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     Volume 4 Issue 23 | December 3, 2004 |

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Human Rights

The Twelve-and-Under Club

Srabonti Narmeen Ali

It is said that children are the saving grace of our society -- that their innocence and vulnerability make up for all the virtues that we either lack or grow accustomed to ignoring in our daily lives and interactions with each other. What then, can we say about a society that exploits these same children, robbing them of their innocence? From time to time, newspaper headlines scream "injustice" against various issues, such as child prostitution, trafficking and general violence, abuse and exploitation of children. However, in the last year over twenty odd cases of an even scarier phenomenon have been reported -- the raping and/or killing of young girls, aged twelve and under.

Eight-year-old Usha went to a neighbour's house after dinner around 8:30 p.m. to see a friend on February 2nd. When she didn't return, her father, Nazrul Islam, Awami League Organising Secretary of the Mohadevpur ward, got worried. A Santal woman told him about a dead body in a tomato field 400 yards away from his house. Upon rushing to the field he found his daughter lying naked in a pool of blood. Police arrested Moslem Uddin, 15 and Zamiul Hossain, 14 on suspicion.

A twelve-year-old school girl took poison and was rushed to a local health complex for recovery on March 25th after she was raped by her schoolteacher, Naimuddin, who taught at Laupara Primary School in the Bagmara upazila. The culprit called her into the classroom during break and violated her. On hearing her cries for help her classmates came in and rescued her. They boycotted the school and, together, with the victim's brother, demanded that action be taken against Naimuddin, who is apparently reaching a compromise with the family.

Mohammad Abdur Rahman, president of the Mogaltuli ward unit Olama Dal, which is a religious wing of BNP, gave Arabic lessons to a young girl aged six. On May 30th, he lured her into his house and raped her, threatening her dire consequences if she told anyone. The girl, however, told her grandmother, who then informed the police. Rahman was taken into custody later that day.

In a wedding held on June 3rd in Naraynganj, a two-and-a-half-year-old baby's family members were busy preparing for the arrival of the groom. Left unattended, the baby was lured into the bushes by rickshaw-wallah Mosharraf Hossain, where he raped her. He was caught in the act and handed over the police. The young girl was taken to a local clinic first, then later shifted to Dhaka Medical College Hospital for treatment.

Five-year-old Ankhi was watching T.V. on October 8th with her elder brother when their neighbour, a rickshaw-wallah by the name of Sharif came to their house and took her away. Sharif allegedly took her to his room, raped her and then proceeded to "slaughter" her with a boti. She was found dead the next day by Jarina, Sharif's wife. Although she was out the evening of the crime and came back in the morning, Jarina was held in custody, while Sharif had absconded.

Ten-year-old Juthi, a student of class four at the BRAC school in the Gorakul village, was on her way to the Hejuli Bazaar on November 22nd when she was kidnapped by a group of criminals. After they raped her, the poured acid all over her body and then strangled her to death. She was found dead near the Heluji village.

These are just a handful of the cases reported in the last year. The actual number of minor girls under twelve being raped is most likely far higher, especially considering that most of these cases are ignored and hardly ever brought to the table for justice. The culprits are usually reprimanded and taken into custody for some time, but somehow, one way or another, we barely ever read about the follow up actions being taken against them. Once in a while, there are cases where justice is served to one or two of these poor little girls. Instead of taking this for granted, however, the population of Bangladesh seems to be pleasantly surprised. As if it is a real shocker when men are punished for raping young girls who, in most cases, probably cannot understand the difference between men and women.

One has to wonder what Ankhi or Juthi or Usha were thinking when they took their last breaths -- violated, bleeding, and in pain. Were they heaving a sigh of relief, thinking that at least they would not have to live in such a world anymore? Will the two-and-a-half year old baby from Naraynganj when she grows up ever be able to go to a wedding again without being talked about for being a victim of rape? Will the twelve-year-old girl from Bagmara upazilla ever want to go back to school after what her teacher did to her? Will the six-year-old from Mogaltuli ever respect another religious teacher again, or want to learn Arabic? What weight will these girls have to carry after living through such an ordeal? Is their fight not as relevant to us because they are not one of us?

There is supposedly a light of hope in every dark moment. For quite some time now, Bangladesh has been spiraling downwards in almost every way -- our economy, our security, our government, our morality. Every aspect of our society has been corrupted or exploited in some way. However, when the victimisation of children is so salient and immune to justice, it is safe to say that single light of hope, whatever it may be, has just gone out.


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