The mother of Muhammad Rakib, who was killed by a former employer, mourns in her house in Khulna on Aug 4. Protests erupted this week across Bangladesh in response to the recent killings of children. (Photo by Kazi Fazila/AFP)
An alarming rise in child killings, including three recent lynchings Church officials are calling “barbaric”, has sparked a wave of protests in Bangladesh.
Child rights activists and Church officials are blaming the government and state security agents for failing to protect children from lawlessness and exploitation.
On July 8, a mob in the northeastern city of Sylhet tied Samiul Alam, a 13-year-old vegetable seller, to an electric pole. Five men beat him with an iron rod after accusing the youth of stealing a van.
One of the suspects recorded the killing on a cellphone and posted it to the Internet, sparking outrage across the country's social media.
On Aug. 4, Muhammad Rakib, 12, an auto worker in the southern city of Khulna, was allegedly hacked to death by his former employer because he joined a competitor.
On Aug. 5, a 10-year-old child was allegedly bludgeoned to death by a neighbor in southern Barguna district, after the child was accused of stealing fish.
This week, child rights activists and protesters took to the streets in Sylhet, Khulna, Barguna and the capital city of Dhaka, demanding the arrest and punishment of the accused killers. They also asked for an amendment to the child protection law to ensure the safety of Bangladeshi children.
Shahid Mahmood, director of the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Child Rights Forum, said 191 children have been killed and 180 raped in the country this year alone.
“This demonstrates how vulnerable our children are amid lawlessness in the country,” said Shahid Mahmood , director of the Dhaka-based Bangladesh Child Rights Forum.
“In every case of killing and abuse of children, there was serious negligence and inaction from the government and law enforcers. Child abuse has become a common affair as our weak legal system can't guarantee protection of children,” he said.
Police officials said suspects have been arrested in all three cases.
From spiritual care to legal protection
“The abuse of children and barbaric killings show a serious lack of love for children and utter disrespect for the law,” said Father Albert Thomas Rozario, a Supreme Court lawyer and the secretary of the Bangladesh bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission.
“A civilized country cannot and should not accept such heinous crimes committed against children. There is a culture of impunity, coupled with an ineffective and slow legal system, that encourages perpetrators of these crimes,” said Fr Rozario.
It may be necessary, the priest said, for the local Church to take a fresh look at how it helps children in Bangladesh.
“Over the years, the Church was more focused on spiritual care for children, but the time has come to extend legal and financial support to ensure their safety and security,” he said.
There are about 4.7 million children below the age of 14 in Bangladesh. Many work in industrial sectors or small and home-based businesses, where they are often exploited and manipulated for their cheap labor, according to UNICEF.
Bangladesh’s culture of impunity, characterized by ineffective investigations and a slow judicial process, leads perpetrators to believe that they can avoid consequences, Michael McGrath, country director for child advocacy group Save the Children, said during a press conference in Dhaka Aug. 5.
“Instead of treating [children] as the most cherished, vulnerable, precious people in our society, they are seen as the most exploitable, easily manipulated and cheap labor,” McGrath said.
“There should be zero tolerance against all forms of violence against children,” he added.
Despite the violence, the government is serious about tackling child abuse in the country, said AKM Nesar Uddin Bhuiyan, an additional secretary at the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
He said the government has offered legal support to the victims’ families and is arresting and prosecuting the suspects.
“Promoting social awareness about child rights at the grassroots level has always been a top priority, and it will always be,” he said.