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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 259
October 21, 2006

This week's issue:
Star Law History
Law Alter Views
Fact File
Human Rights Monitor
Law Letter
Rights Corner
Law Campaign
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Law Letter

We need to stop child labour
Child labour is attributed to a variety of circumstances.
These include poverty, lack of compulsory education, unemployment of adults, disability of parents, absence of social safety and migration of the poor from rural to urban areas. Agriculture is still too dominant a sector employing children. Child labour may be found in other areas like ready-made garments, carpet, shoe making, stone quarrying, brick-breaking and fish cleaning etc. Children are preferred because it is cheap to employ them.

Child labour is construed as a violation of Article 15 of the Bangladesh Constitution wherein it is stated that, "It shall be fundamental responsibility of the state .... to securing to its citizens (a) the provisions of the basic necessities of life, including food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care".

First question may arise as to who is a child? It may seem that childhood is lost in labyrinth of law. It is really very hard to find the exact age limit for childhood. The laws of the country, in force, provide varied definitions of childhood. At least 13 laws define the term 'child' differently.

According to the Naturalisation Act-1926, a person not above 21 years of age is a child. This is the highest age limit to be considered as child. The Court of Wards Act-1879 and the Children (pleading of labour) Act-1933, provide that, a person not more than 18 years old is a child. Three laws provide 16 as the highest age for a person to be considered as a child. The laws are Juvenile Smoking Act-1919, the Borstal School Act-1928 and the Children Act-1974. According to four laws, one who is not above 15 years is a child. The laws are the Mines Act-1923, the Payment of Wages Act-1936, the Workmen's Compensation Act-1923 and the Employment of Children Act-1938. The Vagrancy Act-1943 and the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act-2000 stipulate 14 years as the age limit of a child. Again the Shops and Establishment Act-1965 provides 12 years to be treated as age of a child. All of this laws are valid and in force. So the courts and the authorities concerned get puzzled in deciding whether a person is a child or not.

None of these laws is overriding, except the Woman and Children Repression Prevention Act-2000. The 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child defines as 'Children' all persons under the age of 18 years (in 1990 Bangladesh has become a party to the convention). So the word 'Childhood' seems very vague according to all statutes as they propose many age limits.

The Geneva-based International Labour Organisation (ILO) marked June 12 as the World Day Against Child Labour with a view to stimulating worldwide awareness of the exploitation of children and enhancing political attention and action to protect children from social injustice. Child workers have little chance of real childhood, education or a better life.

Child labour is one of the most serious violations of children's rights. International Labour Organisation (ILO) research indicates that child labour is almost universally recognised as being undesirable and harmful for the children and for the nation. Millions of children in Bangladesh work in different sectors of the economy. India has more child labour than any other country.

Children are often used for smuggling and sale of drugs in many countries. They are also exploited (in our country) during 'Hartals' to cause violence to the passing traffic. Trafficking of female children is one of the worst forms of abusing child labour. International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that about 2,00,000 children are trafficked in every year to different destinations. It is predictably estimated that around 6.6 million children work in Bangladesh to help out their families. Although ILO convention prohibits child labour, it is very difficult to eliminate child labour in Bangladesh given the prevailing endemic poverty.

However, we expect that our government should take proper steps to eliminate child labour appropriately.

Md Badrul Alam Chowdhury,
Premier University, Chittagong.x

Regarding Caretaker Government
Bangladesh adopted 13th amendment to the Constitution in 1996 through inclusion of Articles 58B, C, D & E in Chapter IIA, giving birth to a new concept of CG. Thus general elections were held under CG both in 1996 and 2001. Nowhere in the world has such system of CG existed. Bangladesh became unique by making such history. The system was introduced out of mistrust on the ability of political leaders to govern the country neutrally as they lost the credibility. It is basically the result of deep distrust on the outgoing elected government and their failure of not being able to conduct the elections in a free, fare and neutral way.

As per Article 58B(1) of our Constitution, there shall be a non-party CG during the period from the date of which the Chief Advisor of such government enters upon office after Parliament is dissolved or stands dissolved by reason of expiration of its term till the date on which a new Prime Minister enters upon his office after the constitution of parliament. In our original Constitution adopted in 1972, no such provision was there. As per the experts' opinion, the CG provision does not commensurate with the sprit of our Constitution.

The most surprising is that how long the CG provision will continue that is not at all mentioned in the amendment. Again, rigidity in selecting the Chief Advisor of CG has been questioned the image of whole judiciary system due to the exploitation of the appointment of Chief Justice (CJ) by the ruling party. Higher judiciary of Bangladesh was never in question regarding its involvement with the government, even during the autocratic regime of H M Ershad. But due to the involvement of CJ as Chief Advisor of CG, whole higher judiciary is politicized by the parties in power.

It has been also debated the portfolio of Armed Forces during CG as it is given to the President instead of Chief Advisor. Once a country can place all its resources to the nominated CG then it is not clear that how it will degrade the Armed Forces if it is placed under CG. Here basically those people playing double role in order to achieve their desired goal.

Worldwide any reform basing on time and space is accepted as welfare of the citizen. Any legislation warrants revision periodically. But our few top political leaders are so rigid that such revision/ amendment in CG system will spoil its purity. Now time has come to review the CG system. Before that political leaders need to regain their credibility. National consensus on issues of major disagreement can also solve the problem.

Khan Ferdousour Rahman, Dhaka.


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