THE well-being of street children is left largely ignored as government efforts to rehabilitate them somewhat failed to yield the expected outcome with more than 7,00,000 children still languishing in the streets without state care and support. Of them, 2,50,000 live in the capital. Estimates suggest that at least 26.5 million children live below the poverty line, with little or no means to meet their basic needs. A Combating Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children Consortium study shows that 86 per cent of the street children abuse drugs and most of them are traumatised by unwanted experiences. It finds that more than 20,000 children were born and live in 12 registered brothels. The National Child Labour Survey 2013 shows that 1.2 million children are still engaged in hazardous jobs. Drug addiction among the street children is also reported to be high. They are engaged in high risk, hazardous work in the informal sector. As a signatory to the UN Child Rights Convention, the Bangladesh government clearly needs to do much more than what it has done in this regard.
Child rights situation in general is rather harrowing. In 2017, at least 363 children were raped and 15 died as a result of this, as Manusher Jonno Foundation says. Furthermore, 884 children fell victim to acid attack, child marriage and other kinds of violence in the period. The death of children working in hazardous condition is regularly reported. The vulnerability of street children and their basic rights remain unfulfilled for lack of implementation of the policies, including the National Children Policy 2011 which is aimed at ensuring nutrition, health, overall protection, education and social security of children in poverty. In reality, government efforts to rehabilitate homeless children is rather piecemeal and, therefore, do not always bring the expected results. What is a needed, as child rights advocates suggest, is a comprehensive programme that will provide them with shelter and also ensure their emotional and intellectual well-being. The importance of the monitoring of existing policies, especially the labour law that prohibits employing under-14 children as full time workers, has also been empasised. In the absence of an effective monitoring system, exploitation and abuse of child labourers continue unabated.
The future of the nation lies with the children but the condition of a large number of children does not portray a promising future. The government, under the circumstances, must rigorously implement the policies. Social safety net programmes must be designed considering the economic burden of working-class children. The government must also expedite the process of establishing an independent national child rights commission to oversee officials and agencies responsible to protect child right.
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