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Indicative of political parties̢۪ general apathy to children

IT IS indeed appalling that political violence has thus far claimed the lives of at least 20 children thus far this year and left many others injured. According to a report compiled by the human rights organisation Ain O Salish Kendra from media reports, quoted in New Age on Wednesday, the deaths and injuries occurred when the victims either were engaged in demonstrations and picketing during the general strikes and blockade programmes called by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party and its allies or fell victim to arson attacks and explosions of crude bombs while playing or were trapped during gunfights between two factions of the ruling Awami League’s associate organisations from January to December 9.
Meanwhile, use of children in various political programmes has also marked a worrisome rise in recent times. Hundreds of children have been seen shouting slogans at Shahbagh protests since February 5 demanding death sentence for people facing trial on charges of perpetrating crimes against humanity during the liberation war in 1971. At the same time, a huge number of children had reportedly been present in the gathering organised by the Islamist outfit Hefajat-e-Islam at Motijheel Shapla Chattar on May 5. Moreover, little boys have been used as ‘human shields’ in various protests, especially those held in different northern and southern districts soon after the International Crimes Tribunal 1 had delivered death sentence for Delwar Hossain Sayedee on February 28. The less said about schoolchildren being lined along roads in different areas to cheer visiting ministers, including the prime minister, the better.
It is important to note that all this continues to take place in violation of the Article 6.7.4 of the National Children Policy 2011 which stipulates that the children should neither be lured nor be compelled to engage in political activity. One also needs to realise that, as the chairman of the clinical psychology department at Dhaka University pointed out, a child trapped in violence can suffer from acute fear, sustain trauma for long and post-traumatic stress disorders in case s/he fails to receive proper treatment.
In fact, the indifference of the law enforcement agencies, the government for that matter, to child rights in general is to be blamed for such unfortunate situation in the first place. The government high-ups have pledged on more occasions than one to stop the practice, virtually a legacy of the long colonial rule over this land, of lining schoolchildren along roads to welcome any key government official visiting the area, ever since it assumed power in January 2009 only to forget later. Additionally, the home ministry and the police have repeatedly issued tough words against the use of children in political programmes but to no avail thus far. Nor did they take anything effective to stop political violence in the period.
It is worth noting that the UNICEF resident representative pleaded earlier this year that ‘the use of children for political gain must stop’ and asked the political establishments ‘to refrain from using children for political purposes and ensure that children are protected from all possible violence.’ The mainstream political parties seem to have turned a deaf ear to the UN official’s exhortations. Hence, it is imperative for the conscious sections of society to raise their voice and bring the pressure of public opinion to bear on the feuding political parties to ensure protection of children from political violence and, better still, put an end to the culture of political violence.

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