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Adolescents shine at publication launch

© UNICEF/2011/Naser Siddique
Government and UNICEF officials unveil the State of the World’s Children 2011 report in Dhaka.
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 03 March 2011: As he makes his way to the podium Badhan Ahmed is full of confidence. Standing before key government representatives, journalists, and stakeholders the 15-year-old begins talking about what it means to be a young person in Bangladesh.  

Badhan was one of three young people who spoke at the launch of UNICEF’s flagship publication The State of the World’s Children 2011. This year’s report - Adolescence: an Age of Opportunity – focuses on the 1.2 billion people in the world aged between 10 and19.
  
Badhan is one of 33.9 million adolescents who live in Bangladesh and he knows the importance of giving this key section of society a voice. “Adolescents of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow, so they need to know their rights and they need to know how to express themselves.” He says.

Before the State Minister of the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs, Dr Shirin Sharmin Choudhury, and UNICEF Representative Carel de Rooy, Badhan spoke about the importance of child participation and expression – something he has experienced first hand.

In 2009, Badhan was one of 22 young people who met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as part of UNICEF’s Amader Kotha (Our Voice) program, a television broadcast that gives adolescents an opportunity to discuss relevant issues with policy makers. He says he has become more confident as a result of the experience and he urges his fellow young people to speak up about the issues that concern them.

Also speaking at the launch was Mohammad Mamum, who gave a speech about the perils of child labour, a key issue in Bangladesh that sees 13 percent of children across the country working in either paid or unpaid jobs. 14-year-old Mamun used to be one of them. He spent more than one year working in a plastic manufacturing factory, often doing strenuous work in hazardous conditions. 

“I worked for 12 hours a day, everyday,” says Mamun. “The machine I operated was too big for me so I had to stand on a chair to use it. At times I would get very tired but I would be too afraid to fall asleep in case the manager hit me.”

© UNICEF/2011/Naser Siddique
Mohammad Mamum, 14, a former child worker, gives a speech about child labour at the launch of the State of the World’s Children 2011 report in Dhaka. The report – Adolescence: an Age of Opportunity focuses on young people aged 10 to 19.
Mamun says speaking at the launch of such a key publication has given him the opportunity to share his story so that other young people can learn from his experiences. “Young people should not be working,” he says. “They should in school and the laws that are already in place to deal with child labour should be better enforced.”

The State of the World’s Children 2011 examines the global state of adolescents and outlines the challenges they face in health, education, protection and participation; and explores the risks and vulnerabilities of this pivotal stage. The report argues that investing in adolescents is vital to breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty laying the foundation for a more equitable world.

For Bangladesh the challenges lie in tackling two of the biggest issues facing its young people: child labour and child marriage. Despite 18 being the legal for marriage, one third of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 15th birthday.

This is an issue close to Sonia Ahkter’s heart. As she sits in the audience at the launch, the 16-year-old is aware of the plight of many young girls her age. “My friend was married off at the age of 12,” she says. “She was being harassed by her cousin, so her parents felt the only thing that would stop this from happening would be for their daughter to get married. She fell pregnant shortly after she was married but the baby died,” says Sonia.  

UNICEF’s Bangladesh representative Carel de Rooy says the solution comes with education and investment in the right areas. “In some contexts, particularly with regards to protection risks such as child marriage, commercial sexual exploitation and children in conflict with the law, adolescents have the greatest need. Yet, it is precisely these areas that investment and assistance are often low sometimes due to political, cultural and social sensitivities.”

Making ground in addressing key adolescent issues is UNICEF’s Adolescent Empowerment project, which has been taken over by the Government of Bangladesh in this year. The State Minister for Women and Children’s affairs, Dr Shirin Sharmin Choudhury says carrying on the work that UNICEF started means young people across the country will continue to have their voices heard. 

For Badhal, Mamun and Sonia, this means more opportunity to take part in the decisions that affect their lives as young people living in Bangladesh. 

 

 

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