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Can you do something, Minister”? children appeal at a roundtable discussion

© UNICEF/2012/Ahsan Khan
Jahangir Kabir Nanok, State Minister of the Local Government Division, Government of Bangladesh, listens as Mohammad Aslam, 12, sings a song on child rights at a roundtable meeting held on "Children in city life" in Dhaka, on 14 May, 2012.

By AM Sakil Faizullah

Dhaka, May 23, 2012: Few seconds’ silence seemed to be pretty long when 10-year-old Ruma said, “As my mother can’t bear my educational expenses, I collect waste papers from the garbage heap in a sack. If my dirty sack ever comes to close contact with anybody, I get slapped. Can you do something about it, Minister?”

Ruma is one among the 17 children who shared their stories of miseries and victimization at a roundtable meeting organized by Bengali newspaper Prothom Alo in collaboration with UNICEF. These children came from different slums in and around Dhaka city to meet the State Minister for Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, Jahangir Kabir Nanok, where he heard the tales of  everyday ordeals of children living in the slums. 

According to Prof Nazrul Islam, a senior urban planner, who also attended the rountable, around 15 million people are living in the capital Dhaka and among them around fourmillion are living in slums.

Teenage girls in slums very often fall victim to sexual harassment, which compelled their helpless parents to marry them off at a tender age says 13-year-old Silvia living in a slum at Chankharpul, in the old part of Dhaka.  Salma Akhter, who is a regular victim of “eve teasing” (verbal sexual abuse) on her way to school echoed the same sentiment as Silvia and sought the minister’s help to continue education of girl children like her living in the slums.

Mukti, from Kaligonj slum explains the sanitation as the worst problem in slums, while other girls flagged the issue of ‘privacy’ during adolescence and also pointed out exposed latrines and bathrooms as a nagging privacy issue for grown up girls.

© UNICEF/2012/Ahsan Khan
Mohammad Aslam, 12, talks about issues faced by children at a roundtable meeting held on "Children in city life" at the Prothom Alo office in Kawran Bazar, Dhaka, on 14 May, 2012.

Shomrat (12) shared his experiences how deprived children in the slums fall prey to drug peddlers, who force them into the crime. “Without knowing anythingchildren becomes part of the business,” says Shomrat, blaming law-enforcing agencies for arresting the children instead of the real culprits.

Children like Shomrat, Aslam, Ruma Popy also appealed for not evicting the slums without arranging alternative rehabilitation of families living in slums, as sudden eviction puts children at high risk.

Prof Nazrul Islamsaid, evicting slums without proper rehabilitationis worse than natural calamities like river erosion and cyclone, as many infants arebrought up in these places.

“Our constitution has ensured children's rights. So, the government is working relentlessly towards that end”, the State Minister for LGRD and Cooperatives Jahangir Kabir Nanok says.

Responding to the huge need of the deprived children, the minster says, the government has provided monthly stipend Tk 1500 for each for 500 children under the cash transfer project to stop child labour and ensure education of most vulnerable children.Soon such initiativeswill be extended to 8000 points across the country so that deprived children can meet their fundamental rights, he added.

He also claimsthat the government has already rescued 55,000 slum children, who were involved in hazardousjobs.

In reply to a question of 12-year old Mainul, about frequent fire incidents in slums like Lalbagh Slum, the State Minister sayswith change of state power, rent collectors from slums are changed, leading to clashes and arson attacks at the shantytowns.

While talking about recovering playgrounds from land grabbers and local influentials, the state minister was interrupted by nine-year-old Aslam, who pointed that in his locality the playground is being used as a parking lot for trucks. After hearing this, the state minister committed that he will take immediate steps to recover the playground. “I have to travel to Mirpur to paly cricket as we do not have any playground in the old part of the city,” says 13-year-old Nadim Hossain

The children urged the minister to take steps so that their true potentials canbe nurtured, and for this, they demanded free access to recreational centers like zoos, museums and so on.

It was for the first timethat  the State Minister was quizzed by the children about violation of their rights, who are growing up in the slums, and are the future faces of Bangladesh.



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