'Child marriage does not take place for poverty rather it is a matter of security. If government can ensure security for the girls, they will never be subjected to child marriage'
Speakers have said that lack of implementation of laws, unavailability of data on violence against girls and inability to break down social stigmas are making Bangladesh fall behind in achieving the target of eliminating violence against children.
Their remarks came at a roundtable, titled “Ending gender based violence against girls,” jointly organized by Dhaka Tribune and World Vision at the Dhaka Tribune offices in the capital on Sunday.
The speakers, whom included Dhaka Tribune Editor for Planning and Strategy AS Asiful Islam and Senior Sub-Editor Esha Aurora, said that although three years have long gone, it has been a difficult task to find the trends of violence against girls in the country.
Bangladesh has to go a long way to initiate inclusive measures by including the families, society and all stakeholders, they said.
Shabira Sultana Nupur, deputy director of Advocacy and Justice for Children, said: “While we were attempting to gather the latest data for this program, proper information in this regard was not available. Even the database that the government has for monitoring Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) does not have information about the matter.”
Chandan Z Gomez, director of World Vision Bangladesh (WVB), said: “The organization is sponsoring some 161,000 children for food, education and other basic facilities through the country particularly in 51 upazilas under 21 districts. The organization has always focused on equality and so they always ensure 50% of the children are girls.”
They have some 1,033 children’s forums throughout the country where 22,911 children are involved, among which 11,576 were girls. And 864 forums were headed by girls.
Chandan said: “We want children to be taught in a way that they could raise their voice to protect themselves and remain safe.”
He also said Bangladesh does not have a system with life lessons that could create ability of critical analysis among them, or any guidance centre at the institutions. The children cannot even choose their preferred mode of education.”
“If Bangladesh does not take proper action right now, achieving the SDGs target 5.2 to eliminate all forms of violence against girls by 2030 would remain a far cry,” he added.
“This country needs to look for the loopholes and have to remove them so that the violence could be eliminated from the society,” Chandan further said.
593 girls raped in 2017
Statistics provided by WVB, made by the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF), said some 593 girls were raped in 2017 while the number is already 445 in first eight months of this year. The situation is worse in case of murder after rape. The number rises to 44 from 22 this year with four months in hand to the year end.
The number of attempts to rape has the same number i.e. 72 within eight months of the current year.
Taposhi Rabaya, additional director (mediation) of BLAST, said: “Lengthy and complex court proceedings discourage the families of the victims to carry on with legal procedures. Most often it is seen that they have mutually solved the case outside the court for a small amount of money.”
“Although the universities across the country might have anti-sexual harassment committees, the schools and colleges do not. These should be formed effectively,” she added.
She also urged considering the legal definition of rape and sexual harassments as they were creating problems during the filing of cases, in some instances.
Children with disabilities in tougher position
Ashrafunnahar Misti, a rights activist with disabilities, said that the situation was much harder for the children with disabilities who were violated.
“Although they remain within their family, some are disowned by their own families in terms of identity and later becomes a burden,” she said.
Prof Tania Haque of Dhaka University’s Women and Gender Studies Department said that there was a scarcity of eligible parents to be friends of their children. “The state should introduce gender neutral parenting counselling for the parents before giving birth to children.”
“We need sustainable human movement rather than women movement.”
Tania Nusrat Zaman, head of Child Rights and Protection department at Plan Bangladesh, said the content of education in the schools should be determined and the children should be taught sex education.
Advocate Maksuda Akhter Laily of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad said: “This roundtable is a timely measure as the government is formulating an action plan in this regard. But the way they are formulating the strategy is faulty. Faulty strategy will never bring any good results.”
Govt doing everything it can
Shamshul Alam, senior secretary of the General Economic Division under Planning Ministry,told the roundtable that the government was doing its best to achieve the goals, but agreed that they lacked proper data and has taken necessary measures to collect them.
“The country has many good laws for this matter. But there is no monitoring system yet to check if the laws are being implemented properly,” he added.
Talking about eliminating violence, Shamsul emphasized proper schooling and said that school was the best place for children to get all necessary education, counselling and guidance.
He also urged the media to publish more positive stories including follow up reports that would show the measures taken to prevent violence against women.
He also identified poverty as the main reason behind child marriage in the country.
Rights activist Sultana Kamal said: “Child marriage does not take place for poverty rather it is a matter of security. If government can ensure security for the girls, they will never be subjected to child marriage.”
“We have found that if family, society and the state are unable to provide women the respect they deserve, then even the police cannot protect women,” she said.