The United States has terminated $20 million in funding meant to develop a Pakistani version of the children’s television show Sesame Street, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday, after a local newspaper reported accusations of corruption on the part of the show’s Lahore-based partner.
As Pakistan Today reported, the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop — the group that was working to develop the show with the American Sesame Workshop — was accused of “severe” financial irregularities by unnamed sources close to the project, who claimed that U.S. funds were being used to pay off old debts and award contracts to relatives.
U.S. embassy spokesman Robert Raines told the Associated Press that the U.S. Agency of International Development terminated funding for the program, but did not give further details. Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer of Rafi Peer, denied the allegations, blaming the end of U.S. participation on a lack of additional money. In a statement, the group said: “Rafi Peer is proud of its association with the project and the quality of children’s educational television programming created within Pakistan as a result.”
USAID had hoped the show, Sim Sim Hamara, would help to improve education in the country where one-third of primary school-age children are not in class. In addition, it was meant to increase tolerance in a region where radical influence is on the rise. It was scheduled to run for three seasons starting December, and features characters that are more reflective of Pakistani culture, like the 6-year-old lead character, Rani, who is captain of the cricket team and loves science and reading.
“As a nation, Pakistan has failed its children,” Peerzada said during an interview with TIME in February:
“Our children deserve this. All children deserve this. To me, Sim Sim Hamara is a gift to Pakistani children, and a window into homes that might think their children are better employed in the fields than at school.”
Rafi Peer has said it plans to look for alternative means of funding the show.