By FAISAL BARI
JAVED’S mother insisted that we, the owners/managers of a motorcycle repair shop, hire her son as an apprentice even if it was with no pay. We refused as Javed was only eight years old. His mother’s logic was simple. “I cannot feed him at home, he cannot go to school as I cannot afford it, and we need any money that Javed can make. Even if you do not pay him for an initial period, he will get lunch here and will also learn a skill. That is enough.”
We made some arrangements for Javed. But there are millions of Javeds in Pakistan. Even though, and there is evidence for this, absolute poverty has gone down in the country, inequality has, by all estimates, increased significantly. This does not mean there are no poor people in Pakistan. There are still plenty of them. But the percentage of people living a life of absolute deprivation is lower than before.
The story is one about poverty and the extremes of inequality this society appears to be willing to live with.
Yet, not only has inequality increased manifold, it seems the progress we had been making on reducing infant mortality, maternal mortality, malnutrition in children and morbidity has slowed down significantly and, in some cases, disappeared. This is quite a paradox: poverty is down but why are child and mother health indicators not improving? Is it a case of time lags? Or is there something more to it?
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