Communities in Bangladesh unite to stop injuries, a top killer of children
By Steve Nettleton
RAIGANJ, Bangladesh, 7 August 2006 – As the day drew to a close, the entire village of Roha gathered to answer a difficult question. A week earlier, a four-year-old girl, Ashamoni, drowned in a pond. Her father was at work in a garment factory. Her mother was busy watching her four other children and didn’t notice that Ashamoni had decided to take a swim.
“We never thought she would go into water. These children never went into the water before,” said Ashamoni’s father, Abdur Razzak Mondol.
At the town meeting, villagers listened sombrely to the account of what happened. Some gave their views on what went wrong. Others suggested what could be done to keep another tragedy like this from happening.
The meeting was part of a new form of civic responsibility, known as a ‘social autopsy’, that is being introduced to villages in Bangladesh to help make local communities accountable for the safety of their children.
Breaking with tradition
Drowning is the number-one cause of death for children aged 1 to 10 in Bangladesh. According to the Bangladesh Health and Injury Survey, drowning and other injuries – including traffic accidents, burns, falls and animal bites – kill more than 30,000 children each year.
The survey also found that 955,000 children a year, or about 2,600 each day, suffer non-fatal injuries.
Many Bangladeshis have long held a common belief that accidents were a result of fate, or God’s will. Now, an understanding is gaining ground that most injuries can be prevented.
“Actually, we have made mistakes in the past,” said the head of the Roha Village Injury Prevention Committee, Mohammad Lebu Miah. “We used to think that accidents are something destined to happen. But we do not believe this anymore. We see that if one becomes careful then one may save the life of a child.”
Safe environments for children
With support from UNICEF, the Centre for Injury Prevention and Research in Bangladesh is trying some new approaches to reduce accidents among young people. In several rural areas, the centre is running a pilot programme that puts the community in charge of protecting itself.
In each participating community, a village injury prevention committee is established and volunteers make regular inspections of neighbours’ houses to identify hazards. Communities have also set up day-care centres and are teaching children to swim.
Making environments safer for children has taken top priority at the social autopsy in Roha. The tragedy of young Ashamoni’s death has bonded the villagers together in an effort to protect their children.
“There are neighbours, there are grandparents, other relatives are there,” said Ashamoni’s father. “Together we will have to keep an eye on our children.”