Bangladeshi parliamentarian Monjurul Islam, center, accused of shooting and injuring a child Oct. 2, is escorted by lawyers at the High Court in Dhaka Oct 12. (Photo by Hasan Raja)
Child rights groups and Catholic leaders in Bangladesh are applauding the arrest of a ruling party lawmaker accused of shooting a child, saying it is a rare positive step in a country that suffers from a culture of impunity.
Monjurul Islam, a parliamentarian with the ruling Awami League, was arrested in Dhaka Oct. 14 and sent to his northern Bangladesh constituency to face trial. Islam is accused of shooting 9-year-old Shahadat Hossain, reportedly for no apparent reason. The boy suffered bullet wounds to his legs in the Oct. 2 attack and is still undergoing treatment in hospital.
The shooting sparked a public and media outcry. If found guilty, Islam could face up to seven years in prison.
Catholics and other child rights advocates see the arrest as a "symbolic" move in response to a recent series of child murders that have made headlines in the country.
"There have been several cases of brutal child killings in the country because child oppressors used to think they can get away with abuse and murder," said Marist Brother Cesar Henriquez Leiva, who is a child rights activist.
"The arrest has a strong message against child repression, and it will also speed up justice for recent child killings."
The Bangladesh Child Rights Forum, a national coalition of child rights groups, estimates that 190 children have been killed — and 180 raped — this year alone in the country.
"There is a culture of impunity over child abuses and killings," said Imranul Haque Chowdhury, the group's president. "So we have strongly appealed to the government for the arrest of [the parliamentarian] as a positive and symbolic gesture of justice for child abuse and killings in this country."
Chowdhury said many Bangladeshis, including police officers, are unaware of the country's child protection laws, which contributes to the sense of impunity.
"If the government can ensure justice for this case, it will send out a strong signal to child oppressors and help establish the rule of law in the country," Chowdhury said.
Bangladesh has seen multiple violent child killings in recent weeks.
On July 8, Samiul Alam, 13, a vegetable seller in northeastern Sylhet city, was beaten to death for allegedly stealing a van. His killing was recorded on a mobile phone and shared online.
On Aug. 4, Muhammad Rakib, 12, was allegedly tortured and killed by his employer in the southern city of Khulna for joining a competing company.
On Aug. 5, a neighbor in southern Barguna district allegedly bludgeoned to death 10-year-old Rabiul, who used a single name, after the child was accused of stealing fish.
On Aug. 17 in Dhaka, three men allegedly beat to death Muhammad Raja. The 17-year-old had been accused of stealing a mobile phone.
Police have made arrests in all cases, and charged 13 men in Alam's killing.