Bangladesh: A dangerous country for children

July 15, 2015 10:51 AM (UTC+8)

 

If you are an avid user of social media, you may have come across “#JusticeForRajon” on Twitter, Facebook and other social media platforms. Since the weekend, the outrage of Bangladeshis at home and abroad has raged on social media and even spilled over to the streets of Dhaka and other major cities of Bangladesh.

The protest rallies forced the authorities to arrest three people — while the fourth suspect accused of killing 13-year-old Samiul Alam Rajon in the northeast Bangladesh city of Sylhet, is being sought. The prime suspect, Kamrul Islam, was caught by the Bangladeshi expatriate community in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on July 12 after he apparently fled overseas.

The outrage stems from a video clip showing the public lynching of Rajon that went viral on Facebook over the weekend.

Facebook video shows 13 yr old boy beaten to death
Facebook video shows 13 yr old boy beaten to death

The nearly 28-minute-long original video clip which was recorded on July 8 showed Rajon tied to a pole. As the boy cried his heart out, from time to time, grown men lashed at him with iron rods and sticks.

In the video, Rajon screamed in pain, “Please don’t beat me like this, I will die.” Samiul’s attackers can be heard on the footage trying to force him to confess his involvement in an alleged theft.

At one point, Rajon asked for water. One of his attackers asked him to drink his sweat instead.

At one stage he is untied and ordered to walk away. But as the weak youngster tries to get to his feet, an attacker shouts: “His bones are okay. Beat him some more.”

As the torture continued, Rajon’s body seemed to surrender and then he breathed his last. One of the torturers can be heard saying in the Sylheti dialect of the Bangla language that the body should be dumped.

It is believed by the police in Sylhet that the video was recorded by the torturers of Rajon who had caught him for allegedly stealing vegetables.

The police later caught Muhith, one of the killers, with Rajon’s lifeless body hidden inside a microbus. Rajon’s body had 64 marks of injury on it.

Kamrul Islam, a Bangladeshi expatriate who works in Saudi Arabia but was in Sylhet at the time, was identified as the person ordering the other attackers in the clip. It has been reported by several local media that despite being the prime accused, Kamrul Islam had managed to flee to Jeddah, after bribing the local police Tk 1,200,000. He was finally caught in Jeddah on July 12.

Suspect Kamrul Islam talking to reporter after being detained in Jeddah
Suspect Kamrul Islam talking to reporter after being detained in Jeddah

As this post was written, a third individual from the four accused and identified from the video clip was arrested on July 14. Besides an uproar, the incident has led most Bangladeshis to ponder about the society they are living in where children’s lives seem to have little or no value.

But it does not seem like the incident has touched many lives. Days after Rajon’s clip went viral, an eight-year old boy named Tikon De was beaten to death  by his maternal uncle in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

News of other incidents of torture, sexual assault and murder of children have also surfaced in the dailies throughout the country over the past few days.

Powerless children

Some had reasoned that Rajon was a victim as he came from a poor family who are usually deemed “powerless.” Rajon was the older of two brothers. His father is a micro-bus driver and his mother is a housewife. Besides being a student of class four, Rajon had to support the family income by selling vegetables.

But that may not be the case in Bangladesh where children from all stratas of society are being increasingly targeted, harassed, raped, tortured and killed. Child rights experts have warned that the trend is going to spike every year as justice is not being ensured in most of the crimes being committed against children.

Bangladeshis protest murder
Bangladeshis protest murder

According to Dhaka-based child rights promoting organisation Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), only from January till March this year, 96 children have been raped and 66 were murdered in Bangladesh besides numerous other acts of violence done against them.

The statistics tallied by the NGO shows an alarming jump in the atrocities against children with every passing year in Bangladesh as 119 incidents of rape and 292 murder incidents of children had occured in 2014. The numbers were at 150 rapes and 180 murders in 2013.

Experts in Bangladesh have pointed out that children are “soft targets” for attackers if they have feuds with the child’s family; they want to blackmail the family for money or have other criminal intentions.

An even bigger issue is the increase in kidnapping of children in urban and rural areas. Where the reported incidents of kidnap were 42 in 2013, it increased to 69 in 2014 and in just three months of 2015, this category has reached 41.

One such unfortunate case had happened in Sylhet city on March 14 when the dead body of 10-year-old Abu Sayeed was found in the house of a police constable. The arrested police constable Ebadul of Sylhet Airport Police Station had confessed that Sylhet Ulama League general secretary Nurul Islam Rakib and RAB source Geda Mia were involved in the murder of Abu Sayeed, who they had abducted earlier.

Following the abduction, the kidnappers had demanded Tk 500,000 as ransom from Sayeed’s family. Soon, Sayeed was strangled to death by Ebadul and Geda who feared that he may disclose their identities if freed alive.

Child suicides rising

Besides crimes being committed against them, it has also been found that children in Bangladesh are taking their own lives. At least 95 children committed suicides in 2014. The numbers were at 76 in 2013 and 49 in 2012.

Child rights experts have pointed out that children are depressed as they are affected by poverty, unemployment, child marriages, harassment and other issues at ages when they are supposed to study and play. Most children in urban settings do not even have playgrounds or fields as the most open spaces have been developed to erect high-rise buildings and shopping malls.

Due to the lack of playing areas, children often play on the streets or open spaces that may prove risky for them. A glaring example of this is the case of four-year-old Jihad who was playing near his house in the Shahjahanpur railway colony in Dhaka on Dec. 26, 2014.

At some point, Jihad fell down an abandoned 600-feet deep water pipe near where he was playing. As government authorities failed to rescue Jihad in time, his dead body was recovered by locals nearly 23 hours after he had fell down the pipe.

The humiliation and social isolation of children can be curbed if and only if due awareness can be created in grassroots and urban communities of Bangladesh. Government and other stakeholders in the society can roll out awareness programs to convey the message: A child may be young but he/she is still a human being who deserves the same respect, care and dignity that any grown adult demands.

Otherwise, Bangladesh will continue to be a dangerous country for the children.

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is a Dhaka, Bangladesh-based freelance journalist and the editor of  Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, a leading English daily in Bangladesh.

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