“Poverty is the worst form of violence.”
e have read a lot about violence in places like Afghanistan and Pakistan, what with the ongoing war and the drone strikes and the utter senselessness of the killing of Afghan villagers, mostly women and children, in their sleep, or of American soldiers killed by supposedly friendly Afghan security forces.
But there is another kind of violence we don’t often read about. The Washington Post reported some stunning facts:
Around 60 percent of Pakistan’s 170 million people live at the poverty level of less than $2 per day, according to the World Bank.
Public school fees average only around $2 per month, but even this is often too much for poor Pakistanis with large families.
About 30 percent of Pakistanis have less than two years of education, according to a report issued last year by the Pakistani government.
And there is this sad story to go with those facts:
SUBHAN KHWAR, Pakistan, April 1 (UPI) — A 12-year-old Pakistani boy committed suicide by self-immolation because he was upset his family couldn’t afford a new school uniform, his mother said.
Kamran Bibi died of severe burns Friday after he set himself on fire March 25 in Subhan Khwarh village in the Charsadda district, The Express Tribune reported Sunday.
The boy had asked his mother, Shandana Bibi, for a new school uniform because the two pairs of clothes he had were worn out, she said.
“My son demanded money for a new uniform, which I failed to provide,” she told The Express Tribune.
“I refused to buy a new uniform because I didn’t have the money to even buy food. Where would I buy a new uniform from?” she asked.
But the sadness surrounding the facts about Pakistan and of this young boy continued:
“We rushed him to the hospital where he was admitted for five days in a critical condition before he died,” his mother said.
“Doctors demanded [$5,500] for Kamran’s treatment and we didn’t have it,” Kamran’s older brother Saleem said. “We don’t even have money for food.”
I don’t know how people who call themselves “doctors” can watch a 12-year-old kid suffer and die just because his parents are poor. And I don’t know how a country as poor as Pakistan can afford to spend 23% of its budget on the military, while spending only 1.3% on health and 7.8% on education.
And I certainly don’t know why the Pakistani government would spend as much on its Army in one day as it does in one year on education, or would spend much more on its Air Force in one day than all year on public health.
And who knows how much our so-called war on terror has cost the Pakistanis in blood and treasure, despite billions of dollars of American assistance over the last decade or so.
But what I do know is that what happened to Kamran Bibi is wrong on so many levels, and it is hard to accept that such things go on in a civilized world, a world in which the United States plays such a large role.
Perhaps, given the regional dynamics, there is nothing we can ultimately do to help those Kamran Bibis still struggling with day-to-day life in Pakistan. I just don’t know.
But there is something we can do here at home, as we contemplate how to reorder our own priorities, in the context of how much we spend on our military: