from the middle class immediately.

Turning them into steadfast allies will require a huge awareness-raising exercise to neutralise the impact of structural causes making them conservative.

The writer heads INSPIRING Pakistan, an economic and political change initiative.

This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan

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A Teacher Has Been Taught His Lesson! Sun, 22 May 2016 14:11:35 +0000 Mohammad Badrul Ahsan By Mohammad Badrul Ahsan
May 22 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

Greek historian Herodotus, living in the fifth century, couldn’t have known in advance that a headmaster was going to be humiliated in Narayanganj on the second Friday of May 2016. But when he said that men trusted their ears more than their eyes, it set the standard of mob justice for all time to come. Those who’ve watched the disgusting video of that outrageous incident couldn’t believe their eyes while ears burned with shame. The headmaster was doing earholding sit-ups while an all-daddy lawmaker wagged his finger, keeping count. When the exhausted and embarrassed victim fell on the floor after the third time, he was pulled up to stand on his feet. Then like a mechanical toy, the poor man was made to raise his folded hands to his forehead asking for forgiveness before a hysterical crowd.

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Infuriated by the incident of public humilation of a school teacher in Narayanganj, netizens have stirred social media in protest. Photo: Star

Most people who had gathered at the scene had trusted ears more than eyes. Most of them had come to witness the punishment for a crime they had not witnessed. Mob justice is always swayed not by proof but by provocation.

The foreign media touted it as yet another instance of minority persecution. The teacher being a Hindu man has largely contributed to that apprehension, particularly when religious sentiments are being deployed to do dirty work for devious minds. What happened in Narayanganj was a low-down showdown, when powerful people exploited holy sentiments to settle an unholy score. The family of the student, who was disciplined by that teacher, may have pulled the strings to get even with him. The influential school committee members also saw an opportunity to get rid of him.

The teacher was allegedly roughed up by the unruly mob before the circus that followed. As far as this victim is concerned, he was already humiliated before the humiliation was recorded on video. The rest of us in this country have been humiliated afterwards. We have been humiliated when the authorities sat on their hands, despite so many outcries across the country, when nothing happened after a number of ministers condemned the act. The final humiliation came for everyone in the final blow of cruelty after the school committee, instead of being repentant and apologetic, went ahead to sack the headmaster.

I would like to plead with this teacher to take comfort in the fact that while he bore the physical brunt of the humiliation, the sensible people of this country have felt the shame. And I ask him not to think he was targeted for his professional or religious denomination. We all live in a country, where the powerful have sadly and perversely taken the powerless for granted.

I can assure him that in any civilised country, the lawmaker would have been arrested, the Parliament would have condemned their rowdy colleague, and the state would have rushed to the protection of the victim and his job. Since none of these has happened until now, he is free to draw his own conclusion. I recommend he should consider this as an option. He should think as if wild animals have badly mauled him in a dangerous jungle.

In shame and despair, human chains around the country had people holding their own ears. It was symbolic, of course, a gesture to express solidarity with the victim and indignation for his embarrassment. One of the limitations of human condition is that it’s confined to its own limitations. After initial reactions, this entire episode is either going to taper off or will be forgotten soon.

What will persist is the horror that, in future, will haunt every teacher in every school of this country. Teachers will think twice before taking a student to task, or grading papers, or even assigning homework. They will feel nervous to lance with the school committees, lest their intentions will be taken out of context and brutalised. After all, why should anybody risk their safety and honour if doing a job well should cost them both?

This isn’t to rule out the possibility that the headmaster in Narayanganj could have said or done anything wrong. But the public humiliation of a teacher has mislaid the moral compass, because more than a man was harassed on that day. An entire institution was stripped of its honour, its glory mocked as if neighbourhood kids taunted a raving madman.

Alexander the Great said he owed his living to his father and his life to his teacher. We grew up ingesting that same value, respecting teachers no less than parents because we knew and still know it for a fact that they’ve largely made us who we’re. The lawmaker in Narayanganj must be holding repressed anger against his teachers. The sit-ups could be a Freudian slip to do unto them what they may have done unto him!

The writer is Editor of the weekly First News and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Daily Star, Bangladesh

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When Emergencies Last for Decades Fri, 20 May 2016 21:34:06 +0000 Lyndal Rowlands 0 Kenya’s Young Inventors Shake Up Old Technology Wed, 18 May 2016 18:55:49 +0000 Justus Wanzala 1 The Way to Show Respect Mon, 16 May 2016 21:29:29 +0000 Aasha Mehreen Amin By Aasha Mehreen Amin
May 16 2016 (The Daily Star, Bangladesh)

There is no respect these days, say the old folks – no respect for the elderly, for teachers, for your older siblings, just no respect. If you are among these whining, disgruntled naysayers please be informed: Respect is not something to be earned, it is something to be extracted.

Is this a little too cryptic for your overtaxed brain? Well here’s how it goes. Contrary to conventional wisdom, gaining respect is not something that comes after you have done amazing good for humanity, say teaching underprivileged kids how to use a computer, or discovering a solution for village folk to get safe, drinking water. It is not about having a squeaky clean record of honesty, integrity, humility and generosity. These are old, archaic ideas that have no value in today’s reality. RESPECT is directly proportional to POSITION. In other words how much respect you will get depends on how close you are to the highest seat of power or to those who own half the town.

That’s not all. Sometimes, even though you have the right credentials – you are the nephew of the sister of the local MP but so what, not every Kamal, Jamal and Damal knows what you look like so you must have what is known in Bengali a bhaab – an attitude that exudes enough scorn and arrogance to make people think you must be someone important and hence worthy of respect. Puffed up hair seems to work as it gives the impression of tallness as well as affluence. The latter can be enhanced with gold chains around the neck and rings on every finger with stones one’s favourite fortuneteller has provided through paranormal means. Of course, the usual accessories are prerequisites – SUVs, a retinue of thuggish looking –ahem – ‘associates’ preferably wearing ominous bandanas and dirty grins while speeding along motorbikes harassing the local womenfolk.

But wait, aren’t we forgetting the main point of this thesis – the extracting respect part? You see that’s the most intriguing aspect. When all the paraphernalia linked with power and status fail to get lowly commoners to show respect – say they forget to salam or shower you with petals when you enter the vicinity of the primary school you are to visit – there is only one thing to do – give ‘em a few blows. Let them know who’s Boss.

If you are looking for real life examples, look no more. Only a few days ago a UNO (Upazila Nirbahi Officer) was beaten up by the goons (sorry ‘associates’) of a local leader because he had not responded when a local MP asked him to pay his respects to the local leader. He had made a major boo boo: he had not shown respect. Hence the severe head injuries he was rewarded with.

In another incident, a traffic police was slapped by a member of one of the most respected echelons of society (one refrains from giving out details lest it’s interpreted as ‘showing lack of respect’) because he had been going on the wrong side, and the fool tried to be the goody two shoes type of protector of the law. He actually had the nerve to stop the person who must be respected ‘at all times under any circumstance’, and asked him to refrain from breaking the law.

So here are some new lessons we must learn and unfortunately impart to our children.

Behave in a thuggish way at all times – rude, uncaring, brash and irreverent.

Master the art of shouting like a death metal vocalist with the traditional refrain “DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”

Sport your material possessions as loudly and crudely as possible – like driving a Hummer around the dug up roads of Banani and Gulshan, with blaring Bhangra music, and followed by a microbus full of mean looking men in dark glasses, bandying their rifles for everyone to see.

Randomly break rules – get your cronies (you must have a whole bunch of them to ensure you get uninterrupted ‘respect’ 24-7) to go to various individuals to teach them how to respect you. A small fee may also be extracted while ‘persuading’ the person to show proper respect.

You may be thinking these are just the usual tactics employed by gangsters of the underworld that we watch with such relish in movies where someone gets shot or knived every 37 seconds. Here’s an FYI – this is how it works in the real world. These are strategies adopted by those who hold the most respectable positions in society. Hey, hey do I detect a yawn? Being disrespectful, eh? Just you wait.

The writer is Deputy Editor, Editorial & Op-ed, The Daily Star.

This story was originally published by The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

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New Generation Aims to Plug Africa’s Research Deficit Wed, 04 May 2016 12:50:48 +0000 Busani Bafana 0 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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