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Children raise their voices on child rights

© UNICEF/2009/Shehab Uddin
Children participate in a focus group discussion near Soarighat,

By Sophie McNamara

“The child who is capable of forming his or her own views has the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.”

Article 12 (1), Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)

Dhaka, Bangladesh, October 2009: Ten-year-old Hassan knows enough about child rights to realise that he is entitled to more than his poor-paying job as a porter, but he feels powerless to change his situation. “At this age I know I’m not supposed to work, because it involves too much risk. I’m supposed to be at school, but this is my fate. My family depends on me. I’m compelled to work.”

Hassan is one of about 30 boys voicing their opinions on child rights, specifically the right not to work, at a drop-in centre in Dhaka’s old town, just behind the bustling docks of the Buriganga River. They are taking part in one of 37 focus groups organised by UNICEF to hear what children think about the implementation of child rights in Bangladesh.

The group facilitators, Golam Ahad and Kehkasha Sabah, have spoken to more than 800 children across the country, in locations including Dhaka, Barisal, Sylhet and Chittagong. Vulnerable children, such as those living in orphanages, refugee camps and juvenile justice centres attended the focus groups.

The words of Hassan and his peers are being carefully recorded by the facilitators. After each discussion group, Kehkasha guides the children to create an artwork, or write a poem or letter, explaining their situation or what they would like to change.

Family breakdown
The facilitators are sitting cross-legged on the tiled floor of the drop-in centre as many children explain that they have to work due to family breakdown. “My father got remarried and abandoned us, and my sister is being asked to pay a huge dowry to her new

husband. I have to work because my mother and sisters rely on me for survival,” says Hassan who has been receiving shelter and a basic education in this drop-in centre for the past six months.

Sajed Hossain, 17, works every night as a volunteer peer leader at the drop-in centre, which is run by UNICEF’s partner NGO Aparajeyo Bangladesh. During the day he works as a rickshaw puller, earning between 100 and 300 taka (1.5-4.5 USD) a day.

“I’m deprived of education. I’m deprived of my family’s love and care. I’m supposed to be with my family, but I’m on the street. It makes me feel sad,” says Sajed. Despite his limited education, Sajed is familiar with the CRC and talks to the other children at the centre, including Hassan, about their rights. 

Hassan says: “I’m learning about the right to be protected from having to work. I know it, but I can’t avoid it.”

Update: it’s time to listen
A total of 650 drawings, plus 200 additional poems, stories and letters, were created by the children as part of this project. The top 35 artworks were displayed in an exhibition at the launch of UNICEF’s flagship publication, State of the World’s Children in December

2009. Their words and pictures were also compiled into a coffee table book, entitled Children’s Voices: It’s time to listen, which was distributed to government officials and civil servants, NGOs and UN staff in Bangladesh and around the world.

 

 

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