Persons up to the age of 18 years are categorised as children in the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) adopted by the General Assembly of United Nations. Hence, approximately 40 per cent of the entire world population falls under the category of children. Children, being a vulnerable section of society, require special attention of family, society, government and global community. The CRC, which is the most widely ratified international human rights treaty, puts forward a number of rights for children, including the right to life, health, education and play, as well as the right to family life, to be protected from violence, to not be discriminated, and to have their views heard. But, notwithstanding the fact that children are considered to be the future of a nation, they are probably the most neglected members of society and hardly have any voice, even within the family. Children are constantly denied most of their rights, including the fundamental human rights. While various sorts of violence, exploitation and subjugation against children are a global phenomenon, scourges like hunger, malnutrition, child labour, trafficking and the ilk are primarily prevalent in the least developed and developing societies.
And in Bangladesh in particular, children are susceptible to all sorts of abuse. But the issue that has sparked socio-economic and political flashpoints in the country in recent times is the alarming rise in violence, both physical and sexual, against children and rising numbers of children’s murder in these incidences. Children in Bangladesh are abused in every sphere of society, including family, school, workplace, and care and justice systems. According to latest statistics given by rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), as many as 630 incidents of rape have occurred in the first six months of this year. The ages of the victims were stated in about half of these cases mentioned in the ASK report, which is based on news published in nine national dailies and its own investigations. It has been found that most of the victims were children. On the other hand, in this period the number of children killed following rape or attempts to rape were 21. The ASK report also makes it clear that most of these atrocities were carried out against children aged between seven years and 12 years.
Children are abused in every nook and corner of society. But, it is startling that children in most cases get victimized by physical, psychological and sexual mistreatments at their own homes --- which is supposed to be the safest place for them and is expected to protect them from all sorts of external abuse --- by their own family members or close relatives. Different study findings show that about half of the Bangladeshi women have been sexually abused for the first time in their life in the family settings when they were five to nine years of age. Children are molested in the name of love and affection. But in most cases, they are too immature to recognise that it is a form of abuse. And if they can understand it later on, no action can be taken in this respect due to extreme pressure of the family and society. Although, we generally think that girls are mostly the victims of child molestation, studies have shown that boy children are also equally vulnerable. Apart from being sexually abused, many children have to go through consistent torture of their elder family members, especially their parents. A substantial number of children have reportedly been killed by their parents over the last few years. Many children are exposed to see violence in their homes on a frequent basis, usually through fights between their parents. It also affects their psychological development adversely.
A rapid decline in humane feelings and socio-religious and moral values among the people along with a lack of proper implementation of law in the country can be held as the main reason behind increasing brutality against children. Being week and dependent on others, children cannot go for legal protection and claim justice for the atrocities they endure. And the conviction rate of the small number of cases filed against the huge number of occurrences is also very disappointing. Since the law enforcement agencies do not take the incidences of atrocities against children in right earnestness, the perpetrators can easily escape the appropriate punishment. A recent study by BRAC University's School of Law has found that between 2009 and 2014, the overall conviction rate under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 in three district tribunals, including one in Dhaka, was only 0.86 per cent. It means, in more than 99 per cent of cases not a single conviction was delivered. The study has identified factors, like false cases, lack of evidence, out of court settlements, weak investigation and case backlog, as the major reasons behind this poor conviction rate. Thus, the complicity of vested interests and dishonest personnel of the law enforcement agencies to take advantage of the loopholes of the system only worsen the situation. Resultantly, the common people lose faith in the rule of law and on the other hand the perpetrators get encouraged to breach law.
But, since the issue is linked with our children, the future leaders, we cannot wait any further but to check this scourge right away at any cost. Keeping the future of our country at stake none of us can feel complacent and stay away from reality. The government must spare no effort in punishing the perpetrators. The law enforcing agencies, especially the police, must be given strong directives by the government high-ups to play an active role against the criminals without considering their socio-political identity. Those officials showing lapses in carrying out duties must also be punished. The pronouncements of the government must be proven to be result oriented. The existing The Prevention of Cruelty against Women and Children Act 2000 needs to be implemented properly. And if there is any loopholes in the rules of the Act, that must be revised.
But as it is mentioned that children in most cases are abused in their own family, the elder members of family, especially the parents, have to play the most pivotal role in this regard. The parents have to nurture family values and look after their children with more attention. They have to provide their children with constant protection and in applicable cases they must file complaints to the law enforcing agencies against any violence on their offspring. At the same time, every conscious citizen, including members of civil society, must also come forward to resist the perpetrators socially and politically so that such atrocity does not recur. To do so, social, religious, and family values have to be upheld through awareness raising programmes.
But changes should begin from family level. Children must be protected from all sorts of abuse both within and outside their home. We have to exercise greater responsibility. We need to save our own children; likewise, we need to refrain from standing as silent spectators while some other children are being abused or killed. We all must work concertedly to reintroduce humane feelings in us and uphold family and social bond. Failure in this respect will push all of us to a greater risk.
M Munir Hossain is News Editor, Bangladesh Post.