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The government has no immediate plan to establish a separate Department for Children although three years have passed since the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended to set up a Department for Children to protect their rights.
“We are giving priority to strengthening the Shishu Academy instead of establishing a separate department for children,” said Tariq-Ul-Islam, secretary of the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs.
The government might take initiative to set up the separate department for children in future, he said.
However, child rights experts criticised the government’s move saying the Shishu Academy mainly runs activities for cultural development; it will not be able to protect all the rights of children.
The child rights issue will not get emphasis until the separate department is established. The department is essential for addressing the child rights issue with a holistic approach, said Shamsul Alam, deputy director (child rights governance) of Save The Children, Bangladesh country office.
“The main purposes of Shishu Academy are to flourish the inbuilt cultural talents of children and to engage them in different cultural activities, that do not cover the whole range of rights of children,” said an official of Bangladesh Shishu Academy seeking anonymity.
Despite the importance of a separate department, the government is not taking any initiative to establish the department due to ‘invisible’ reasons, he said.
An assistant director of the academy said, “Several ministries and government bodies work for child rights. But a department is important for coordinating among government bodies and NGOs for effectively protecting child rights.”
However, the secretary said currently the activities of Shishu Academy are not confined in cultural development, rather it also runs different sorts of activities for protecting child rights.
“I think it is better to strengthen and expand the activities of Shishu Academy because the institution already exists. It is a complicated task to set up a new department,” said Tariq-Ul-Islam.
Bangladesh Shishu Academy has its branches in every district and in six upazilas. Now, the government is planning for setting up its branches in every upazila across the country, he said.
Realising the importance of a separate department for children, Falguni Hamid, a former director of the Shishu Academy, during her tenure in 2011 sent proposal to the ministry to establish it.
Following the proposal, the ministry formed a five-member committee headed by the ministry’s joint secretary Golam Kibria to work for setting up the department. The committee also held two or three meetings. After that, there was no progress and the issue lost in oblivion.
“I think the ministry does not have any positive response to the issue. My observation is, not only a department, rather there be a separate ministry for children,” said Falguni Hamid.
The government has to submit a report in every five years highlighting the progress made to implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since Bangladesh ratified the convention in 1990.
The government submitted its fifth periodic report on October 20 this year, while the third and fourth periodic reports were submitted together in August 2007. Following the third and fourth periodic reports, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made a Concluding Observations report in June 2009.
In its concluding observations, the committee strongly recommended to establish the Department for Children to end duplication and overlapping among the activities of Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, National Council for Women and Child Development (NCWCD) and other governmental bodies and to enhance coordination among those.