As a state party to the Convention of the Rights of the Children 1989 (CRC), Bangladesh is under a legal obligation to establish a child rights based correctional system and rehabilitate the children with dignity. The Third and Fourth periodic report submitted by Bangladesh to the CRC Committee disclosed that the Child Development Centers (CDCs) require better logistics. According to the report, the resources of the centers are not adequate. There are also shortages of training facilities for children. Moreover, the general physical conditions of the children and the overall atmosphere of the CDCs are not up to the mark.
The situation has become a growing concern after several repoprt published by newspapers. Such as, the report of the Daily Somokal, 15 March 2015, “Vulnerable condition of the children in the Tongi Child Development Center”, and before that the report of the New Age, 14 February 2014, “Tongi Child Development Center supervisor suspended”, on 12 February 2014, 20 juveniles from the Tongi center have cut themselves using blades to protest the authority's mismanagement by the centre's officials. But that was not all; they were very often subjected to physical and mental torture if and when they demanded for food. In addition, as per the report of the Daily Star, 06 May 2014, “two boys flee from Jessore Child Development Center”.
It is to be mentioned here that the Children Act 2013 covers a wide range of areas about special judicial mechanism and the introduction of alternative care and diversions for the protection of child offenders but there is no guideline or rule regarding how the methods would be applied or how alternative interventions would be conducted in the ground. Thus, protecting the human rights of offender children along with child-friendly treatment is one of the major challenges in the CDCs in Bangladesh.
At present, there are three CDCs under the Department of Social Services (DSS) in the Ministry of Social Welfare (MoSW) of Bangladesh which is not sufficient. Two of them were established at Tongi in 1978 for 200 boys and one CDC at Konabari, Gazipur in 2003 for 150 girls. The third CDC was established in Jessore in 1995 for 150 boys. Two categories of children are kept there, the first category includes uncontrollable children who are referred by their parents and the second category comes to the CDC after committing offences and being referred by the courts.
Section 63 of the Children Act 2013, provides that children above 9 shall not be kept with children aged 10, and children above 10 shall not be kept with children above 12 in the same room and on the same floor.
Further, in the case of children aged 12 and above, care must be taken in relation to their accommodation and as far as possible they should be accommodated in separate rooms keeping in mind the gravity of their offence, their physical growth and strength, etc. In reality most of the inmates face different kinds of problems in CDCs of which for example: lack of quality diet, clothes, and medical treatment as well as exclusively insensitive approaches by the officials of CDCs etc., are usual occurrences. There is no arrangement in CDCs for keeping the children separated in accordance with their age. For this reason the children who want to get involved in the correctional process are deprived of those opportunities.
Moreover, the educational facilities are not adequate in these CDCs. The maximum level of general education provided by the CDCs is up to primary level. Most of the inmates do not get any opportunity of enhancing their talents, either in education or in extracurricular activities.
Similarly, the yearly financial plans regarding the inmates are very poor compared to the needs of the CDCs. The monthly fixed budget for each inmate of CDC is Tk. 2000 only. With this minute budget inmates do not get proper foods, clothes, toiletries, medicine, books, training instruments etc.
In addition, the children are not allowed to meet their parents and talk to them for longer than 15-20 minutes and that meeting too happens only twice a month (date of 7th and 22nd of each month). Consequently, their fundamental rights are being violated mainly because of the improper attention by the authorities. Accordingly, the children are deprived of the basic rights to survive and to lead standard lifestyle in CDCs.
Hence, after two years of enactment of the Children Act 2013, prospects of hitting the aims still appear to be quite fanciful. The effective functioning of the correctional services needs more CDCs separately for both boys and girls in each division in Bangladesh under the Act of 2013. The national welfare board should be established to monitor, coordinate, review and evaluate the activities of the CDCs. The quality of education with national curriculum imparted in CDCs should be improved. At the same time, the responsibility of the probation officers and social case workers as counselors must be ensured. The major methods of treatment should be fixed along with care, control, parental love, affection and respect, guidance and academic education. It is also important to train up the concerned personnel so that proper implementation of the Children Act can be ensured.
The writer is an Associate Professor of Law, Bangladesh Open University.