Media reports about the abuse of children tell us a chilling story that we have suddenly become a nation which doesn't value its children, which takes cruelty against them as a matter of routine, and which doesn't feel ashamed when a 5-year-old girl is raped in front of her parents. Even the most sensational of child abuse cases have a shelf life of a couple of months, after which they fade away from media attention and public memory.
Monstrous as these crimes are, what equally horrifies us is a culture of impunity which allows the perpetrators to escape justice. Incidents of abuse are not reported unless there is a death, or the media picks them up. Families are pressurised by local power groups to maintain silence; even if cases are reported, the police often don't pursue them. When a case finally reaches a court of law, punishments are not in keeping with the severity of the crime. The accused are often set free on bail, which emboldens them to threaten the victim's family to withdraw the case, or worse, put them in harm's way. Money, power, political affiliation, weak or incompetent police charge-sheets and the reluctance of witnesses to testify combine to create a situation which favours the criminals and puts the victims at their mercy.
What is really heartrending is when children are abused within their families, in the hands of parents and relatives they trust. Abuse and cruelty take many forms—from wilful neglect of children's needs to physical punishment to rape and sodomy. Children—all children, irrespective of their parents' income or social position—should ideally be in school from the age of five; they should be given proper care and attention both at home and at schools. A large number of children, however, are deprived of these rights. Many have to work and consequently forego school; many are sent to urban households to work as domestic help. Children work in chemical factories and lathe machines; they are employed as porters in railway stations and as transport helpers. Each of these employments leads to physical abuse and exploitation. There are international convention and national accords against child labour; but these are more honoured in breach than in enforcement.
When children are abused, tortured, raped and killed, we expect the state to wake up from its slumber and the society to come out of its passivity. But neither seems to happen. The recent increase in children's murder is inexplicable; there is no answer to the riddle why the government doesn't take the task of protecting children as the number one priority. There is also no explanation why citizens' groups spend far less time in addressing children's issues than, say, those concerning politics. But the time of inaction should be over. The best shouldn't lack all conviction when the worst are full of viciousness.
We suggest that the government, the civil society, the rights groups and others who believe violence against children should end must come together and fight on behalf of the helpless children. There are laws against all forms of abuse and violence, what is needed now is their steadfast application and showing zero tolerance to the perpetrators of any form of violence against children—whoever they might be. An uncompromising application of law and justice will certainly substantially reduce crimes against children and may one day free children from abuse.
We need to protect our children for the simple reason that they are our future. If we believe that our future should be much better, brighter and more prosperous than the present, we have to put all our efforts to safeguard, foster, nurture and support our children.
Syed Manzoorul Islam is writer, novelist, translator and professor of English, University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh.