| Laura Bush at the Noida studio with the cast of Galli Galli Sim Sim. Telegraph picture
New Delhi, March 2: The question came like a projectile.
Are girls in the US, like in India, abused and exploited after being lured with false promises'
The questioner, a 17-year-old ' still too young to vote but who has seen enough of the world to have suffered its ways.
“Yes, it does happen in the United States,” Laura Bush told Leela, “and the government runs centres for such children.”
The young girl was among 15 inmates of the Prayas Juvenile Justice Centre whose profiles were shortlisted by the US First Lady, who was keen to see the centre’s model of rehabilitating child victims of forced labour, trafficking and domestic abuse.
The US report on Trafficking in Persons, 2005, had commended the model and its founder-secretary, Arunachal Pradesh police chief Amod Kanth, was named a model of public service.
The questions kept coming as Laura, dressed in a grey business suit, went around the centre. “What does the US government do about children who do not go to school and why is it that children are made to work there' Why don’t their parents look after them'” asked Lalita, another 17-year-old.
“The parents want them to stand on their own feet. That is why they start working early,” Laura said but added that for children, education was the most important thing. “We go from house to house and make arrangements so that they can get education. Under US law, education is compulsory for all,” the First Lady said.
“Is there discrimination between girls and boys in the US'” asked another inmate.
“We are very proud that girls in the US were given voting rights 95 years back. In fact, women outnumber the men when it comes to the workforce in the US,” Laura said.
Education was on top of the First Lady’s mind. She participated in a segment of Galli Galli Sim Sim, the Indian version of the US educational TV programme Sesame Street. The show will be aired on Cartoon Network and Pogo.
Laura mingled effortlessly with those in the studio, among them Chamki, a vivacious five-year-old, and an eight-foot-big cat, Boombah. A gasp went around the sets when Chamki told the viewers that Laura and activist Nafisa Ali were going to teach her how to count. “The whole idea is to relate to another human being as an equal,” said executive producer Niret Alva.
“She also had a good time with Boombah. He first extended her the right paw to shake hands and then the left paw,” Alva added.
After attending the official lunch hosted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh with her husband, President George W. Bush, Laura visited Jeevan Jyoti, a home run by Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity for mentally and physically challenged children.