Safeguarding children's rights
It is with some consternation we observe that the draft "Children Act 2012" has proposed to cut the age of children from the current, universally accepted 18 to 16. Such a move goes against numerous existing laws both national and international: the National Policy on Children, 2011, Prevention of Trafficking Act 2011, Vagrancy Act 2011 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children, to which Bangladesh is a signatory. Although, the ministry of social affairs insists that this inconsistency will be addressed prior to enactment, the fact remains that the proposal vetted by the ministry of law suggesting that it is alright to lower the age limit is a reflection of how little we, as a society value our children.
The question of child labour has been an issue of hot debate for some years now. True, in many cases economic circumstances force millions of underage children into a life of drudgery. But when the State proposes to enact a law that would inadvertently push millions more into work when they should be in school, one must draw the line. Although it is primarily the responsibility of the State to safeguard children's rights, it is society at large that must also change its attitude towards protecting children. While it may make perfect sense for many a parent to send their children to work so that they may pitch in to the family coffer, such moves effectively limit the normal psychological development of the child. Were the age limit lowered further, it would compound problems associated with child marriage and trafficking of children across international borders.
The State may enact laws to prevent child exploitation, but unless those laws are enforced these instruments merely become exhibits that gather dust on shelves. Active participation of elected parliamentarians and national media could go a long way to disseminate the message of child protection to the broader audience. Issues related to and problems associated with child trafficking, child labour and street children to name but a few can be effectively addressed and public awareness raised through a long-term partnership between the State and media.