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Ensuring a better future for children

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05th-Sep-2018       
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Rayhan Ahmed Topader :
Violence against children, especially child killing and rape, increased alarmingly in the past year in comparison with the year before, said a report on 'state of child rights in Bangladesh' published by Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum. The organisation published the report, a review of reports on child issues published in 10 national dailies throughout the year, at a press conference at Dhaka Reporters' Unity in the capital. Reading out the report, the Forum director, AS Mahmood, said that the country witnessed an average of 28 child killings and 49 child rapes a month in 2017 amid a 'culture of impunity and delay in justice system'. A total of 3,845 children were victims of violence and oppression and, of them, 1,710 were victims of different types of unnatural deaths while 894 faced sexual violence in 2017,' he said. Lack of awareness and knowledge on positive parenting and the negative impact of violence are contributory factors sustaining the culture of violence against children. Children are minor, delicate, and impulsive and will let things go easily- these are some of the common notions on children. Thus, this is easier to abuse children physically, mentally, emotionally, sexually and by negligence for having fun, reducing stress and most of the time feeling intolerant towards the behaviours of children. Violence is one form of child abuse. Physical violence (including both fatal and non-fatal physical violence) is defined by the Convention on the Rights of Children as: All corporal punishment and all other forms of torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and Physical bullying and hazing by adults and by other children.
Children may experience violence at home, school, workplace or any other places by parents, relatives, teachers, employees, friends or unknown people. We may easily recall the horrified incidence of the murder of Rajon (a 13 year old boy) who was beaten to death by a gang after being accused of stealing a rickshaw. The video of killing Rajon went viral in the social media where he pleaded to live. Rajon is just one of the many of children in Bangladesh who suffers from physical violence on a daily basis. Moreover, the trend of violence against children is following an alarming increasing rate in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is a home to 57.2 million children and approximately 82 percent of them become victims of violent discipline before they turn 14 years old. 3845 children were victims of violence in 2017 where 339 were killed and 593 were raped. The statistics shows 7 percent, 28 percent and 33 percent increase on violence, killing and rape of children in 2017 than those in 2016. In education settings 77.1 percent students are subjected to corporal punishment, bullying, and other physical violence. 51 per cent children are victims of violence at the workplace. In nationwide survey conducted by World Vision Bangladesh (2018), it was revealed that 30 percent caregivers feel that physical punishment is required for children. Among several reasons, tradition and cultural norms play a vital role behind perpetuating violence against children in Bangladesh. Popular perceptions on children's lower status on society, beating in the name of ensuring discipline, tradition of beating children contributes in exacerbating violence against children.
Lack of awareness and knowledge on the positive parenting and impact of violence is another contributory factor to sustain the culture of violence against children. Besides, implementation of laws for ensuring child rights are hindered by several factors like limited resources and capacity of local government, lack of local security and political unwillingness. Physical violence kills thousands of children each year. The practice injures many more and is the direct cause of many children's lifelong physical impairments. Studies found association to childhood asthma; injuries and accidents; children being hospitalized; and developing habits which put their health at risk, such as smoking, fighting with others and alcohol consumption. Research shows that children who experience domestic violence often suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder including insomnia, anxiety and shows poor problem solving capacity, anger management; high levels of aggression, depression and tend to join in unsocial activities. Even, children who witness violence tends to show different symptoms like addiction to drugs, becoming non-verbal and aggressive. All these symptoms may continue till adulthood or impact the ability to chose right or wrong in adulthood. Experience of corporal punishment hampers a child's ability to learn and lowers their educational attainment. At the same time, this experience is also linked to impaired cognitive ability, lower IQ scores, smaller vocabularies, poorer cognitive abilities, slower cognitive development and poorer school marks.
Corporal punishment is often a reason given by children for not attending or for dropping out of school. Adults who experienced physical violence as children are less likely to graduate from college at18 and less likely to achieve high status and highly paid jobs. In the school setting, the Ministry of Education issued Guidelines for the prohibition of corporal and mental punishment of students in educational institutions 2011, which came into effect in April 2011. Despite having legal frameworks and mechanisms, outdated legislation, harmful social norms and poor services continue to jeopardize the rights of children. There are still many inconsistencies in the current legislation and not all laws are aligned with the Convention on the Rights of Children. The Children Act 2013, which repealed the pioneering Children Act, failed to ensure this alignment as this still include prohibition of all corporal punishment. Low political priority and generally under investment in implementation of laws results in a lack of adequate support services for children at risk and survivors of violence. At the same time local government lacks accountability to end physical violence against children.
 In this backdrop, World Vision Bangladesh launched a campaign named "It takes me to end physical violence against children" (in collaboration with Human rights commission; different coalitions and  local NGOs) intends to make a significant contribution towards achieving the SDG target 16.2 end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence and torture against children by changing social norms and attitudes; ensuring effective policy implementation and promoting multi-sector collaboration across the country.
This campaign aims to protect 5 million of the most vulnerable boys and girls from physical violence at home, school and work place by 2021 across the country. Till now around 400,000 people were sensitized to the cause and consequences of physical violence against children. As part of this initiative 272 children initiated 17 dialogues with the local government for increasing budget for ending violence against them. By taking different advocacy initiative, this campaign with the initiatives of other INGOs and stakeholders contributed in increasing the national budget from 13.96 percent in FY 18 to 14.13 per cent in FY 19. At the same time, government has targeted to allocate 20 percent of the total budget for children by 2020. However, to end violence against children legislation should be enforced in all settings; communities should be mobilized to address the norms that allow violence; and relevant laws should be implemented by allocating sufficient resources. The report suggested speedy trial of the cases related to violence against children, exemplary punishment of the perpetrators, early execution of the verdicts, ensuring safety of the plaintiffs, victims and the prosecution witnesses for improving the child rights situation. Addressing the programme, National Human Rights Commission chairman said that the oppressors seldom fear the law as their punishment could not be ensured and that they knew that they would enjoy impunity after committing an offence. He stressed the need for formulating rules of Child Act 2013 for its implementation.
Also Human Rights Commission chairman urged strict monitoring by Election Commission so that no political party could use children in political programmes. More often than not, incidents of abuse seem to only get attention when they result in the child's death or when media reports surface. The accused are often set free on bail and victims' families threatened to keep silent. Then there is the indifference of law enforcement agencies towards pursuing these cases especially when the perpetrators wield power and influence which only makes things worse.
This essentially sets the ground for a culture of impunity whereby perpetrators of such crimes are given carte blanche whereas the victims and their families rarely ever see the light of justice. Despite repeatedly highlighting the need to adopt a zero-tolerance policy for violence against children, there have been no signs of the government taking such measures. This would entail, among other things, reforming the legal system as the low conviction rate under the Women and Children Repression Prevention Act 2000 indicates. It is high time that such reforms were undertaken to ensure robust investigations of crimes of violence against children and to prevent perpetrators from taking advantage of the loopholes of the legal system.

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