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Children of the damned

  • Published at 12:02 am September 29th, 2019
Children Running
Don’t break their legs when they want to run SYED LATIF HOSSAIN

Let’s face it, Bangladesh doesn’t respect its young people

It is all too fashionable to talk about the potential of the young. Politicians love nothing more. 

What could be easier than spouting clichés about how today’s children are the leaders of tomorrow, about how we owe them an education, how we owe them the right opportunities, how we owe them the protection and nurturing needed to grow up healthy and balanced?

But let’s face it. In Bangladesh, being a child is a terrible thing.

Abuse is everywhere, grown-ups don’t listen to them even when they make sense, and the education system children are made to go through, is, quite frankly, broken.

What makes the whole affair so much sadder is that demographically speaking, Bangladesh is a very young nation, and if anything, our youth population should be one of our greatest strengths.

In theory, the large cohort of young people coming of age right about now will work hard, let their fresh ideas soar, and will take Bangladesh to new and greater heights. Children and the youth are able to think in ways that stuffy mid-lifers and senior citizens never could, they see things with new eyes, and their brains have not yet hardened like stone with notions that seemed fashionable decades ago but now belong in the trash.

All over the world, cutting edge work is being done by young people. Love them or hate them, companies like Apple and Google -- which changed the world and propelled us into a whole new reality -- all started in the minds of innovators who were really, really young.

Sometimes the inexperience of the young is their greatest strength.

This is simply the way progress works: New generations enter the picture, and change the way of doing things. No doubt, change can cause pain, and older people may resent having to adjust to a world they no longer recognize. 

Tough, but that’s how it is. Just like that old, much-loved uncle who makes casually racist or sexist remarks, there comes a time for the older generation to respectfully step aside and not mess with things they do not understand.

One of the main reasons Bangladesh is in such a sorry state in so many areas, including the total unliveability of our capital and largest city, is that we prefer ideas that have been rotting for decades rather than new and innovative solutions.

Recently, children, mere school-children, took to the streets to protest the dangerous state of our roads and highways. Many of them put themselves at considerable risk by doing so, and even managed to impose order on the roads in some areas where the traffic police consistently failed.

For a while, it looked like something of a revolution was happening. But then -- nothing changed. The children were told to go home, and things returned to normalcy. Or what is normal for the Dhaka -- meaning, going back to living with incredibly dangerous roads and highways, a high road fatality rate, and useless traffic police who create more problems on the road than they solve, with many policemen relishing the task of engineering traffic jams that did not need to exist.

Adults of this metropolis have been living in hellish conditions for a very long time, and so have forgotten that there could possibly be any other way of doing things. The children of the damned, those children who still have not had the dreams of a good life snuffed out of their hopeful eyes, are collateral damage.

No matter how loud they speak, no one listens. In Bangladesh, being a child is a terrible thing.

Our prime minister has just received an award from Unicef for Bangladesh’s great success in youth skill development. No doubt, many young people in Bangladesh have forged ahead despite the odds. They have dared to creatively try to change the landscape, and make life a little more bearable.

But these changes have come about in spite of the system, not because of it. Maybe one day we will truly treat our youngsters right, and let them fix the system the adults have broken. It starts with not clipping their wings when they want to fly, not breaking their legs when they want to run. 

Abak Hussain is Editor, Editorial and Op-Ed, Dhaka Tribune.