Is a More Child-Friendly Bangladesh Possible?

In Bangladesh, a large number of the population is under 18 years.  Image by Mahbubur Rahman Khoka. Copywright Demotix (10/12/2013).

In Bangladesh, a large number of the population is under 18 years. Image by Mahbubur Rahman Khoka. Copywright Demotix (10/12/2013).

Bangladesh is one of the world’s most populous countries. It is also home to about 66 million children, who constitute around 45 per cent of the country's total population.

But sadly, Bangladesh's abundance of youth has little to celebrate.

A total of 4.5 million children in Bangladesh work as child labourers. Up to 40 per cent of those younger than 5 years old are malnourished. Bangladesh has the fourth highest rate of child marriage in the world and rising levels of child abusea total of 968 children were abused and killed in last three and a half years, according to official statistics.

In fact, it would be difficult to find another country in the world where minors face such a range of problems.

However, several popular initiatives recently adopted by the government promise to make Bangladesh a slightly more child-friendly country.

Lifting the burden of the school bag

If you stand in front of a school in the morning in Bangladesh, you will see numerous children carrying heavy, outsized school bags on their tiny frames.

Blogger Tutul Chowdhury writes on Facebook about his son Rihan:

গতকাল ঋহান বলে “বাবা এই ব্যাগটা আমি নিতে পারি না, অনেক ওজন… কাধের এইখানটায় ব্যাথা হয়ে যায়।”
এইটুকুন পিচ্চি একটা বাচ্চা ব্যাগের ভারে জর্জরীত। ছোট ছোট কোমলমতি শিশুদের ব্যাগে বহন করা একগাদা স্কুল/হোমওয়ার্কের চাপায় হারিয়ে ফেলছে তার আনন্দময় শিশুকাল।

আইন করে সকল স্কুলে জরুরী ভিত্তিতে সেই আইন বাস্তবায়ন করা প্রয়োজন।

Yesterday Rihan was saying: “Papa, I can't lift this schoolbag, it is very heavy… my shoulder hurts.” This little boy (4 years old) is burdened by this heavy bag. The childhoods of these toddlers are being troubled by heavy bags full of school and homework.

An effective law has to be implemented to stop this.

To the relief of school-going children, the country's High Court recently issued a ruling aiming to lighten schoolbags for children.

The court ordered the government to formulate a law or regulation prohibiting children from carrying schoolbags that weigh more than 10 per cent of a child's body weight, and preventing the use of schoolbags by pre-primary children.

Shekh Sahiha Alam, a correspondent for the Daily Prothom Alo news outlet, spent 15 days weighing the schoolbags of children across various schools, ranging from nursery to class eight.

Her findings were as follows:

ওয়ারীর কিন্ডারগার্টেন স্কুলের এক ছাত্রের ব্যাগের ওজন ছিল সাড়ে চার কেজি। ইস্কাটনের একটি স্কুলের প্রথম শ্রেণির এক ছাত্রের ব্যাগের ওজন পাওয়া যায় তিন কেজি। ধানমন্ডির সাতমসজিদ সড়কে অবস্থিত একটি ইংরেজি মাধ্যম স্কুলের তৃতীয় শ্রেণিতে পড়া এক ছাত্রের ব্যাগের ওজন সাড়ে ছয় কেজি। নিউমার্কেট-সংলগ্ন একটি বিখ্যাত সরকারি স্কুলের চতুর্থ শ্রেণির ছাত্রের ব্যাগের ওজন ছিল সাত কেজি। শেরেবাংলা নগরের একটি সরকারি বালিকা উচ্চবিদ্যালয়ের পঞ্চম শ্রেণির ছাত্রীর ব্যাগের ওজন পাওয়া যায় সাড়ে সাত কেজি।

A student at a kindergarten school in Wari carried a schoolbag of 4.5kg. A student of class one of a school in Eskaton had a schoolbag of 3kg. The schoolbag of a class three student from an English medium school on Dhanmondi Satmasjid Road weighed 6.5kg. A class four student of a renowned government school near New Market carried a schoolbag of 7kg. The bag of a class five student from a government girls’ school at Sher-e-Bangla Nagar weighed 7.5kg.

Netizens welcomed the court’s ruling.

Emdadul Haque, an assistant professor of law at Southeast University, Bangladesh, tweeted:

Teach children to swim

Most Bangladeshis live in villages that are close to riverbanks. The land is criss-crossed with many rivers of different length and width. There are around 700 rivers in the country.

Come the rainy season the rivers fill up with water. During that time many children die from drowning.

According to a recent report of the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef), every year 18,000 children die because of they do not know how to swim.

To save them from drowning, the government has decided to make swimming lessons mandatory for all schoolchildren. The education ministry has published a draft circular on its website.

People are lauding the move of the Education Ministry. American swimmer Nathan Adrian also appreciated the initiative. He wrote on Twitter:

Farhana Haider, a senior broadcast journalist for the BBC, tweeted:

In association with UNICEF, the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research, Bangladesh (CIPRB), The Alliance for Safe Children (TASC) and Royal Life Saving Society Australia (RLSSA) all came together to create the SwimSafe program to reduce the number of water-related deaths.

They shared a swimming instruction video on YouTube:

First ever children’s budget

Finally, the first ever children's budget was created in Bangladesh along with the the 2015-16 fiscal year budget.

It has been allocated nearly 26 thousands crore Taka (US $3,341,213). Which is 8.76 per cent of the national budget.

The child's budget is not separate from the state budget. Rather, it serves to facilitate and highlight the establishment of children's rights by reminding policy makers to prioritise children in their resource allocation.

Bangladesh's Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith re-emphasised the need for a children's budget in his budget speech:

এটা প্রকৃত পক্ষে একটা কাঠামো, যা শিশুদের আর্থ-সামাজিক অধিকার বাস্তবায়নে সরকারি ব্যয়/বিনিয়োগের প্রকৃতি ও ব্যাপ্তিকে প্রত্যক্ষ এবং পরোক্ষভাবে প্রভাবিত করবে; যার ফলে একটি অন্তর্ভুক্তিমূলক ও টেকসই মানবিক উন্নয়ন নিশ্চিত করা সম্ভব হবে।

Basically it is a framework wherein the socio-economic rights of children are implemented. It also directly and indirectly affects public expenditure and investment. As a result, an inclusive and sustainable human development will be possible.

Child rights activists hailed the government initiative.

Abdullah Al Mamun, programme coordinator of Manusher Jonno Foundation, told Prothom Alo:

সরকারের এ ধরনের উদ্যোগের জন্য অবশ্যই ধন্যবাদ পাওয়ার যোগ্য। তবে শিশু বাজেট কে সমন্বয় করবে, বাজেট যথাযথভাবে বাস্তবায়িত হলো কি না তার জবাবদিহি কার কাছে থাকবে তাও নির্ধারণ করতে হবে।

It is a great initiative. I urge a children's department be formed under the Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs to coordinate the children's budget and establish accountability for proper spending.

Nabila Mahabub tweeted:

Bangladesh's decision-makers, it seems, are coming round to the idea of creating a better living environment for almost half of the country's citizens. Now the question is whether these initiatives will be put into practice.


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