It is really frustrating to know that more than 1.4 million children in Bangladesh do not or cannot attend schools, with an estimated one million children of the age between10 and 14 are engaged in labour. On the other hand, nearly 1.3 million girl children are married off before they reach the age of 15 and 3.8 million before the age of 18 years. These alarming statistics has been revealed recently in a study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) in collaboration with the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS). Equally alarming is the finding that about 17 percent children living in Dhaka city of aged between 10 to 14 years are engaged in child labour.
A large number of poor children in the cities either live in the slums or under the open sky on the streets. These children do not go to school; instead they sell different things in the streets or do other jobs as their parents earn less money. It is estimated that there is over four million poor children living in Bangladesh, 75 percent of them live in Dhaka city. These children represent the absolute lowest level in the social hierarchy. As the population of the country has increased, the number of street children has also increased alarmingly. The lives of these street children are very hard and miserable, as they do not have the ability to earn enough money.
The street children in Bangladesh are unable to go to school and for that they do not get proper education. It is very important for them to study; otherwise they will find themselves spending the rest of their lives miserably. Some of the non-government organisations have been helping them to be educated, but their efforts are not enough to address this gigantic problem. More efforts are needed to be put in improving monitoring and implementation of social safety net programmes to help identify and assist children who are missing access to schooling. The initiatives, which have been found to be effective in increasing enrolment and retention of poorer students such as the provision of free breakfasts and lunches, should be encouraged by communities and schools.
These statistics clearly suggest that despite remarkable progress has been made by Bangladesh in achieving most of the MDGs, the country has not been able to address in an effective manner the crucial issue of child rights’ violation. At an age when these children are supposed to be in school, children from poor and marginalised families are compelled to work, often in risky environments and under exploitative conditions, to sustain themselves and their families. Such a situation is even worse in urban areas where the rates of both poverty and homelessness are high. In these communities girl children are married off at a pre-mature age by their families who think of them as financial burdens and of investing in their education as a total waste.
The planning minister was right to call for a massive awareness programme across the country to address the barriers which prevent a large number of children from receiving education, as the Unicef has estimated that around 1.4 million children aged between six and 10 years are out of school. This is nearly a quarter of the total number for children of this age group in Bangladesh. These figures also suggest that, while some aspects of the problem are addressed by building more schools and increasing resources, attitudes must also be changed to reduce the social acceptance and prevalence of child labour and child marriage. The highest number of out-of-school children can be found in areas where there are high proportions of children engaged in domestic and agricultural labour.
It is painful but true that child domestic workers are tortured in different ways at their work places. Stories of such torture appear in newspapers every now and then. But hardly there is substantial progress in ending this. According to a baseline survey conducted by ILO and Unicef in 2007, there were 420,000 child domestic helps (aged 6-17 years) in Bangladesh. Of them, 147,000 are working in the capital city of Dhaka and the port city of Chittagong.
Among them, 83 percent are female, who are mostly child and young. Domestic helps have to do many works at their employers’ houses from morning to midnight. But there is no one to ease heir sufferings and agonies. Domestic helps are excluded from the Bangladesh LabourAct-2006. An advocacy officer of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies said “We provide legal help to victims’ families but employers manage local leaders and administration with money for mutual settlement the matter.” In most of the cases, employers give nominal money to a victim’s family as compensation and get the case dismissed.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) is an example of a non-government organisation which works for the wellbeing of street children across the world. Besides, there are also some other small non-government organisations, such as JAAGO Foundation, Smile, One Degree Initiative, etc, who have been working to improve the life of street children. Some of these organisations also requests people to donate for the street children.
INCIDIN Bangladesh has been working for the development of the street children especially those groups who are abused and exploited sexually. Along with its regular activities, the organisation also celebrates the International Street Children Day each year with the support of SCI. The International Day for Street Children was launched in 2011 by the Consortium for Street Children (CSC), the leading international network dedicated to realising the rights of street children worldwide. The day is celebrated by street children, NGOs, policy makers, celebrities, corporate and individuals across the world.
Violence against children regardless of their age, sex and class has become a common phenomenon in the country. Children have long been exposed to various forms of torture, physical and mental, almost everywhere — home, educational institution or workplace. More than 1,100 children were murdered in the country in three years, according to statistics available with human rights group Manusher Jonno Foundation. The child rights activists said that causes for the murders were diverse and ranged from family enmity, personal clashes and land dispute to failure to pay ransom and criminal activities.
The Unicef has expressed concern about the child rights situation in Bangladesh and said that the government should take effective measure to save children from violence of all types. Use of children in political demonstrations to an inordinate proportion tends to suggest once again, which can be called a disquietude development in our politics. An increasing number of teenage boys are seen in the political demonstrations, chanting slogans or confronting with the police in street battles. A good number of children died and some other were seriously injured in political violence during three spells of marathon hartals enforced by the BNP-led 18-party alliance.
Despite having a national children policy in place, the country’s political parties are increasingly using children in the forefront of their violent political programmes, putting their lives at a greater risk. Bangladesh’s children policy 2011 prohibits the use of children in political activities, either through coercion or cajolement. Therefore, the government needs to take effective measures immediately to keep children out of violent politics.
There is no substitute of making sure that children must not miss primary education. Education is the key foundation for lifting children out of poverty and other social malice. Only the promise made by the government to provide free education to a certain age limit cannot improve the living standard of impoverished people to make them enable to send their children to schools. Stipends, especially for girl children, can be a measure to encourage parents to send their children to school, but effective measures should also be taken to address curse of child labour and child marriage. Over and above, the policy-makers and the government must make sure that no stone is unturned in their efforts to increase school enrollment.