The state of the world’s children

By Zubeida Mustafa
How much do we love our children? The conventional wisdom holds that oriental societies show greater affection and concern for their young ones than the industrialised nations of the west where parents are too involved in the rat race. This might be true in the individual family context, but at the wider social and institutional level not all Third World countries have a uniform track record in their treatment of children.

By Zubeida Mustafa

How much do we love our children? The conventional wisdom holds that oriental societies show greater affection and concern for their young ones than the industrialised nations of the west where parents are too involved in the rat race. This might be true in the individual family context, but at the wider social and institutional level not all Third World countries have a uniform track record in their treatment of children.

Without going into the usual homilies of children need to be looked after because they are the wealth of the nation and the citizens of tomorrow, one can state without fear of contradiction that the approach a society adopts vis-a-vis its children is a measure of its social/political maturity. It is also indicative of the level of civilisation it has achieved. Contrary to popular belief, the status of the child in a country is not determined by its economic resources or the degree of its development UNICEF’s latest report The State of the World’s Children 1995 more than proves this point.

Using the U-5MR (under-five mortality rate) as the criterion to rank countries, UNICEF makes it possible to compare the performance of societies. The painful fact which emerges very clearly is that Pakistan with a higher per capita in’-ime than many others has done worse than them in looking after its children. What is most disconcerting is that the political and social commitment and the concomitant effort which are so essential to make progress in upgrading the quality of life of the child are totally missing in our case.

Countries like Nepal and Bangladesh which ranked below Pakistan five years ago have pulled themselves up and are way ahead of us today. In 1990 we ranked 33rd in ascending order, that is 32 countries had a higher child mortality rate than Pakistan. Bangladesh stood 22nd and Nepal was 18th. The latest report shows Bangladesh and Nepal as ranking 39th and 38th respectively. Pakistan continues to be 33rd India has also shown some progress.Its ranking went up from 37th in 1990 to 40th in 1995. In 1993, the child
mortality rate of the four states n a m e l y B a n g l a d e s h Nepal, India and Pakistan was 122,128, 122 and 137 per 1000 live births respectively And yet, of these countries Pakistan has the most impressive economic indicators.Its per capita GNP in 1992 was 420 dollars, when the corresponding figures for B a n g l a d e s h , Nepal and India were only 220, 170 and 310 respsctwety.

The percentage of the population living below the absolute poverty line was higher (much higher in
the case of Bangladesh) in these three countries as compared with Pakistan Nevertheless, their financial constraints notwithstanding the first three performed better in childcare

How would one explain this phenomenon? As the UNICEF report states, U-5MR is determined by a wide variety of inputs such as health and nutrition of mothers, immunisation and ORT use level, safe water supply, sanitation, and the availability of health care. In other words the level of social development
of a people manifests itself in the form of the child mortality rate because children are the most vulnerable segment of a population and the impact on them of any negligence is the greatest Woefully, it is this aspect of life which is the most neglected in Pakistan. •

But another factor which has a powerful impact on children and which the UNICEF report notes not sufficiently emphatically is the degree of empowerment of women, to use the Cairo summit’s
phrase. It is only when women have been empowered to decide when to become pregnant (through greater
equality in decision-making and higher quality family planning services) that, the fertility rate- falls. This has a direct impact on child mortality since the mothers are better equipped to take care of their children. Of course conversely,lower child mortality gives parents the confidence to have fewer children.

children

It is hardly a coincidence that Pakistan has the highest population growth rate and crude birth rate and the lowest contraceptive prevalence rate as compared with Bangladesh, Nepal and India. The following statistics are most revealing If we want to save our children, we will have to save our women. It is plain that our society’s reluctance to raise the status of women — in plain words, to empower them — that is pulling us down the ladder of social development. It is time this issue was addressed in real earnest before the fabric of our society disintegrates altogether

Source: Dawn24 January 1995

An unemotional look at Edhi

 By Zubeida Mustafa

85-13-01-1995ABDUS SATTAR EDHI has been in the news ever since television brought him into the limelight with a programme on him in 1988. Pictures of him standing on the roadside to collect alms (bheek, to use his own word) are quite familiar to newspaper readers. Unfortunately, the maulana (as he is fondly called because of his shaggy beard) was forced to leave the country recently when he felt threatened. His statements accusing unnamed agencies of trying to eliminate him politicised him, which is not something good for his work. One only hopes the row will blow over.

The fact is no one has ever questioned this old man’s love for thpoor. His work for the destitute has not only brought him recognition and laurels (including the coveted Ramon Magsaysay award). It has also won for him the confidence of the people. The faith the public has reposed in him is central to his work. For Edhi’s huge network of welfare organisations depends entirely on voluntary donations worth over Rs two billion.  According to the same calculation, the maulana needs another 210 million to invest and bring returns to meet his day-to-day expenses. But he has other ambitions too. He wants to set up a chain of welfare centres 25 kilometres apart all over the country.

For a semi-literate person with hardly any political or social clout to mobilise massive amounts through voluntary donations, at times by simply standing on the roadside collection box in hand, is so remarkable. More so, because the donations come from a society so notorious as ours for tax evasion. It is difficult to believe that people who go to all extremes to cheat the government can be so generous when it comes to giving donations for a charitable cause.But the army of beggars which subsists on public philanthropy, the langars set up outside mazaars and other congregation spots to feed the poor, and the scores of appeals for assistance (which are presumably answered) from organisations is working for public welfare are testimony to the generosity of the Pakistanis. Continue reading “An unemotional look at Edhi”

An unemotional look at Edhi

By Zubeida Mustafa

ABDUS SATTAR EDHI has been in the news ever since television brought him into the limelight with a programme on him in 1988. Pictures of him standing on the roadside to collect alms (bheek, to use his own word) are quite familiar to newspaper readers Unfortunately, the maulana (as he is fondly called because of his shaggy beard) was forced to leave the country recently when he felt threatened.His statements accusing unnamed agencies of trying to eliminate him politicised him, which is not something good for his work. One only hopes the row will blow over.

By Zubeida Mustafa

Edhi-13-01-1995-1ABDUS SATTAR EDHI has been in the news ever since television brought him into the limelight with a programme on him in 1988. Pictures of him standing on the roadside to collect alms (bheek, to use his own word) are quite familiar to newspaper readers Unfortunately, the maulana (as he is fondly called because of his shaggy beard) was forced to leave the country recently when he felt threatened.His statements accusing unnamed agencies of trying to eliminate him politicised him, which is not something good for his work. One only hopes the row will blow over.

The fact is no one has ever questioned this old man’s love for the poor. His work for the destitute has not only brought him recognition and laurels (including the coveted Ramon Magsaysay award). It has also won for him the confidence of the people. The faith the public has reposed in him is central to his work. For Edhi’s huge network of welfare organisations depends entirely on. voluntary donations. One observer estimates it to be worth over Rs two billion. According to the same calculation, the maulana needs another 210 million to invest and bring returns to meet his day-to-day expenses. But he has other ambitions too. He wants to set up a chain of welfare centres 25 kilometres apart all over the country.

For a semi-literate person with hardly any political or social clout to mobilise massive amounts through voluntary donations, at times by simply standing on the roadside collection box in hand, is something remarkable. More so because the donations come from a society so notorious as ours for tax evasion. It is difficult to believe that people who go to all extremes to cheat the government can be so generous when it comes to giving donations for a charitable cause. But the army of beggars which subsists on public philanthropy, the langars set up outside mazaars and other congregation spots to feed the poor, and the scores of appeals for assistance (which are presumably answered) from organizations working for public welfare are testimony to the generosity of the Pakistanis.

It goes to Edhi’s credit that he has managed to tap this source of funds. The seeming ease with which he collects voluntary donations from the public should put to shame any Finance Minister struggling to raise revenues and reduce the budget deficit. All the more so if it is recalled that many of the big donors are also the tax evaders. Why this paradox? Of course, in absolute terms the amount raised for charity cannot compare with the billions the administration collects in taxes and duties. But what is really significant is that the donations are all voluntary. Unlike the tax-collecting machinery of the state, Edhi has no army of tax collectors with coercive powers to generate funds.

Obviously the people are prepared to pay if they are convinced that their money will be put to good use. Nobody wants to finance corruption and ineptitude, which have reached monumental proportions in the public sector and have disenchanted the people. After all, who wants to pay road tax to fill the coffers of the contractors and their accomplices in the municipal bodies while roads lie in a state of disrepair? The idea of paying bills for telephones which do not work and for water which you do not get in your pipeline is not very attractive. But the same person is happy to send in huge amounts to Edhi and expect nothing in return, at times not even a receipt. Why? Because he feels reassured that his money will benefit the needy. The general absence of a sense of responsibility and community spirit notwithstanding, people are mindful of their social and religious duty to help the poor. Whether they are prompted by superstition (to ward off the evil eye) or the fear of the hereafter (wash off their sins), Pakistanis are generous in giving charity. They will cheat, they will rob but they will donate for a cause.

What better outlet can there be for giving charity than an organisation that works. And Edhi is, after all, producing results. His ubiquitous ambulances which appear in no time wherever there is an emergency, his welfare centres linked by wireless, shelters for the homeless, institutions for the handicappedare living testimony to the judicious use of public donations.

Furthermore, the muidanu has been prudent enough not to erect grandiose structures which are seen as a monumental waste of good money by donors. The centres where the ambulances are parked are an embodiment of simplicity. Its capacity to perform and produce results is the Edhi Foundation’s secret of success. Coming from the Bantwa Memon community, Edhi from early childhood could boast of inherent financial skills. Though ostracised by his community for extending his horizons beyond the confines of his people, the maulana did not reject its unorthodox and down to earth management methods. He keeps a strict and personalised control over his staff, and his accounts. For instance, he unseals all the donation boxes himself every month, personally -counting the cash people have dropped in them. He says he has his own method of detecting any fraud his staff migh have indulged in. If any ambulance is misused, he knows for he has a fairly good idea of how much fuel it will consume for a trip. Small wonder there are no computers in his office (a Pakistani expatriate in America has now offered him one). His records are kept in a primitive style and modern methods of accounting and book keeping are generally not visible.

He claims that he gets his accounts audited but refuses to disclose them to anyone. He nonchalantly declares that he preferred to keep out of this dhanda (racket) of preparing reports and statement of accounts. “People can see what I am doing with their money. Dena hai to do, nahin dena hai to mat do (If you want to give, donate, if you don’t want to then don’t),”he says. But he is punctilious about issuing receipts for the cash received and also has a system of double checking. A donor is issued two copies of the receipt with a self- addressed, stamped envelope with the request to post one of them to the head office. Each donation thus comes in the muukmu’s knowledge. Given his performance, it is strange why the maulana has so far not taken any step to institutionalise his working. True, most organisations collecting public donations do not disclose their budget. This was confirmed by random phone calls to a number of big names in the field. The two organizations which were found to be most transparent were the Layton- Rahmatullah Benevolent Trust which runs a number of eye hospitals for the poor and the Society for the Patients of Urology and Transplantation, Civil Hospital, Karachi.

They prepare an annual report and a statement of account every year which any one can see on demand. But many others are not so forthcoming. Requests for a statement of account from the Fatimid Foundation which is running a blood bank and helps children with thalaessemia produced a surprised response. “No one had made such a request before,” I was informed. Maulana Edhi rejects the concept of transparency in his financial transactions. Under the law of the land, he is not even obliged to disclose his accounts, since his Foundation is registered as a trust and the deed does not require him to do so.

Source: DAWN 13 January 1995