About one billion children have faced various forms of violence in the last year, according to the World Health Organization. (Image: Pixabay)
The recent brutal killing of three children at a state-run juvenile correction facility in southwest Bangladesh has brought to the fore state violence against children in the country.
At first it was reported the children died at Jessore Juvenile Development Center following a clash between two groups of inmates on Aug. 13. Later, a police investigation found the children died from injuries resulting from merciless beatings by staff. Public shock quickly turned to fury and strong calls for justice.
On the day, a guard of the facility — which holds 280 boys either convicted or awaiting trial for juvenile delinquencies including theft, rape and murder — allegedly ordered some boys to have haircuts, leading to a scuffle. The attack left the guard with a broken hand.
In response, the staff held a meeting and decided to beat up the children “to teach them a lesson.” Some 18 boys were allegedly sorted out, tied with ropes and had their mouths gagged with towels. They were beaten for an hour with steel pipes, sticks and cricket stumps before they passed out.
The seriously injured children died before they were rushed to a local hospital. Police detained five staff for the assault and launched a probe into the incident.
Such inhuman treatment of children in state-run juvenile rehabilitation centers is not new. In 2015, some 20 children cut their wrists protesting torture by staff in another juvenile center, forcing the government to suspend the head of the facility.
Child rights activists have complained on many occasions that these facilities were more for punishment of children than rehabilitation in the absence of effective correctional mechanisms and monitoring.
Putting this aside, various forms of violence against children have risen sharply in Bangladesh in recent years, according to Bangladesh Child Rights Forum.
The group recorded 448 child murders and 1,005 rapes in 2019, up from 418 murders and 571 rapes in 2018. As of Aug. 15 this year, there have been 164 child murders and 324 rapes. In addition, there have been dozens of cases of child suicides after abuse, torture and rape. The real picture of violence against children remains unknown as many cases go unreported.
The Covid-19 pandemic might have slowed down the scourge of deadly violence against children in Bangladesh, but it is far from over.
A global phenomenon
Violence against children is a widespread phenomenon, particularly in developing countries in Asia and Africa. Across the world, about one billion children have faced various forms of violence in the last year, according to the World Health Organization. Meanwhile, 64 percent of children who experienced violence are from South Asia, says Unicef.
Human beings might be God’s best creations. But some of them are the worst because of their demeaning and dehumanizing treatment of children. Even if a child survives a violent onslaught, he or she has a lifelong negative impact on his or her health and well-being, stunting their proper growth and development.
Violence against children, whether it takes place at home, school, on the street or any place, is simply unacceptable, barbaric and punishable.
Analysts cite various socioeconomic and psychological factors behind the menace including poverty, lack of education, low morals, poor mental health, improper social cohesion, lax laws, impunity, drug addiction, discrimination and inequality.
Apart from these systemic loopholes, the most pressing problem in many societies is viewing children as “lesser beings” and “objects.” Often children are taken for granted — do with them whatever you like and walk away scot-free after causing them harm, physical or psychological.
There are child protection laws in most countries, but a strong legal system and heavy punishment often don’t suffice to save children from violence and death, as is the case in Bangladesh.
On July 8, 2015, four men beat up and killed 13-year-old Samiul Alam Rajon in broad daylight in Sylhet city for allegedly trying to steal a rickshaw. In another case on Aug. 4 the same year, two men beat 13-year-old Muhammad Rakib to death for allegedly leaving a job in a garage for a competitor in Khulna district.
In February 2016, four schoolboys aged 7-10 were kidnapped, strangled and buried in a place close to their village house in Habiganj district. The killing stemmed from long-standing rivalry between two groups in the village.
Amid a public backlash, these cases were fast-tracked and nine accused were sentenced to death for their barbarities.
The rising cases of violence and deaths of children show such punishment does little to stop such a horrific culture of violence.
From homes to schools, playgrounds, streets and everywhere, it is absolutely important to recognize the rights and dignity of children to allow them to grow as full human beings. Only then can we expect children not to face irrational violence or loss of life.
Church, children and care
In the past decades, the Catholic Church has faced a global backlash over endemic child abuse by pedophile clergy around the world. In recent years, especially since the start of the pontificate of Pope Francis, the Church has made great strides to protect minors from abuse and violence.
Churches in many countries including Bangladesh, presumably on the orders of the Vatican, adopted a child protection policy in all institutions of the Church. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Bangladesh also formed a child protection desk to implement the policy in all eight dioceses.
It is high time churches review how effective their policies and plans of action have been to protect children from abuse and to uphold their rights.
The authorities also need to think about how this framework can be transformed into a national forum, not only to protect children from violence in church institutions but also to strongly denounce, in word and action, all forms of violence against children no matter where it takes place.
In a country like Bangladesh where violence against children is rife, everyone has a moral responsibility to change the existing mindset about children from social, religious and rights perspectives.
Only then we can dream of a country and a world where children can grow up in a safe and secure environment free from violence.
Rock Ronald Rozario is bureau chief for UCA News in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.