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Children demand accountability from politicians for using them

© UNICEF/BANA2014-00501/Kiron
(Left) Nurul Islam Nahid, Education Minister, talks to a child participant before the beginning of the Children's Dialogue (Projonmo Sanglap) programme at Chayanot, Dhaka.

By Munima Sultana

Dhaka, 20 March 2014: Children on a TV show insisted that leaders be held responsible for using them for political gain particularly of the violent variety which damages them deeply.

Fuad Hasan, a young teen from the audience began the salvo.  He asked Nurul Islam Nahid, Bangladesh’s Education Minister, “Honorable minister, who will take responsibility for the violence which children suffer from in a state of political violence?”

Sanjana Akter, a city based school girl added, “How would you feel if your child was used in politics and his condition had been like that of the other severely injured children?” Children in the gallery clapped in agreement with the speakers. Most share a common sense of victimization due to use of children in politics.

The issue has come under focus because in the last months of 2013 when political violence peaked, many children were hurt by indirect and incidental violence, physically and psychologically. By applauding their peers during the TV show they tried to make the guests – the minister, human right activist, media members’ etc- aware of their feelings and the responsibility of the seniors to be accountable for what is happening to children.

Children’s right to participation and expression

The children participating in the talk show named ‘Projonmo Songjog’ (Connecting Generations) are drawn from Dhaka city’s schools including those for street kids. The objective is to give them a scope to share their experiences and raise a voice for the issues relating to children which are often ignored by the policy makers of the country.   

`Ekattar Television’ supported by Unicef, organized the TV show to generate greater understanding of the topics and their relationship to national development policies and through this process enhance the quality of the debates as well. The objective of the 13 TV shows planned to be shot in seven divisional headquarters with the children aged from 14 to 18 years is to ensure their participation, freedom of expression and association, rights to privacy etc., as uphold in the articles 12, 13, 15, 16 and 17 convention of the Rights of Child (CRC).  The space for doing so in this case was media.

© UNICEF/BANA2014-00533/Kiron
A child participant asks questions for the guests to answer during the Children's Dialogue (Projonmo Sanglap) programme at Chayanot, Dhaka.

And that sense and feeling were all conveyed by the children participating in the show whether in asking probing questions or presenting the negative consequences of politics on children. 

Saima Afia, threw an open question to the guests present, “Which is more important to you -- achieving political power or our security?”

‘Isn’t it considered a serious grievance when children are used in political violence taking advantage of family poverty?” asked Tasmia Rahman.

Rakib Hasan, raised a pointed question, “If both our political parties want the same which is development of the country, then why is there no solution? Why do they continue doing what they do, while blaming each other, and as a consequence, make children suffer?”

Sami Rahman and some other students who come from a school for disadvantaged children shared real life experience of being used for political activities. They said that in most cases local political leaders and activists forced them to join such activities.

Sami told the audience that he was forced to pelt stones at a political procession in the city’s Dainik Bangla crossing two years back. Both threats and money are used to mobilize children to participate in such violence.  “They told us we will be given money but I was helpless as they had threatened that I wouldn’t be allowed to go to school if I didn’t do as they asked.” 
Politics of wrong politics

Hearing the children and facing their questions, the guests admitted that much of whatever is going on in the country in the name of politics is wrong. They agreed on the necessity of bringing changes to it as its obvious that political leaders are very unpopular with children. Children hate politicians and have no interest in becoming a political leader.
Education Minister Nurul Islam Nahid said, “We do not learn from experiences.”  Renowned cartoonist Mostafa Monwar expressed his hope for the future saying one day children will be able to build resistance to keep their surroundings safe from political party leaders.

Salma Ali, lawyer and human right activist, pointed out that violence against children and their involvement in it are spreading and that she herself had released many children from prison who had been used for political purposes.

Zulfiker Ahmed Manik, a well known journalist dealing with crime issues, pointed to the ethical aspect in publishing and showing horrific and grisly images of affected children which causes negative impact on children’s mental and physical development.  But he added that sometimes such images apparently help law enforcing agencies to bring the criminal to book so this practice continues. 

The minister hoped that such shows will not just jolt elder politicians from lethargy and halt ignoring critical issues and force them to face reality but that children would also become the future change agents of society.

“Who will change society?  It will be you!” he said.

A new hope

The minister added, ‘Change in society will only come when people like me will not be a minister  and people like you who have knowledge and wisdom will replace us.”

Mostafa Monwar called upon the children to focus on good examples and positive role models.  “If you want to be good citizen, look at all the good around you. Try to be a world citizen by broadening your heart and opening up your mind.”
Zulfiquar Ali Manik called upon the children to dream to be a good politician and seeking encouragement and involvement in positive movements and spaces.



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