One watches the TV News at one’s own peril these days. The UN Secretary-General asking for over $4 billion for the starving children of Africa; the ragged and emaciated children scavenging for scraps in Yemen; the wounded children of Aleppo and the dead of Gaza… and TV channels vying with one another with more ‘in-depth’ reports about the inhumane juvenile justice system in ‘developed’ countries. Peddling more and more misery in High Definition, but with a polite warning ‘Viewers may find some of the images disturbing.’ Then they move on to more important things, like the Great Twitter Wars of the twenty-first century…
Frankly, activists and development agencies have simply given up on the poorest of the poor. In the face of growing disparities, extremist polities, unprecedented inequality and insatiable greed, what chance do the children of humanity’s lowest quintile have? Branded and damned by an accident of birth. Ironic that millions live and die with their low ascribed status in an era which worships merit and achievement and makes billionaires of tech lords for a single innovation.
UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children 2016 reflects this growing despair with the same tired pleas for:
- More accurate Information (They have to beg for this in the age of Information?!)
- Greater Integration across sectors like education, nutrition, health and housing
- Innovations that accelerate development for the most disadvantaged
- Investment to create equitable solutions
- Involvement of communities, businesses, organizations and citizens around the world who believe that change is possible.
Five I’s to combat the big I – Inequality.
However elegantly alliterative the Report may be, it doesn’t acknowledge one simple fact. The poorest of the poor across the world have not only become marginalized, but are increasingly redundant for the rest of us, our governments and our big businesses. The five I’s listed above will not happen, because it is in nobody’s interest to alleviate the lot of the most disadvantaged – as simple as that.
Just look at each of these in the South Asian context, for instance:
- India prides itself on developing and implementing the biggest biometric ID programme (Aadhar) for a billion-plus people, and provides the bulk of Information Technology’s foot soldiers across the world. Yet in its deep hinterland, millions of births go unregistered. Why?
- The Human Development Index was said to be the brainchild of a Pakistani and an Indian, yet neither country has been innovative or effective in integrating child development programmes, and both remain high on the malnutrition and illiteracy indices. Instead, tireless advocates of child rights like Kailash Satyarthi remain unheard and unknown until anointed by the Nobel Prize, when they are famous for a week and return meekly to obscurity, with nobody paying heed to their words anymore. Instead, the Indian Government goes so far as to legitimize child labour in family trades, washing its hands of millions of the most disadvantaged children in the country. Why?
- As regards investment, no country in this region is willing to step back from an unnecessary arms race, and invest instead in its women and children and their future. Why?
- And the middle and business classes in the entire South Asian Region are clones of one another – materialistic and self-centred to a fault. So much for their involvement in reaching the poorest of the poor…
The report has its dire warnings too, if the Sustainable Development Goals are not met by 2030:
The Report rightly points out:
The arithmetic of equity is relatively simple and it is not a zero-sum game. Everyone should move forward, in rich and poor countries alike. But with greater investment and effort focused on reaching the children and families who have made the least progress, advances in child survival, health and education can be more equally shared to the benefit of all. To realize our global development goals, we must invest first in the children who are furthest behind.”
All we need: political will and a social conscience… and the resources can always be found.