The state of children in Bihari camp.
A few people can imagine what life is like living in a Bihari camp particularly for children. The living conditions of the Bihari camp dwellers of Bangladesh are an embarrassment to the country's social environment. It indicates that the Bihari children are leading an extremely substandard life where adequate food consumption, medical expenditure and schooling are beyond their reach. The condition as prevalent in the camp has led to a high rate of infectious diseases, which is likely to aggravate creating environmental hazards.
The Biharis live in 70 camp-like settlements throughout the country. Living conditions are miserable due to high population density, aging accommodations, poor sanitation and hygiene, lack of education and healthcare facilities, and limited access to livelihoods, with most employable individuals consigned to day labor, barbering, or rickshaw pulling. In a country where the average life expectancy is 60, the average life span for Biharis who reside in the camps is said to be only 35-40 years.
Bihari children exist at the fringes of society, with their most fundamental human rights denied. Lack of access to education is one of the primary problems and a rights violation that destines many to a lifetime of poverty. Investigation suggests that only the more affluent can afford to send their children to primary school and some to private schools. Private secondary school is available only to a few. Estimates of Bihari children's enrollment in school ranged from 12 to 20 percent.
Due to illiteracy and ignorance, early marriages are rampant here. Residents complain of poor hygiene which triggers the outbreak of waterborne diseases like diarrhea, dysentery and tuberculosis.
In a Bihari camp in Rangpur, many children study late at a madrasa. Religious education is often their only access to learning to read and write. The children usually go to school in shifts and some students are left to study in the evening, leaving them to learn in an environment with either sporadic or no electricity. Some 300,000 Pakistanis, locally referred to as Biharis, living in 66 makeshift slums in Bangladesh for over three decades, are struggling to establish their rights as Bangladesh citizens. Born and bred in the slums which are now their home, ten of this tribe gained voting after the High Court declared them citizens of Bangladesh by birth. Unfortunately three-decades later, Bangladesh remains an alien nation for many of them, still striving to overcome cultural barriers, like language, to gain acceptance.
While there is widespread agreement about the hardships that Biharis face, there is far less consensus about how to resolve the issue. The concerned authority should come forward to resolve this protracted human rights and humanitarian issue.
Source: A group of child journalists from Shishu Prakash, Rangpur.