Children champion minority rights at CRC30 forum
Discuss on the current state of child rights in Bangladesh and on ways to further protect child rights in the future
“It’s very important for me to be here and represent the Marma community and our culture,” says Urmi, a 16-year-old girl from an indigenous ethnic background, as she discusses her experience as a participant of the very first CRC30 forum in Chittagong.
In her home in Bandarban, one of the three districts of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT), Urmi says, “We don’t have these discussions. Children are not included in the dialogues. So,
I’m happy to be here and talk about important problems with people my own age.”
The chance for children to voice their rights
To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), UNICEF Bangladesh, in partnership with the Bangladesh Debate Federation, harnessed young people’s energy for civic engagement and launched the CRC30 forums, a nationwide dialogue on child rights.
Young people from all over the country took part in the CRC30 forums, engaging experts, policymakers, and opinion leaders to discuss on the current state of child rights in Bangladesh and on ways to further protect child rights in the future.
From climate change and child marriage to violence in schools and youth employability, minority rights, the forums covered a wide range of issues that pose threats to child rights in Bangladesh.
The young people participating in these forums, however, did more than just talk about these problems. They also attempted to solve them. Participants worked in teams to develop policy recommendations that will effectively tackle the issues at hand and advance children’s rights. They then presented the recommendations to local leaders in attendance.
Discussing problems and panacea
The CHT is one of Bangladesh’s most diverse, but also most disadvantaged areas. For decades, violent infightings destabilized the region, preventing it from reaping the benefits of Bangladesh’s rapid development and growth.
Urmi, although soft-spoken, had a lot to say about the ills plaguing her community, “Most people in the hill districts don’t think about our children, they don’t think about our education. We need better schools.”
“We are not treated equally,” Urmi added, speaking of the prevalence of discrimination against ethnic minorities. “In minority communities, there are a lot of drugs. Women and children are also often trafficked.”
Because she is a Marma, one of the 11 ethnic minority groups located in the CHT, Urmi also said that she was frequently bullied by her classmates and ridiculed by her teachers.
“They make fun of my name,” for example, “because it’s not a traditionally Bengali name, because it’s a Marma name.” Her schoolteacher sometimes even forces her to wear a hijab regardless of the fact that she is not a Muslim.
Even though Urmi said that being treated in such a way was ‘very humiliating’, she remains proud of her cultural heritage. Standing up for her right to practice her own culture, Urmi sings traditional anthems and performs Marma dances. She dreams of performing on television “so that the next generation never forgets our culture.”
Minority rights a common concern
Inspiringly, some of Urmi’s fellow teammates who are not part of any minority group also stood up for minority rights. Seventeen-year-old girl Oindrilla pressed the officials who were present at the forum on the subject, asking them why ethnic minority groups “still did not have proper cultural protection.”
Oindrila also stressed on the lack of adequate infrastructure, communications systems, and governing institutions in the CHT, which led to a heated, but the productive exchange between her and some of the public figures in attendance.
A local newspaper editor attempted to pacify Oindrila, saying that administration systems were present in the CHT. “Administration systems are not working properly. They might as well not be there at all,” retorted Oindrila, calling for improved governance in the CHT.
Amongst other recommendations, the forum’s participants called for improved education in the CHT, enhanced cultural protection, fair handling of land disputes, and greater cooperation between indigenous groups and government authorities.
The participants’ commitment to Article 30 of the CRC and the rights of minority children was unwavering. The article clearly states that: “In those States in which ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities or persons of indigenous origin exist, a child belonging to such a minority or who is indigenous shall not be denied the right, in community with other members of his or her group, to enjoy his or her own culture, to profess and practice his or her own religion, or to use his or her own language.”