In an opinion piece published yesterday in The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof brought forward Bangladesh's case in dealing with poverty and showed how the Biden administration can take from our surprising success and add to the USD1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
He opens the article stating the "staggering levels of child poverty" that seems to have been accepted in the US despite it being "the richest and most powerful country in history".
The provisions in the American Rescue Plan package should sharply reduce child poverty and can even cut it down by half if they are made permanent, he mentions. To reinforce his point, Kristof exhibited Bangladesh and the initiatives this 50-year-old country took to eradicate child poverty.
He starts with the horrific history of Bangladesh with the Liberation War, famine and cyclone which rendered the country a hopeless one in the eyes of international media. However, he proceeds to tell our success story and the "extraordinary progress" the country has enjoyed in the last three decades.
And the secret according to him was "education and girls."
He wrote, "In the early 1980s, fewer than one-third of Bangladeshis completed elementary school. Girls in particular were rarely educated and contributed negligibly to the economy.
"But then the government and civic organizations promoted education, including for girls. Today, 98 percent of children in Bangladesh complete elementary school. Still more astonishing for a country with a history of gender gaps, there are now more girls in high school in Bangladesh than boys."
He recalled the Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus, who pioneered microcredit in Bangladesh and elsewhere, telling him, "The most dramatic thing that happened to Bangladesh has to do with transforming the status of women, starting with the poorest women." He talked about "Grameen Bank, which turned women into entrepreneurs — nearly 100,000 became "telephone ladies" over four years, selling mobile phone services — in ways that helped transform them and their country."
Ktistof wrote, "As Bangladesh educated and empowered its girls, those educated women became pillars of Bangladesh's economy. The nation's garment factories have given women better opportunities, and that shirt you're wearing right now may have been made by one of them, for Bangladesh is now the world's largest garment exporter, after China.
"Granted, factories in Bangladesh pay poorly by Western standards, have problems with abuse and sexual harassment, and pose fire risks and other safety problems; a factory collapse in 2013 killed more than 1,100 workers. But the workers themselves say that such jobs are still better than marrying at 14 and working in a rice paddy, and unions and civil society pushed for and won huge though incomplete improvements in worker safety.
"Educated women also filled the ranks of nonprofits like Grameen and BRAC, another highly regarded development organization. They got children vaccinated. They promoted the toilets. They taught villagers how to read. They explained contraception. They discouraged child marriage."
He also acknowledged our shortcomings as "Bangladesh hasn't had great political leaders" but he also pointed our strength, "Its investments in human capital created a dynamism that we can all learn from".
Kristof talks about our success, "The World Bank calls Bangladesh "an inspiring story of reducing poverty" — with 25 million Bangladeshis lifted from poverty over 15 years. The share of children stunted by malnutrition has fallen by about half in Bangladesh since 1991 and is now lower than in India."
He even mentions our overpopulation problem but doesn't forget to mention how we are tackling it, "You sceptical readers are shaking your heads and muttering: Overpopulation will undo the progress. In fact, Bangladeshi women now average only two children each (down from seven)."
Kristof summarises, "In short, Bangladesh invested in its most underutilized assets — its poor, with a focus on the most marginalized and least productive, because that's where the highest returns would be. And the same could be true in America. We're not going to squeeze much more productivity out of our billionaires, but we as a country will benefit hugely if we can help the one in seven American children who don't even graduate from high school."
He ends the piece by making his point in investing in the marginalised children saying, "That's what Biden's attack on child poverty may be able to do, and why its central element, a refundable child tax credit, should be made permanent. Bangladesh reminds us that investing in marginalised children isn't just about compassion, but about helping a nation soar."