20 children die in political violence in 2013Mohiuddin Alamgir
Scores of children fell victim to political violence in 2013, with at least 20 dying and many others still fighting for life as political parties continued to use children in demonstrations, according to rights watchdog Ain o Salish Kendra and New Age reports.
At least 6 out of 20 have died since November 8 when the BNP-led opposition alliance started enforcing general strikes and blockades of road, railway and waterways.
The use of children in political programmes, especially in picketing, has increased in recent times, putting their lives at risk and violating child rights, activists said.
Ain o Salish Kendra and New Age reports find that till December 9, at least 20 children died in demonstrations, arson attacks, the explosion of crude bombs while playing, gunfight between two fractions of the ruling Awami League’s associate organisations, picketing during strikes and other incidents.
In the latest incident, 10-year-old schoolboy Alamgir Rahman Sumon died after being caught in a gunfight between the police and BNP and Jamaat activists in Sirajganj on December 9.
Fifteen-year-old bus assistant Mohammad Hasan died on December 5 when he was burnt in a petrol bomb attack on a bus at Syedabad.
In Sathkhira, 14-year-old Hosain Ali and 16-year-old Arijul Islam died when the police fired into pickets during blockade on December 3. Chhatra Shibir claimed the deceased to be its activists.
Nahid Morol, 18, of Madaripur, died on November 29 suffering from the burn injures he sustained in an arson attack on a bus near Shishu Park in Dhaka the previous day.
Schoolboy Monir Hossain, 16, died on November 7 three days after he had suffered burn injuries as pickets burnt a covered van in Gazipur on November 4.
On October 28, Md Arzu, 16, died in a clash between pickets and law enforcers in Chandpur. Chhatra Dal claimed that Arzu was its activist.
Arman, 8, died in a gunfight between Awami League fronts the Chhatra League and the Juba League in a railway tender brawl in Chittagong on June 24.
Hafezia (Class IX) student Mahmudul Hasan Zubair died killed in clashes between Hefazat-e-Islam and the police on May 5. Muktar Hossain, 15, o9f Narsingdi also died in the same incident on the day.
Kulsum Akter, 9, and Riya Akter, 4, died in a bomb explosion at Mirpur n the capital on March 24.
On March 3, Mahfuj Hossain, 15, in Sirajganj and Nasiruddin, 16, in Jaipurhat, died when pickets and lawmen clashed. Shahidul Islam, 15, in Chittagong died during picketing on March 2.
Sajjad Hossain, 17, in Cox Bazar, Akmal Hossain, 14, in Rangpur and Qurban Ali, 17, in Noakhali, died in strike violence on February 28.
Seventeen-year-old Abdullah died in violence in Bogra on January.
Rabbi, 12, died after being caught in crossfire during a factional clash of the Chhatra League at Bangladesh Agricultural University in Mymensingh on January 19.
The Children Act 2013 defines child as an individual aged up to 18 years.
The Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum director, AS Mahmud, said that nobody had hesitated to use children to their gains. Hefazat-e-Islam, Shahbagh protests and political parties all had used children.
Political leaders, he said, use street children in picketing during general strikes. Children are also used in violent activities such as starting fire on roads and damaging business establishments and vehicles.
‘We have never heard someone being punished for forcing children into such situations,’ he said.
Witnesses said that a huge number of children had been there in the Hefazat programme on May 5. Children were also used as ‘human shields’ in protests taking place in the north and the south after International War Crimes Tribunal 1 had sentenced Jamaat-e-Islami’s nayeb-e-amir Delwar Hossain Sayedee to death.
The media also reported that students were being lined along roads in a show of popular support for any initiatives or leaders, including the prime minister.
Witnesses said that many children had also shouted slogans crying out for the execution of war criminals at Shahbagh protests.
Child rights campaigners said that the use of children was a clear violation of child rights. Article 6.7.4 of the National Children Policy 2011 stipulates: ‘The children cannot be used in the political activity, neither they could be lured and compelled to be involved in such activity.’
The Dhaka University clinical psychology department chair, SM Abul Kalam Azad, said that children ‘trapped in violence’ could suffer from acute fear, sustain trauma for long and post-traumatic stress disorders if not treated properly.
‘It is really worrying that 20 children died falling in political violence in a year,’ Shabnaaz Zahereen, a child specialist at UNICEF, said. Law enforcement agencies should play the vital role in ending the use of children for political purposes.
She said that UNICEF was worried about children being caught in recent violent protests and the continued use of children in demonstrations by political parties in Bangladesh.
Ain o Salish Kendra’s executive director Sultana Kamal said that the frequent use of children for political purposes violated violating child rights and put them at risk.
The inspector general of police, Hasan Mahmud Khandkar, said that they were aware about children being use in politics and a social awareness was needed to stop this.
‘It is our duty to ensure the security of all citizen including children… We are trying to do that,’ he said.
The women and children affairs secretary, Tariq-ul-Islam, said that they did not want any children falling victim to political violence. ‘Concerted efforts of guardians, teachers and others are needed to keep children off political activities.’
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