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     Volume 4 Issue 58 |August 19, 2005|

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On No Rights of the Child

Kajalie Shehreen Islam

The days of associating children with baby food and innocent smiles are gone. Now, even baby food is adulterated, and newspapers carry pictures of crying children, battered and bruised, physically and emotionally, every other day.

According to a report published by the newly formed child news agency, Children's Express, 1,100 children across the country were abused in the months of May and June of this year alone. Incidents of abuse ranged from kidnapping to trafficking and acid attacks. Five hundred and sixty-six children were killed and 277 raped in those two months. If these figures seem exaggerated, a look through the last three weeks' newspapers will show that they are not.

On July 19, a nine-year-old boy went to remind a Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) employee to pay back a debt he owed the boy's mother. Angered at the reminder, the man whipped the child with a belt and hit him with a stick until it broke into pieces.


On July 27, a madrasa student was allegedly tortured to death by his teacher. The teacher had asked the 11-year-old to carry bricks for him. When the child refused saying he was ill, the teacher became furious and beat him up. Later, the boy was forced to keep his head down under the table for an hour. He fell sick and died later that night.


On July 28, two girls -- sisters -- were gang raped in Keraniganj by a group of Jatiyatabadi Chhatra Dal (JCD) cadres. The body of the older sister, who was 17, was found in the Buriganga river; the 14-year-old younger sister has been missing since the incident. A day later, a 17-year-old girl, alone in Dhaka city with no money, went to a policeman for help. Promising her a job, the policeman took her to a nearby hotel and, along with his two accomplices, gang raped her.


A government shelter home employee took in a teenage girl from the home as her domestic help. When the woman fell sick and was hospitalised last year, her husband raped the girl for many months. The girl was sent away only after she got pregnant and refused to abort the child. Another teenage girl who came to Dhaka some months ago after her mother remarried following her father's death, was forced into prostitution by a man who had promised her a job. The girl escaped earlier this month from a house in the city.


On August 1, a nine-year-old boy was rescued from his own home where he used to be chained to the window in a four square feet washroom by his mother. He would be given a bowl of muri (puffed rice) and a bottle of water as he stood in the washroom the whole day, day after day.


On August 3, a 12-year-old domestic worker, accused by her employers of theft, was tortured into confessing to stealing cash, a mobile phone set and some documents. They slapped and kicked her, pulled her hair, hit her with chairs and threatened to hang her from the ceiling fan if she did not confess, says the girl. When the employers filed a case against the child, she was arrested and put into jail -- even though a child under 16, even if guilty of a crime, legally cannot be incarcerated.


Newspaper reports the same day carried the story of an eight-year-old thought to have stolen one of her landlady's guavas. The woman pushed her into an electric pole by which she was electrocuted. Besides sustaining serious burns, the girl's left arm and three of her toes had to be amputated.

You can ask yourself, what is the world coming to? Or you can ask yourself, how and why do these things happen and what becomes of the perpetrators? Or you can simply tell yourself the obvious -- that children have no rights in our society.

While some people do everything to protect their own children, they do not consider those of others -- especially the poor or domestic workers -- as human beings. Others obviously do not know how to raise, not to mention care for, their own children. From being made to sit on the floor at school (here, children are conveniently considered children, i.e., semi-human beings), to being punished or beaten to death (considered here as full human beings responsible for their actions and deserving brutal punishment -- only they are not strong enough to protect themselves), children get the raw end of every deal.

Bangladesh has ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that recognises the human rights of children, defined as persons up to the age of 18 years. Article 3 of the Convention alone ensures:

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States/Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States/Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Among the areas in which the Convention has been most effective, are Bangladesh's establishment of an inter-ministerial committee to regularly monitor the process of fulfilling children's rights; its training of judges and police officers in protecting juveniles in conflict with the law and improving the conditions of juveniles under detention; and the mass media's priority placed on 'Facts for Life' and messages on children's and women's rights.

Judging from the cases given above, the last is the only point that seems anything close to effective. But even coverage of children's issues in the media hardly seems adequate. Many cases of child abuse are not reported in the first place. Often, when they are, they are hardly highlighted. Lastly, there are rarely ever any follow-ups.

Which brings us to the legal aspect -- is anything actually ever done? Do we ever see follow-ups to all the cases where young domestic help have been tortured, or where police have raped young girls? Have we ever heard about employers being punished for abusing their servants? Does anything ever happen to parents who abuse their own children? And, for the one case of Yasmin whose policemen rapists were hanged, how many more go unsolved, and, even how many more, unreported?

There is no shortage of laws in our country, but their implementation is another matter altogether. From the way things stand, the wordy, 41-article Convention on the Rights of the Child seems to be just that. The lives of children in our society remain unchanged by the international convention ratified by our own government, supposedly enforced by our law-enforcing agencies and other social institutions and human rights organisations. Most people still remain unaware of the fact that children are complete human beings needing extra care and protection because of their vulnerability. If nothing else, fear of punishment -- if actually administered -- may deter heartless and obviously demented in-human beings from committing such heinous crimes against children. One would think it does not take laws to ensure love and protection for innocent children, but today it is obvious that even the law is not enough.

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