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Girls at risk amid India's prosperity


Girls at risk amid India's prosperity
By Nick Bryant
BBC News

India is in the throes of a revolution of rising expectations, a country animated by a providential sense of its own possibility.

Already, it is close to dislodging Japan as the world's third largest economy, if purchasing power is taken into account. And by 2040 should have eased past China to become the planet's most populous country.

Though progress can be agonisingly and needlessly slow, especially in the countryside, living standards are improving, along with literacy rates and life expectancy.

In Mumbai not so long ago, I visited what can only be described as a gentrified slum, where a young father sat in front of his colour television mesmerised by the fast-moving ticker racing across the bottom of the screen.

He was checking on the value of his share portfolio, and happily it was increasing with each occasional blink of his eyes.

Daring to dream

Even in the shanties, still stinking and overcrowded, people are daring to dream. The signs of change are everywhere.

Inequalities aside, the crude equation that increased wealth will lead ultimately to decreased suffering should apply to most of India's social and economic maladies.

Yet there is one problem that prosperity is actually aggravating.

I saw this for myself in a hospital in Punjab, where we filmed a young mother giving birth, with the help of a surgeon's scalpel, to her second daughter.

The Caesarean section was a complete success, and the safe arrival of such a beautiful ball of life should have been greeted with uncomplicated delight.

But the mother had failed once again to provide her husband with a son and heir, so it was a singularly joyless occasion.

Old attitudes

Handed the little girl, not yet 10 minutes old, the women of the family were disapproving and edgy, fretful perhaps of how they would break the news to the men folk, who had not even come to the hospital.

On the maternity ward a few minutes later, I was asked by one of the ladies - the mother's sister, I think - whether we would like to name the baby girl.

We demurred, of course. Then came an even more extraordinary request: did we want to take the baby, not just to hold, but to have?

In another time, she might have been killed.

For this prosperous Punjabi family, we seemingly offered a less savage means of disposal.

In modern-day India, sex selection, the all-too-common practice by which female foetuses are terminated before birth, conforms to a very different and disturbing calculus: increased wealth brings increased access to prenatal ultrasounds and sonograms.

New and more widely available technology, the engine of India's relentless economic growth, is also fuelling female foeticide.


According to a study by Unicef, a higher percentage of boys are born now than 10 years ago in 80% of India's districts.

Only last month in the state of Orissa, the skulls of 40 female foetuses and newborn girls were discovered in an abandoned well.

More distressing still, sex selection is worst in the most affluent parts of the country: Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat.

In northern Punjab, for example, there are just 798 girls under the age of six for every 1,000 boys. The national average is 927.

Even though it is illegal in India for a doctor to reveal the gender of an unborn child, the law is rarely enforced.

Over the past 20 years, it has been estimated that some 10 million female foetuses have been aborted.

Girls are unwanted because they are seen as a financial burden. Landholdings can pass to in-laws and dowries, which themselves are illegal, siphon money from families.

First birthday

Why pay 50,000 rupees to your new in-laws when you can pay 500 rupees for an abortion? You do not even have to leave home.

Many unscrupulous doctors carry portable ultra-sound equipment in the boots of their cars.

Increased consumer choice is one of the hallmarks of the new India.

Tragically, it is being applied, with almost industrial efficiency, to depress the female birth rate.

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2007/08/18 10:46:38 GMT
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Fears over child poverty target


Fears over child poverty target
By Kim Catcheside
Social affairs correspondent, BBC News

Back in 1999 the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, promised to halve the number of poor children in 10 years and to eradicate child poverty in 20 years.

It was hugely ambitious, but in the glow of the new Labour government's extended honeymoon it seemed somehow to be possible.

Now disillusioned anti-poverty campaigners are asking if the government is still serious about its promise.

"We want to believe", says the chief executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, Kate Green.

"But on the current rates of spending on tax credits and benefits there's no way the government is going to halve child poverty by the end of the decade."

The logic of the figures is pitiless.

To halve child poverty by 2010, more than a million children will have to be lifted across the poverty line in the next three years.

But spending on tax credits and help for lone parents announced in the Budget and in the pre-Budget report will help only 300,000 of that total.

Last chance

Time is running out to get the government back on track.

The director of welfare research at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), Mike Brewer, calculates that the chancellor has got to add another £3.5bn-£4bn a year to tax credits to halve child poverty.

"The absolute last chance to find that money is the pre-Budget report of 2009," he says.

"The plan must be to hope that the public finances get better. But my colleagues at the IFS think that the chancellor's predictions for the public finances are already too optimistic."

Despite the stark figures, the government is sticking to its guns.

Work and Pensions secretary Peter Hain said a "huge amount" of success had already been achieved, with 600,000 children lifted out of poverty over the last decade.

But he admitted more needed to be done to reach the government's "ambitious goal".

"At the pre-budget report the government committed to helping a further 100,000 children directly through increases to the children's tax credit and to the child maintenance disregard," he said.

"I also believe that work represents the best route out of poverty and I am committed to helping more lone parents and people who have previously struggled to find jobs to get back into work."

He added that increasing the numbers of single parents in work would alone lift another 200,000 children out of poverty.

Official statistics define children in poverty as those in households whiose income is less than 60% of the median for similar households.

Median income is the level with half the total number of households above it, and half below.

Lisa Harker, the government's former poverty tsar and now co-director of the Institute for Public Policy Research notes: "There's a rhetoric reality gap in government."

Donald Hirsch, author of several reports on child poverty for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, speculates that at some point ministers are going to have to admit the 2010 target is going to be missed.

He is worried about what might happen to anti-poverty policies after that.

Long grass

Crudely speaking, there is a two legged strategy at the moment.

The first is to raise the incomes of the poor by raising tax credits and that involves large amounts of public spending.

The second is a more multifaceted approach.

This includes measures to get people off welfare and into work, raising skills and closing the education achievement gap between poor children and their peers.

Ministers hope much of this could be achieved by reprioritising current spending.

Mr Hain said the combination of helping people into work and targeting help where it is needed will help the government reach its goal of ending child poverty.

"We know that children in households where no one works are up to seven-and-a-half times more likely to be living in poverty," he added.

"So it is important that children can see the benefits of work and aspire to a life in work and break the cycle of worklessness that still blights too many lives."

Donald Hirsch says: "My fear is that they will abandon trying to raise the incomes of the poor and concentrate on longer term initiatives to narrow the education gap between rich and poor and widen opportunities."

Political urgency

Would there be a political penalty for failing to meet child poverty targets?

John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, says "missing the targets would only matter if it were part of a wider picture including failings in the economy; a rise in house repossessions for instance".

On Wednesday, Tory leader David Cameron started to create the mood music for that scenario.

He criticised Gordon Brown's performance on child poverty promising that the Tories would be the ones to make poverty history.

Kate Green and Lisa Harker agree this creates a new political urgency for Mr Brown.

Lisa Harker says: "The way to differentiate Labour from the Tories is to deliver on child poverty."

Kate Green adds: "It's not enough to have aspirations - you have to meet them too."

Story from BBC NEWS
Published: 2007/10/22 11:16:24 GMT
BBC    ↑Top

Thousands of teachers 'leave job'


Thousands of teachers 'leave job'
More than 250,000 qualified teachers no longer work in England's schools, the Conservative Party says.

And nearly 100,000 switched careers between 2000 and 2005 - more than double the number that left in the preceding five-year period.

The Tories say their findings - based on government figures - point to rising numbers leaving the profession because of poor class discipline and red tape.

But Schools Minister Jim Knight said recruitment was "buoyant".

Figures also show that thousands of people who train and qualify as teachers never go on to work in schools and this appears to have increased in recent years.

The government statistics show that of those who qualified in 2000, 2,100 never taught in schools. This rose steadily to 2005 (the latest available), when 7,900 of those who qualified have never taught.

Shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said teaching talent was "going to waste".

Mr Gove said: "Not only are our children not achieving as they should, talented teachers are not where they should be - in the classroom, opening young minds to new horizons.

"With more than quarter of a million gifted professionals no longer in teaching, we have to ask why they've given up on education under Labour."

He said teachers needed to be freed from "government micro-management" to enable them to "inspire and give them the tools to enforce discipline so that schools have access to the widest range of talent".

'Best generation'

But Mr Knight said teaching was now "the career of choice for many highly qualified, talented individuals".

He went on: "Ofsted has said this is the best generation of teachers ever.

"Early retirement and churn in teaching is in fact good compared with equivalent professions."

He said: "No government has done more to support teachers".

Mr Knight also cited a Bath University survey of 22,500 British workers which suggested that school, college and university teachers have climbed from being the 54th happiest occupation in 1999 to 11th in 2007.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Training and Development Agency for Schools said: "Many qualified teachers decide to take a break from the profession for a number of reasons."

The spokesman said the figures referred to by the Conservatives "do not take account of the fact that up to 30,000 teachers return to teaching at a later date with added industry experience and a new enthusiasm for teaching and learning".

Are you a Teacher? Have you left the profession or are you seriously considering doing so? What are your concerns? Send us your comments using the form below.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/27 08:49:28 GMT
BBC    ↑Top

Queen's Christmas speech in full (2007)


The Queen has used her Christmas Day message to highlight the needs of vulnerable people in society. Here is the message in full:

One of the features of growing old is a heightened awareness of change.

To remember what happened 50 years ago means that it is possible to appreciate what has changed in the meantime. It also makes you aware of what has remained constant.

In my experience, the positive value of a happy family is one of the factors of human existence that has not changed.

The immediate family of grandparents, parents and children, together with their extended family, is still the core of a thriving community.

When Prince Philip and I celebrated our diamond wedding last month, we were much aware of the affection and support of our own family as they gathered round us for the occasion.

Now today, of course, marks the birth of Jesus Christ. Among other things, it is a reminder that it is the story of a family; but of a family in very distressed circumstances.

Mary and Joseph found no room at the inn; they had to make do in a stable, and the new-born Jesus had to be laid in a manger. This was a family which had been shut out.

'One human family'

Perhaps it was because of this early experience that, throughout his ministry, Jesus of Nazareth reached out and made friends with people whom others ignored or despised.

It was in this way that he proclaimed his belief that, in the end, we are all brothers and sisters in one human family.

The Christmas story also draws attention to all those people who are on the edge of society - people who feel cut off and disadvantaged; people who, for one reason or another, are not able to enjoy the full benefits of living in a civilised and law-abiding community.

For these people the modern world can seem a distant and hostile place.

It is all too easy to 'turn a blind eye', 'to pass by on the other side', and leave it to experts and professionals.

All the great religious teachings of the world press home the message that everyone has a responsibility to care for the vulnerable.

Fortunately, there are many groups and individuals, often unsung and unrewarded, who are dedicated to ensuring that the 'outsiders' are given a chance to be recognised and respected.

However, each one of us can also help by offering a little time, a talent or a possession, and taking a share in the responsibility for the well-being of those who feel excluded.


And also today I want to draw attention to another group of people who deserve our thoughts this Christmas.

We have all been conscious of those who have given their lives, or who have been severely wounded, while serving with the Armed Forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The dedication of the National Armed Forces Memorial was also an occasion to remember those who have suffered while serving in these and every other place of unrest since the end of the Second World War.

For their families, Christmas will bring back sad memories, and I pray that all of you, who are missing those who are dear to you, will find strength and comfort in your families and friends.

A familiar introduction to an annual Christmas carol service contains the words: 'Because this would most rejoice his heart, let us remember, in his name, the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry, and the oppressed; the sick and those who mourn, the lonely and the unloved.'

Wherever these words find you, and in whatever circumstances, I want to wish you all a blessed Christmas.

Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/12/25 16:10:12 GMT
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