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Dhaka Tribune

Protecting children from becoming political pawns

Involving children in political agendas through manipulation contradicts the principles of a fair and informed democratic process

Update : 04 Jan 2024, 03:40 PM

As Bangladesh approaches its 12th national election on January 7, 2024, concerns are mounting over the distressing misuse of children for political purposes. Though the country law forbids misusing children in political activities, there remains a concerning trend. Recent incidents, such as the brutal assault on a 13-year-old child in the Rajshahi-4 constituency during an election campaign on January 1, are not isolated, shedding light on the escalating violence and exploitation of children in the political arena. 

The political fervour gripping the nation has already claimed lives and left countless injured, including children. The tragic incident on December 19 near Dhaka’s Tejgaon Railway Station, where a three-year-old was killed in train arson during a hartal, serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact political violence can have on the most vulnerable members of society.

The alarming rise in child involvement in political events, particularly large gatherings and rallies, is a cause for serious concern. The Convention on the Rights of the Child guarantees children the right to freedom of assembly, but this right must not compromise their protection from manipulation, abuse, and exploitation. Yet, recent events have shown children amidst large crowds, exposing them to potential dangers like stampedes, violence, road accidents, and inappropriate language.

The statistics are grim, with a research report published this week from the Human Rights Support Society revealing that 2023 witnessed 96 fatalities due to political violence, with five deaths and 902 injuries in December alone. 

The exploitation of vulnerable street children for subversive activities during the 10th and 11th parliamentary elections paints a grim picture of the depths to which some individuals would stoop for their political motives. Media reports frequently revealed instances of child labourers and homeless children actively participating in violent acts, including hurling crude bombs, torching vehicles, and vandalizing public property during opposition political programs. 

A research study by Manusher Jonno Foundation uncovered the devastating toll on children, with a total of 1,104 children losing their lives in various tragic incidents in 2013 alone. Disturbingly, at least 41 of these young lives were cut short due to their involvement in political violence. 

Using children as pawns for political gains is not only ethically reprehensible but also constitutes child abuse. Adults guiding children in protests with placards on issues they cannot comprehend undermines the very essence of childhood and impedes their natural development.

Children should be allowed the space to shape their perspectives as they grow, free from manipulative influences that hinder their autonomy. Considering that individuals under 18 are not allowed to vote, involving children in political agendas through manipulation contradicts the principles of a fair and informed democratic process. 

Children, with access to smartphones and televisions, are not shielded from the violent content that permeates political campaigns. The consequences are dire, as exposure to such imagery can lead to confusion, fear, and emotional distress, potentially causing lasting damage to their mental health. The World Health Organization emphasizes that childhood experiences of violence can have profound implications for lifelong well-being.

The manipulation and misuse of children for political purposes have deep historical roots, often linked to larger political movements. Beyond the physical risks, the digital realm poses additional threats to children's well-being. The surge in smartphone and TV usage among children without proper monitoring exacerbates the challenge. 

Media platforms play a pivotal role in shaping public opinion, and they must exercise caution when disseminating violent content. Newspapers and TV news presenters should include cautionary notes, allowing adult readers and viewers to safeguard children from potential mental trauma. Moreover, public spaces adorned with violent images demand a reconsideration of their impact on the psychological well-being of both children and adults.

As Bangladesh grapples with political instability, the rights of its children are being compromised. With approximately half of the population under 18, urgent measures are needed to ensure their basic rights to education, health, and protection. 

Safeguarding the well-being of children should be a collective responsibility. The government, NGOs, civil society, and political parties must work in unison to implement robust legal measures, enforce existing frameworks, and foster a conducive environment for children's growth. It is time to prioritize the rights of children, protect them from the perils of political violence, and secure a brighter future for Bangladesh.


Rabiul Alam is an independent writer and a graduate of Asian College of Journalism in India.

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