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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 36
September 8, 2007

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Law Opinion

CRC and Bangladesh: Turning dream into reality

Nurul Haque

In Bangladesh there are approximately 48 million children and adolescents up to the age of 18 years. It is more than 35 percent of country's entire population. Bangladesh is concerned about the UN convention on the rights of the child (CRC) and the child rights issues. CRC is a human rights treaty created specially to promote and protect children worldwide. Adopted unanimously by the United Nations General Assembly in November 20, 1989 and instituted as international law in September 2, 1990, the CRC is the world's most comprehensive and ratified international agreement on the basic protections that should be accorded to children. It is the most rapidly and broadly accepted treaty in the world. 54 articles of CRC are guided by 4 principles such as a) Non discrimination, b) Best interest of child, c) Child's right to life, survival and development; and d)Respects for the views of child. By 2007, 193 members of UN have signed the CRC but 191 ratified it. Two notable exceptions are Somalia and the United States.

Ratification, reservation and observation
Bangladesh was one of the first countries to sign the CRC on January 26, 1990 and it completed the accession of CRC on August 3, 1990. September 2, 1991 was a historical day for Bangladesh because CRC was ratified by Bangladesh parliament with two third majority.

Bangladesh has accepted all of the provisions of the Convention, but has expressed its reservation to article 21 which deals with the adoption of children. For practical reasons Bangladesh is against inter country adoption of children. Inter country adoption of Bangladeshi children is not permitted by law. Immediately after liberation in 1971 some war babies were placed for inter country adoption. However, in later years widespread abuse of the law resulted in its repeal by the government in 1982.

Bangladesh has also made an observation with regard to article 14 (1) of the Convention which states that the "State Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". While Bangladesh recognises the right of the child to freedom of thought, ethics and religious practice, the society believes that a child, being immature by definition, is not in a position to consider such complex issues clearly and is consequently unable to make a free and voluntary choice of its own. The child, on the other hand, is likely to act in such cases under the influence, or even pressure, of others, neither of which is favourable to its normal, natural and healthy growth.

Over all success 1990-2007
We have been working for last 17 years for promoting the child rights in our country. By this time we have many quality achievements. Obviously we haven't arrived at the expected aspiration but it is a continuing process to be recognised as child rights achievement in the country. Awareness raising activities have started enormously on different issues such as early marriage, dowry, primary education, birth registration, sanitation, child labour and it has created a level of understanding among the people drama, sport, training, newspaper, etc. Child participation has increased and they are participating in different social activities and it is recognised as social value. Bangladesh has been significantly progressing from 1990s in checking childhood death and disease. The under-five mortality rate has declined from 151 per 1000 in 1991 to 72 per 1000 live births in 2004; infant mortality rate also has declined from 92 deaths per 1000 live births to 53. The nutrition status of children and women are improving considerably. The success is sustainable in the low prevalence of night blindness among children. The percentage of household consumption of iodised salt stagnated at around 70 percent for several years.

Primary school enrollment has increased to 81 percent for boys and 84 percent for girls. Some progress was seen in promoting the registration of births of children. By 2006 every district administration started birth registration activities. Policy and decision makers are increasingly recognising the benefits of birth registration as effective tool for protecting various child rights, such as prevention of early marriage, a widespread scourge for adolescent girls in Bangladesh, causing them to drop out of school or face the risk of early pregnancy related deaths. Three national plans of action for children (1990-1995, 1997-2002 and 2004-2007) are followed by the government and child rights networking NGOs. All district development coordination committee (DDCC) members received basic course on child rights training and monitoring.

Initial and periodical report
As per requirement of article 44 of CRC, Bangladesh had sent an initial report to committee on CRC on December 7, 1995. The main focal points of the report are descried below.

Since the ratification of the Convention, the Government of Bangladesh, together with national and international NGOs, has been developing programmes to facilitate the implementation of its provisions. The initial report has been prepared by the Ministry of Social Welfare, Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, in consultation with agencies concerned working for children in Bangladesh. The report has been prepared following the general guidelines issued by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. The National programme of Action (NPA) aimed at achieving the goals for children and development for the 1990s was launched by the Prime Minister on 2 June 1992. The NPA has drawn up specific targets regarding the well-being of children in the areas of: (a) health and nutrition; (b) water and environmental sanitation; (c) education; (d) social welfare, including of children in especially difficult circumstances.

After that Bangladesh sent second report on September 30, 2003. Numerous efforts, plans and programmes have been made since the last report, for example in the areas of mainstreaming child's rights, birth registration, juvenile justice and awareness of child's rights. Several ministries are involved in child's rights, but the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs is responsible for coordinating measures. A first Plan of Action had been developed and implemented from 1997 to 2002, and a new Plan of Action for the next five-year period aims to achieve the Millennium Development Goals regarding children.

Optional protocol
The convention has two optional protocols, adopted by the general assembly in May 2000 and applicable to states that have signed and ratified them. Bangladesh has signed two optional protocols “sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography” and "involvement of children in armed conflict" on January 18, 2002 and February 12, 2002 respectively.

Bangladesh sent two optional protocol reports to Committee on CRC on January 11, 2006 in CRC's 41th session. The Committee on the CRC considered the initial report of Bangladesh on how that country was implementing the provisions of the Optional Protocol of the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict: The Government of Bangladesh has been making every effort to help the vulnerable, affected and neglected children in its territory. Based on the principles and spirit of the Optional Protocol, the Government of Bangladesh had taken measures to ensure that members of the armed forces under the age of 18, who were obtaining training, did not take part in combat.

Another optional protocol report has been reviewed on June 5, 2007 in CRC 45th session. Committee examines report of Bangladesh on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography: "The sale of children and child pornography were not widespread in Bangladesh. There was a problem with underage girl victims of child prostitution and the government was well aware of the situation. Remarkable progress had been achieved in putting the necessary framework in place to combat trafficking in women. A police monitoring cell at police headquarters in the capital had been established to collect information on human trafficking, especially in women and children.

There was also an Inter-Ministerial Committee led by the ministry of Home Affairs to review progress on this issue that involved all stakeholders, including non-governmental organisations. At the field level, there were Committees headed by local administrators to monitor cases of women and children trafficking, repression, and acid throwing, among others.

*CRC implementation is not only a government obligation it is also a responsibility of people of Bangladesh; in this regard as a citizens we should change our attitude.
*Child rights issues should be incorporated in our secondary text book curriculum.
*Create a position namely Child Rights Affair Officer based in upazila.
*Bangladesh Shishu Adhiker Forum (BSAF) can arrange orientation on child rights for all registered NGOs management staff.
*Child rights related materials like poster, leaflet, booklet, calendar, photograph, report, brochure should be published more than that of previous years'.
*Electronic media can increasingly include child rights issues in their different programme like spot, drama, talk show, news, debate, and magazine programme for raising people's awareness.
*Print media have capacity to promote child rights issues thus newspaper editors can allocate a page for children regularly.
*Child rights issues should be incorporated in foundation training of different cadre specially administration, police and judicial.

Although it is difficult to guarantee their basic rights, nevertheless the government, non governmental organisations, human rights advocates, lawyers, health specialists, social workers, educators, child development experts, civil society, print and electronic media are striving to enhance children's recognised voice. Being a developing country we have not enough resources, but we have a lot of dreams, expectations, desires, and hope that all children realise their full potential in society. We are very much confident about turning our dream in reality by ensuring child rights in Bangladesh.

The writer is Area Coordinator, Plan International Bangladesh.


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