Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Peshawar school massacre: A game changer for Pakistan?

Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

Now that Taliban & ISIS have shown the extent of their endless perversion, will all the Muslim countries join together to ruthlessly eliminate them?

2014 saw a number of uplifting stories, but unfortunately, we also saw the dark side of humanity rearing its ugly head too many times. The dastardly attack by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTK) on a school in Peshawar was most gruesome terror attacks on schools through the years. The Pakistani Taliban brutally slaughtered around 141 people, out of which 132 of them were school children on December 16, 2014. The scale of what has happened in Pakistan simply defies belief. Some of the disturbing pictures of the school massacre by Taliban have been circulated on WhatsApp.

The Taliban ruthlessly gunned down dozens of children. It has also been reported that most of the kids were shot in their head and many of their bodies were mutilated. 

The gruesome attack on innocent children has shaken up something in each one of us. If not, there is something inherently wrong with us. And that's precisely the point noted lyricist Prasoon Joshi, so beautifully drives home in his heart-breaking poem, which was published in one of India’s leading newspapers: Hindustan Times.    Original poem is in the Hindi which is being translated into English.[1]I am reproducing below few stanzas of the poem.
 Jab bachpan tumhari godh mein aaney se katrane lage
Jab maa ki kokh se jhankti zindagi bahar aaney se ghabrane lage 
Samjho kuch ghalat hai

(When your childhood refuses to climb onto your lap
When a fetus in a mother's womb fears stepping out into the world
Know that something is wrong)

Jab kilkariyan sahem jayein
Jab totli boliyan khamosh ho jayein
Samjho kuch ghalat hai 

(When giggles subside
When baby-talk is replaced with silence
Know that something is wrong)

Kuch nahin bahut kuch ghalat hai
Kyonki zor se barish honi chahiye thi
Poori duniya mein 

(Not something, quit a lot is wrong
There should be torrential rains
All over the world

Har jagah tapakne chahiye the aansoo
Rona chahiye tha upar wale ko aasman se
phoot phoot kar 

(The rains should wash us over
The one above should cry, from the sky
Over and over again)

Sharm se jhukni chahiye thi insaani sabhyata ki gardanein
Shok nahin soch ka waqt hai
Matam nahin sawalon ka waqt hai

(Humanity should hang its head in shame
This isn't the time to grieve, it is the time to think
This isn't the time to mourn, it is the time to question)

Agar iske baad bhi sar utha kar khada ho sakta hai insaan
Samjho ki kuch ghalat hai"

(If humankind can still stand straight with its head held high
Know that something is wrong.)

People often demand freedom of expression, but when the testing time comes, very few have the courage to stand up tall and speak against the evil. Thank you Prasoon Joshi for speaking out loud and clear thru poem. He is emphasizing that let’s not let this black day in the history of humankind melt into oblivion. Let's not be resilient as always. “It’s the time of thoughts, not mourning. It’s the time of questions, not gloom”. So what can be done? What poem is conveying that all good hearted people in the world should unite to fight this evil?

Terrorism in Pakistan has become a major and highly destructive phenomenon in recent years.  Former President Zardri, along with other top leaders has admitted that terrorist outfits were "deliberately created and nurtured" by past governments "as a policy to achieve some short-term tactical objectives". The trend began with Zia-ul-Haq’s controversial "Islamization” policies of the 1980s. His tenure as the president saw Pakistan's involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War, which led to a greater influx of ideologically driven Muslims (Mujahideen) to the western front and increased availability of guns and drugs. Most of the mujahideen were never disarmed after the war ended in Afghanistan and some of these groups were later activated at the behest of Pakistan and its ISI (Inter-service Intelligence) in the form of the Lashkar-e-Taiba and Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan among others. These groups are now taking on the State itself, making the biggest threat to it and the people of Pakistan. These terrorist groups have progressively increased their hold on Pakistan which has led the country to total anarchy.

Whether the Peshawar massacre will be a game changer for Pakistan? The Post-Peshawar Pakistan appears a different country. Never before has the consensus against the militants and their apologists — among the politicians, judiciary, media, and within the military — been so pronounced.  Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said after the attack that there is a "changed Pakistan" since the tragedy and that there would be "no place for terrorism, extremism, sectarianism and intolerance."  For now, Pakistanis are united in their revulsion for the Taliban and other terrorist groups. But there is a fear that once the anger abates, and it will, this grim milestone will be forgotten. 

It is argued that the Pakistani DNA cannot be changed. In fact, most US analysts too held out bleak prospects of Pakistan revisiting its 'good terrorists, bad terrorists' policy. There are people in Pakistan who directly and indirectly supported such incident. People like Imran Khan may shout Go Nawaz Go, but don't even want to say anything about Taliban. Imam Abdul Aziz of the Red Mosque refused to condemn the massacre of school children. He said that the authorities should focus on arresting people accused of “more serious crimes”. Earlier this year, a school run by this cleric renamed its library in honour of the former al-Qaeda leader, Osama Bin Laden.

At least for the souls of these 132 innocent, youthful, fun-loving and energetic kids, I appeal all my Pakistani brothers and sisters to unite and teach the government a lesson, and say to them they are servants of people. Compel your government to clean up the seed of jihad that was sown a generation ago. Ensure that Pak is a place for sensible people and you can flourish. I don't want to name the good, the bad and the ugly terrorists. They are terrorists because they kill people. Start a revolution which is like a freedom struggle and make your place a heaven. People like me want to see Swat, want to climb K2, and want to visit Muzaffarabad. But we can't do with these rogues around. If you don’t awake, the State machinery will enslave you for generations to be mute and helpless spectators. The Pakistan must decide whether to be under the heel of criminals and Islamic fascists or not.

There are lots of Indians who want peace between both the countries. But there are few guys at both the sides who are not letting the thing happen. One has to recognize that the Pakistani duplicity formula is a failure and they have paid the price. The policy makers have miss-identified who the real enemy is, not India, but the Taliban like terrorists within. If Pakistani government is really serious, hang people who attacked anyone even Indians but surprisingly, they want to bail to one of the person (Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi) who was in Karachi room and was directing terrorists of Mumbai attack, instructing them to kill as many as possible. Hafiz Saeed, one of the world's most-wanted men, who has a $10 million US bounty on his head since 2012, appears openly at rallies in Pakistan, and frequently denounces India as a terrorist state. Earlier this month, special trains were organized to ferry his supporters from Islamabad to Lahore, a clear signal of his clout within the establishment. Pakistani politicians tout him as the head of an Islamic charity which enjoys popular support for its humanitarian work. What about Pakistan’s guest Dawood Ibrahim and many others so called khalistanis? It is comical to hear the PM of Pakistan talk of good and bad Taliban. Here one must take seriously the advice given by the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:  "You can't keep snakes in your backyard and expect them to only bite your neighbors”.

If Pakistan wants to survive and develop itself as a progressive and developed nation, it must do some thing what Lyrist Joshi noted: “Shok nahin soch ka waqt hai, Matam nahin sawalon ka waqt hai”. What he is saying that this isn't the time to grieve, it is the time to think; this isn't the time to mourn, it is the time to questions and action. Pakistanis must recognize and declared that the real threat to their country comes from within not from India. It comes from the organizations like TTP, Al-QAEDA, LASHKAR-E-TAIBA, etc and dishonest politicians and some army personnel who are dependably undependable about their resolve against terrorists.

I appeal all my Pakistani brothers and sisters that all of you unite, teach the government a lesson, and say to them they are servants of people. Compel your government and Army to clean up the seed of jihad that was sown a generation ago. Ensure that Pak is a place for sensible people and you can flourish. I don't want to name the good, the bad and the ugly terrorists. They are terrorists because they kill people. Start a revolution which is like a freedom struggle and make your place a heaven. One has to recognize terrorists do not represent Islam - a religion of peace, tolerance and mercy. However, due to their actions Islam is  in danger. My Muslim car mechanic who lives in a crowded lower middle class locality in Jaipur   told me “I am not shy in saying that I am better off living with (so called) non Muslims than these barbaric (so called) Muslims. Anti-Muslim protests or racism and xenophobia are steadily growing in Europe and elsewhere. Further, the Pakistani intellectuals have to work closely with the Muslim leaders to condemn those efforts to radicalise individuals, and to be clear about what the tenets of Islam actually are. Recently, Egypt's president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi  opened the new year with a call for a "revolution'' in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of "destruction'' and pitted it against the rest of the world.

A Turning point has to come in the life of every nation! It has come to Pakistan through the attack on the Army School & the senseless killing of 132 children! I hope the Taliban baby killers have their answer soon. Pakistan must surely, surely rise up now and have a totally new and ruthless strategy to eliminate these terrorist organizations. And that would perhaps be the best New Year gift for the entire world including the citizens of Pakistan and India.

[1] The staff writer at  ScoopWhoop  has translated the poem in English for wider circulation. See at :

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Eradicating child lobour!

Devendra Kothari PhD
Population and Development Analyst
Forum for Population Action

If a more rapid reduction in the incidence of child labor is a policy goal, improving school education and expediting the process of population stabilization may be more useful solutions to the child labor problem than punitive measures designed to prevent children from earning income.

The shared Nobel Peace Prize 2014 for an Indian, Kailash Satyarthi, a crusader against child labor, is both a feather in India’s cap, as well as a grim reminder of the scourge that persists in vast tracts of the country’s hinterland.[1] Satyarthi has dedicated over 30 years of his life to fight child slavery, a crime that affects millions of children across India. He has become famous for raiding and rescuing children in commercial establishments. Satyarthi has actively contributed to the rescue of around 84,000 child slaves in the last three decades. These children have been terrorized and dehumanized since their youngest age. Imagine the kind of hell these children are coming from. They come from a place where children are beaten, abused, treated like a production tool and destroyed. Mostly, they are forced to work in dingy factories, wasting away their childhood in making firecrackers and doing carpet or zari work, among others. They do not have a voice: they cannot press for their rights, they cannot carry out demonstrations.  The road to recovery for such children is very long, and Kailash and his organization - Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement)   play a crucial role in this process. He also founded the widely recognized international tag “RugMark” that guarantees carpets being sold are made in factories free of child labor. The Nobel Prize salutes Satyarthi’s work for silently helping them find their voice.

This post discusses the issue of “child labor”, and suggests a way out as how to expedite the process of elimination of child lobour in the world with special reference to India.   

According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), not all work done by children should be classified as child labor that is to be targeted for eradication. Children’s participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities such as helping their parents around the home, assisting in a family business or earning pocket money outside school hours and during school holidays. These kinds of activities contribute to children’s development and to the welfare of their families; they provide them with skills and experience, and help to prepare them to be productive members of society during their adult life. On the other hand, the term “child labour” is often defined as work that deprives children of their childhood, their potential and their dignity, and that may compromise their physical, mental, social or educational development.

UNICEF, the UN agency dedicated to children's rights and welfare, estimates that around 150 million children aged 5 to 14 in developing countries are involved in child labor. This represents about 15 per cent of all children in this age group. [2]  Sub-Saharan Africa has the largest proportion of child labourers (27 per cent of children aged 5 to 14 years). In South Asia, 12 per cent of children in this age group are performing potentially harmful work compared to 5 per cent of children in Central and Eastern Europe as well as in other parts of the developing world (Figure 1).  In absolute terms, Asia, being the most densely populated region of the world, has the largest number of child workers. 61 per cent are found in Asia (especially in South Asia), 32 per cent in Africa and remaining 7 per cent in Latin America and elsewhere.

To employ children is illegal in India, but the country has one of the largest working child populations in the world. There are close to 50 million child laborers in the country and more than 10 million of them in bonded labor, having been sold by their families to work off loans they couldn’t repay and for some other reasons. A big chunk of these children are used as cheap labor in hazardous factories making bricks, carpets, glass bangles, fireworks, as well as in rice mills, cotton fields and mining, among others and have been found to suffer from malnutrition, impaired vision, deformities from sitting long hours in cramped over-crowded work places. In addition, millions of underage workers are employed as domestic help.

Figure 1: Child labor in India and rest of the developing world

India is in green with 10-20% incidence levels, along with countries in peach (20-30%), red (30-40%) and black (>40%). The lowest incidence level is shown in yellow (<10%).
             Source: UNICEF and World Bank

Why Child lobour persists?
Available studies reveal that poverty, poor quality of education, and presence of large informal economy are the driving forces behind the prevalence of child labor worldwide. ILO suggests poverty is the greatest single cause behind child labour. For impoverished households, income from a child's work is usually crucial for his or her own survival or for that of the household. Income from working children, even if small, may be between 25 to 40% of the household income. Lack of meaningful alternatives, such as affordable schools and quality education is another major factor driving children to harmful labour. Children work because they have nothing better to do. Even when schools are sometimes available, they are too far away, difficult to reach, unaffordable or the quality of education is so poor that parents wonder if going to school is really worth it.

Mehrotra and Biggeri have studied the macroeconomic factors that encourage child labour. [3] They focus their study on five Asian nations including India. They found that child labour is a serious problem in all five, but it is not a new problem. Macroeconomic causes encouraged widespread child labour across the world, over most of human history. They suggest that inflexibility and structure of labour market, size of informal economy, inability of industries to scale up and lack of modern manufacturing technologies are major macroeconomic factors affecting demand and acceptability of child labour.

Eradicating child lobour:

No doubt, poverty is the greatest single force driving children into the workplace, but it is not easy to lift people out of poverty in a short time or with great speed. Edmonds and Pavcnik have noted:  “Historical growth rates suggest that reducing child labor through improvements in living standards alone will take time”.[4] Further, enacting legislations or laws against the importation of products (like textiles, carpets, etc.) produced by child labor to “protect” children from exploitation and promote their education would have a devastating effect especially on the lives of those for whom it is being designed to protect, as argued by Thomas R. DeGregori, an economics professor at the University of Houston.[5] 

Satyarthi’s struggle has succeeded in rescuing around 84,000 children, even as the Nobel committee estimates there are still 168 million child labourers around the world. So what could be an alternative path to eradicate the child labour? Economist Swaminathan Aiyar argues:  “No matter how many establishments Satyarthi and others raid successfully, child labour will continue till decent schools imparting real skills are available to all”. [6]  The latest report of Pratham, an Indian NGO, shows that the proportion of class V students who can read a class II text has fallen 15% points since 2005, and the proportion of class VIII students who can do division has fallen 23% points. What will poor people gain by sending children to such schools? As such, the policy makers need to articulate their views as how to ensure quality of education and skill development across the country. [7] In other word, unless education is rescued from the quagmire of mediocrity, all talk about eliminating child labour will be without substance.

In addition, efforts towards population stabilization[8] could be another but very effective step to minimize the incidence of child labour, as has been observed in the East and South-East Asia (see Figure 1).  The replacement level fertility of 2.1 children per woman, required to initiate the process of population stabilization, has already been achieved by most of the East and South-East Asian countries: South Korea (1.2 children per woman), Thailand (1.5), China (1.6) and even Vietnam (1.9), as shown in Table 1. As a result, the proportion children in the youngest age group    (0-14 years) have declined significantly in the last 30-40 years.  For example, the total fertility in China declined from 6 children per woman in 1970 to 1.6 in 2010 and consequently the proportion of child population in the age group 0-14 declined from 40 percent to 18 percent during the corresponding period, as per UN Population Division.  On the other hand, population growth and the need for contraception are still major concerns in the countries where incidence of child labour is very high. In most of these countries, fertility rates remain very high. Sub-Saharan Africa in particular has experienced less change than Asia or Latin America: Its total fertility rate is around 6 children per woman and the youngest age group has more than 45 per cent of total population. In Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, the average woman gives birth to more than 6 children in her lifetime and here incidence of child labour is one of the highest in the world.

Table 1: Trends in total fertility, child population in age group 0-14 years and incidence of child labour.
Number of children per woman (TFR)
% of total population 0-14 years
% of children aged 5 to 14 years classified as child labour


East and South-East ASIA:
Less than 10%
South Korea
Less than 10%
Less than 10%
Less than 10%
South Asia
More than 40%
Shri Lanka
Less than 10%
Sub-Saharan Africa

More than 40%
More than 40%
Source: World Population Prospects: The 2012 Revision and UNICEF/World Bank

The case of India is interesting one. In spite of economic development, India could not achieve a substantial breakthrough to initiate the process of population stabilization. In the last forty years, the total fertility declined from 5.7 children per woman in 1970 to 2.7 in 2010, whereas the rate of decline was much faster in other emerging economies during the corresponding period.  As a result, the proportion of population in the age group 0-14 is still high and so is the incidence of child labour.  High fertility in India and elsewhere is mainly fuelled by unintended pregnancies.[9] Around 26 million children are born in India every year and out of this about 5.5 million births have been classified as unplanned/unintended. And there is no significant decline in the proportion of unwanted births in the last twenty years, as shown in Table 2 (Col. 5).

       Table 2: Trends in unwanted child bearing, India
Total Population (in million)
Crude birth rate/1000 population
Total births
(in million)
Per cent  of unwanted births
Absolute number of unwanted births.
Computed from the data obtain from the Registrar General of India and the National Family Health Survey, 1, 2 and 3. Also see: Kothari Devendra. 2011. Implications of Emerging Demographic Scenario: Based on the Provisional Results of Census of India 2011, A Brief, a publication of Management Institute of Population and Development, Parivar Seva Sanstha, New Delhi.

Unwanted pregnancies are a key reason for the stubborn resilience of child labour. Since these pregnancies contribute significantly to galloping population growth, which consequently compromises provision of adequate social services like education and health. “More than two in five pregnancies worldwide are unintended by the women who experience them, and half or more of these pregnancies result in births that spur continued population growth”, noted by Robert Engelman, who authored the highly acclaimed book: More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want. 
To reduce the incidence of child labour in India and elsewhere, the main attention, therefore, should be on reducing the incidence of unwanted fertility.  Unintended pregnancies are primarily caused by nonuse and/or failure of contraceptives, implying that correct and consistent use of effective contraceptives can lead to prevention of unintended pregnancies, thus revamping of family planning program should be on the priority list. In short, it is clear that lower fertility is a vital ingredient in getting children out of the workplace and into schools. Further, reducing the proportion of school-age children reduces the burden on schools. Reducing child dependency also allows families and nations to invest more in education, improving the quality of the future labor force. [10]

[1] Kailash Satyarthi, 60, shares the prestigious Swedish prize with Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai, who braved the fundamentalist Taliban’s guns to pursue her education and has become an icon for the crusade for educating girls.

[2] For details, see:

[3] Mehrotra, Santosh and Mario Biggeri. 2007. Asian Informal Workers: Global Risks, Local Protection,  Routledge Studies in the Growth Economies of Asia.

[4] Eric V. Edmonds and Nina Pavcnik (Winter 2005). "Child Labour in the Global Economy". Journal of Economic Perspectives 19 (1): 199–220.

[5] Thomas R. DeGregori, 2002.  Child Labor or Child Prostitution?  Cato Institute, Washington, DC.

[6] Refer article by Aiyar: Child labour can’t end without good schools for all at

[7] Kothari, Devendra. 2014. Education in India needs intensive care, not a quick fix, RAEA Policy Paper No. 1. Rajasthan Adult Education Association, Jaipur.

[8] A population has stabilized when the number of births has come into balance with the number of deaths, with the result that, the effects of immigration aside, the size of the population remains relatively constant.

[9] Unintended pregnancies, defined as pregnancies that are mistimed or unwanted, pose significant public health concern especially in low- and middle-income countries due to their association with adverse health, social, and economic outcomes.  

[10] Julie DaVanzo and  David M. Adamson, Family Planning in Developing Countries: An Unfinished Success Story, Issue Paper, RAND Corporation, 1998