Street children are the most vulnerable to sexual exploitation but their legal journey for justice is in most cases distressing because of the lack of social and financial support and the lengthy criminal justice system, according to a report.
Children from across the country come to Dhaka and end up on the streets due to poverty and abuse. Many of them are sexually exploited in exchange for food, shelter, protection and money.
“Though the government has taken necessary legal and institutional measures to combat commercial sexual exploitation, children face multiple challenges in accessing justice,” according to the report titled “Access to justice of children victim of commercial sexual exploitation in Bangladesh”.
The report was launched yesterday at a programme organised by Terre des Hommes Netherlands at BRAC Centre Inn with support from the Delegation of the European Union in Dhaka.
The report was prepared under “Combating commercial sexual exploitation of children” project implemented by Terre des Hommes Netherlands in collaboration with SEEP in Dhaka, SSS in Tangail and Breaking the Silence in Dhaka. It was aimed at rescuing 1,000 children from commercial sexual exploitation from Kandapara brothel in Tangail and Mirpur.
The programme also included a closing workshop under the project, committed to stopping sexual exploitation and trafficking of children in the country.
During a baseline survey conducted in 2016, 75 percent of girl children living on the streets of Dhaka were found to be at risk of sexual exploitation. Five percent of girl children who took up sex work as profession experienced sex for the first time when they were only 10 years old, while 45 percent were between 11 and 14 years old, and 35 percent were 15-17. Only 15 percent of them began sex work after the age of 17.
Those who came to brothel had been subjected to sexual exploitation by half-brothers, step fathers, neighbours and local goons.
Boys who live and work on the streets are also at risk of sexual abuse.
Street children are deprived of education, healthcare and support but there is no reliable data on them, according to a presentation done by Mahmudul Kabir, country director of Terre des Hommes Netherlands.
There is also no segregated data of sexual exploitation cases, but the massive number of cases filed under the women and children repression prevention act -- more than 50 percent of all crimes registered by Bangladesh police -- suggest that instances of exploitation are too prevalent.
Last year, 502 people were trafficked. Of them 80 were children. But only 8 of 1,310 arrestees ended up being convicted of trafficking offence.
Economic, structural and institutional factors are impediments to getting justice, the report said.
Children, after being rescued from streets, were found to be traumatised. But their condition improves with psycho-social counselling.
Given the opportunity, they could recover form their mental state with time and excelled in academic activities, art, music and karate. The project that began in January 2016 will end this month.
Aroma Dutta MP, co-chair, parliamentary caucus on child rights, was present as the chief guest while Audrey Maillot, team leader – Governance Delegation of the European Union in Bangladesh; and Moinul Kabir, additional secretary, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, spoke as special guests.b