The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh stands on the values of basic human rights and freedom, equality and social justice and non-discrimination. The governments of the country, in their respective times, professed to do their best to materialise those values in all areas of our national life. They include the creation of an environment congenial for protection of the rights and thus the development of our children. Our children constitute the largest people-group in the country. We oftentimes take opportunities to examine how far the aforementioned principles have been in place. Doubtless enormous amount of progress have been achieved. Nevertheless, in the march of time we realise we need much more to achieve. Golam Mustafa, one of our poets wrote, ‘Ghumeye achhe shishur peta shob shishurder antoray, bhobishoter lokkho asha modeyr majheye shontoray’ (Dormant lives the father of the child in all the children’s soul, swimming within us are countless hopes for posterity). The Psalmist wrote: “Children are heritage from the LORD, children are reward from him.” Children are to be greatly cared for the benefit of mankind for the bright future of human civilisation at large.
In each religious philosophy and human culture children are not an afterthought, they are a great priority in the eyes of all. But in our world children are neglected by the society in a lot of ways. Each of the religious scriptures there are a great number of ways of instructions and bringing up of children for them to become full human persons with great potential. We need to internalise the truth that investment on the children is the best investment. As we sow, so we reap. Let me quote here the profound words from Kahlil Jibran which reflects some transcendental truth: “Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for life itself. They come through you, but not from you. And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.”
What do we want our children to become? Do we want them to be just doctors, engineers, barristers and some very efficient and professionals, technocrats and politicians? Or do we want them, above all, to be good citizens of our country and also to be good members of the human family at large? Children are our greatest asset. They are the greatest potential force for the bright future of the whole world. Nearly half of our population are children, are under the age of 18 years. Unfortunately, many people do not consider children beyond the age of 11 or 12 as children. To too many minds the Bangla word for ‘child’, which is ‘Shishu’ would not include people beyond that age. Here lies much of the problems. Besides, there are many harmful norms and practices frustrating our best aspirations about children and their genuine rights that can ensure their holistic development.
Bangladesh has been on transition in diverse ways. We have significantly achieved most of the Millennium Development Goals during the last years; and we are also very much confident that with sincere commitment, good governance and corruption-free administration our government can help achieve many of the current Sustainable Development Goals, if not all. To become a middle-income country by 2021 socio-economic growth needs to be ensured in a sustainable and holistic way.
Bangladesh is one of the few most densely populated countries in the world with around 1020 people living per square km on an average. Nearly half of the population lives under the poverty-line. Our poverty, whether material, mental and attitudinal, is a hydra-headed monster and is the mother of many socio-economic ills that frustrates our hopes and aspirations for the development of our future generation.
Bangladesh is one of the so-called Third-world countries with almost all the features that characterise them. It is one of the most thickly populated countries in the world with a population of about 170 millions. Roughly the 66 million children are the country’s most important assets. Nearly half of our population is children, i.e. people under the age of 18 years of which around 40% live below the poverty line. Despite improvement in health and education sectors 2 million children are malnourished with retarded growth. A big number of these children are homeless and are “street children”, who constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginal groups in the country.
Children have the right to grow up without fear of abuse and exploitation. We urgently need to internalise the need of the rights of our children as full human persons.
One of our worst problems is child-labour. Due to poverty and neglectful attitude the problem of child labour appears. Child labour include domestic slavery, sex-trade, drug trafficking and the like.
Like women children are the most vulnerable victims in any man-made conflicts as well as natural disasters. Around 6 million of our children are victims of child-labour. They are employed in hundreds of hard work: including agriculture, construction work, garments, garbage collection, domestic work, hotels, transportation, construction, cigarette making, electrical and welding work, various mills and factories, etc. Programs dedicated to facilitate the growth of poor children require concerted efforts. The responsibility is not only parental, but also institutional and societal.
Children need to have the following needs fulfilled so that they can have their full-fledged development and growth:
Bodily or physical, ii. Mental, iii. Intellectual, iv. Social, v. Cultural, vi. Spiritual.
Our government machinery need to ensure that socially excluded people are benefitted from public expenditures as much as any others. It should increase accountability to protect the basis rights of all people, adult or children.
For too many children, especially in the cities, homes are far from being “Sweet homes”!
Eighty per cent parents in the world today just beget their children, but only 20% prove to be good parents. They cannot and do not celebrate their children.
If we are to establish a society with holistic child development thrust we need to create a society that will let our women and female children live with dignity, and their bodies, beauty and emotions must first of all belong to them.
No child decides to be born. It is the parents that decide their births. The greatest resource of any nation is its people. Nothing is more deplorable than the wastage of human persons. Stephen Covey said, “The role of parents is a unique one, a sacred stewardship in life. Is there really anything that would outweigh the importance of fulfilling that stewardship well?”
Former UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuelllar observed, “The way a society treats its children reflects not only its qualities of compassion and protective caring, but also its sense of justice, its commitment to the future and its urge to enhance the human condition for coming generations.” They need special attention and care for adequate growth and development from all stakeholders in the society. Like family the state must as well as religious institutions have it as their holy task to make sure that this is in place. That will ensure sustainable development for a better future for all people. For this the basic needs in to take children’s personality seriously, treat them as full human person with great potentiality.
To many students school teachers and school examinations and tests are sources of horror. We need to reform our education system in many ways. One area is the multiple systems and standards of academic institutions at levels. There is also a great difference between academic standards, facilities and performance between rural and urban situations.
This results from the great disparity among the poor and the well-to-do people. Most people are poor as a result of oppression and exploitation by the powerful.
Regrettably, in actual practice and behaviour our country appears to be more capitalistic than socialistic. This does not good for the poor.
Equitable distribution of resources and opportunities is of paramount importance for paving the way for a just society. As a nation we have not been true to this principle in many areas of our national life.
Bangladesh has been good at signing many global Protocols. But we need to implement them. Holistic child development is inextricably related to child protection.
In a society where beating-to-death of children become public spectacles, gang-raping and subsequent killing of minor girls are common place incidents yesterday, today and tomorrow let all people of good will join hands and minds to fight all the dark and devilish forces that work against human development, which cannot and will not take place without the holistic development of our children. Without justice there cannot be a sustainable progress or any peace. Let all stakeholders honestly do whatever is possible to provide our children physical, social, intellectual, emotional and spiritual care protection and development for the eventual good of mankind. This ought to our vision of visions, and without a vision people perish.
The writer is a Christian Theology teacher and a Social worker