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     Volume 6 Issue 38 | September 28, 2007 |

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News Notes

Invisible Children

Last Monday the Nari O Manabadhikar Foundation (NAMAF), an alliance of women rights organisations, launched the Child Rights Week programmes in Bangladesh. The week's programmes will consist of a series of workshops, seminars, discussions, human chains and press conference organised by NAMAF and taking place in cities all over the country including Dhaka, Gazipur, Jessore and Khulna.
Children in Bangladesh, particularly those living below poverty level, are constantly in danger with an infant mortality rate of 41 deaths per every 1000 births. Be it poor health conditions, malnutrition, physical and sexual abuse, or, as is the case of child labour and child trafficking, exploitation, children that are out on the street do not have much chance of survival. The truth is that these children do not have basic rights; they also lack protection. They are in constant danger and are often used even by their parents to beg for money. In light of all these problems NAMAF is organising this week-long programme which will end with a press conference on October 1, highlighting the very real problems that children face every day.
Sadly it is only certain days of the year that we stop to think about the most precious people of our country, its children. While we give our own children the best we can and protect them as much as possible, few of us even bother to see that uncared for child on the street, picking garbage, begging or engaged in some hazardous job. Worst still we do not even realise that the little girl or boy we derogatorily call 'pichchi' who takes care of our own child and does adult chores, is also a child for whom we are responsible. This blindness and apathy is what is eating away our society, retarding our development and corrupting our very souls. Unless we take care of our children (not just our own) the future is bleak and full of misery.

People's Verdict
In a survey done by vernacular daily The Prothom Alo, an overwhelming number of citizens have opined that political parties should reform themselves. Two third of the people surveyed that along with reform, parties should free themselves from the hands of one-person centric politics. The survey has also witnessed a significant support for banning black-money holders from holding office. Transparency in the way the parties are run and their registration have also been emphasised. The most staggering aspect of this survey, which the country's most popular daily has done with the help of ORG-Quest Research Limited, is people's response to reform. Of the total 1, 500 people surveyed in the towns and villages of the country, only a paltry 8 percent have voiced their opposition to reform. It is indeed interesting that not only reform of the political parties people have actually given support to the ongoing reform of the country's electoral system. Given a wide array of options the people of Bangladesh can actually take good decisions, decisions that can make a big impact on their own lives; Prothom Alo's survey is a testimony to this.

A Not-so-Sweet Tale
We are well into the month of Ramadan , yet the quality of the iftar sold on the streets is still the same. Last year continuous mobile courts discovered the unbelievable levels of adulteration of oil, spices, sugar and other ingredients that go into making various kinds of iftari items. After a whole day of fasting thousands of people rely on these foods to break their fast. We don't know whether the adulteration is still going on but common sense tells us that many of the items on the street are made under very unhygienic circumstances and with substandard ingredients.
Recently a mobile court led by Chittagong Port Authority (CPA) Magistrate Mohammad Munir Chowdhury, found substandard sugar being sold by Trading Corporation of Bangladesh (TCB) which is a government organisation. People were complaining about the sugar and so 18 tonnes of water-soaked sugar was confiscated and samples sent to the labs. But even without the lab tests it was evident that the sugar was rotten; for one thing it was wet, for another there was dust and insects in some sacks. The sugar was discoloured and smelt bad. The lab tests only confirmed what everyone knew already : the sugar was unfit for consumption.
According to TCB sources, two shipments of the sugar had reached the TCB warehouse, one in December 2006 and another in July this year. The sacks only had 2005-2006 inscribed on them with no expiry dates. TCB started selling the sugar at Tk 27 per kilogramme at different city spots as a part of an effort to counter recent price hike of essential commodities. Attracting people with low prices, the TCB mobile shops had long queues of people waiting to buy the sugar.
The bad sugar has been taken off the market but it does leave a sour taste in the mouth to think that even government warehouses are not free from the malaise of storing low quality food stuff. Sugar is an essential food item, in Ramadan many people use it in drinks and sweets. It is unacceptable that people should have to consume something that is unfit for consumption.
The month of Ramadan is a good time for the government to monitor the markets and make sure that unscrupulous sellers (not to mention its own storehouses) do not dupe the consumers into buying food items that are bound to hamper their health and well-being. It would be the humane thing to do.

Workers Deserted

The workers of the Alim Jute Mills (AJM), an enterprise of Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC), were laid-off last week by the mill management for a period of one month. Established in 1968 and nationalised in 1973, Alim Jute Mills produced quality jute products for both domestic and foreign markets and earned huge profits until 1998.
According to the authorities, a lack of fund and acute shortage of raw jute have led to this close down. It seems that while other jute mills in the Khulna zone of BJMC got financial allocations, the BJMC authorities had not allocated any fund to AJM for the purchase of raw jute this season. The authorities are now thinking of leasing out Alim Jute Mill to the private sector after closing it in the near future.
In fact, the stakes are so high that even India, one of the main customers of jute products of the mill, has expressed its unwillingness to buy them. While the country has lost yet another opportunity to keep pace with the rest of the business world, once again the poor workers are being victimised. With very little to do, at least 300 workers of Alim Jute Mills held a sit-in, last week, to protest the authorities' decision to suspend operations of the factory, from 9 am in the morning to 6 pm.
The 811 permanent workers and the 96 staff members, who have been on the pay roll, have now been dumped off without work or any source of income. These workers have not been getting their weekly wages for the last 33 weeks, while the staff and officers at the mill are yet to get their salaries for the last nine months. According to the Workers' Union President Abdus Salam, the total amount that BJMC owes is nearly Tk 3 crores in arrears for 33 weeks to permanent workers and Tk 90 lakh for nine months to 96 employees.
As the authorities decide how to resolve this issue, the workers have decided to carry on with their protests till they are given their dues.

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