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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW

Sheika Hasina

Bangladesh Leader Aims to Make Nation More Than a Symbol of Poverty

December 03, 2000|Robin Wright

A: I requested technical assistance and training for development of human resources in information technology. I urged Clinton to grant Bangladeshi products duty-free and quota-free access to the United States. In recognition of Bangladesh's leading role in eliminating child labor from the garment industry, it should have been rewarded much earlier. Also, one of the saddest chapters in our history was the brutal killing of my father, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, and several family members. Three of the convicted killers now live in the United States. I requested the president's assistance in expeditious finalization of the extradition treaty.

Q: At independence, Bangladeshi women averaged six to seven children. Today, that rate has been halved by a strong family planning program. Yet, Bangladesh still has 120 million people and, by the year 2050, will have at least twice that number, according to the U.S. State Department. How will Bangladesh feed, educate, employ and house those kinds of numbers?

A: We'll send them to America. (Laughter). Globalization will take that problem away, as you free up all factors of production, also labor. There'll be free movement, country to country. Globalization in its purest form should not have any boundaries, so small countries with big populations should be able to send population to countries with big boundaries and small populations. Already, we have nearly 2 million working abroad. Together with controlling population growth, we're also taking measures to increase production of food.

Q: Bangladesh has long been a patriarchal society. Many women have no surname. They can be abandoned by husbands who simply pronounce their own divorce decrees--and can leave without alimony or support. Until recently, women were not even supposed to leave the home, much less work. How is that changing?

A: We have a National Women Development Policy. Special incentives include scholarships. We have a quota that allocates 30 seats for women in parliament; they can also contest any other seat. We also have quotas for women in the civil service, both professional and nonprofessional categories. And my government has taken the step to recruit women in active military service. Many microcredit loans for women are interest-free. Women have emerged as equal partners in the development process. My government passed the 2000 Women and Children Repression Prevention Act. We have special courts to address this problem. We're also taking stringent measures to address the growing incidence of trafficking in women and children.

Q: Over the past three years, Bangladesh has discovered major new gas reserves--some 16 trillion cubic feet--and more discoveries are expected. Your country can't begin to use even a small amount of that, while neighboring India is hungry for gas. Why has Bangladesh refused to sell gas to India?

A: One of our few resources is gas. After fully meeting our domestic requirements and ensuring gas reserves for 50 years, the remaining surplus gas may be available for export. I don't see a decision on export until elections, scheduled for next year, are over.

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