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Despite decade-long campaign of rights activists, rampant use of children in violent political activities is still going on unabated across the country, in gross violation of child rights.
With growing political unrest over the last couple of months, children are often seen chanting slogans in processions of different parties, carrying sticks, often even engaging in clashes with cops in and outside Dhaka.
At least seven children were killed and several hundred injured in clashes between Jamaat-Shibir activists and law enforcers across the country during last two months, according to news reports and statistics of Ain O Salish Kendra.
Asgar Ali Limon aged around 14 was killed in Chapainawabganj on April 24, Sazzad Hossain aged around 17 killed in Cox’s Bazar and Rubel aged around 13 in Thakurgaon on February 28; Shahidul Islam aged around 15 was killed at Satkania and Akmal Hossain aged around 14 in Rangpur on March 2; Rafiqul Islam aged around 12 was killed in Rajshahi on March 3 and Mahfuz Hossain aged around 15 in Sirajganj on March 4.
Jamaat-Shibir engaged children and women at the forefront of its procession, rallies, road blockade, attacks on cops and minorities communities, hartal picketing and other offences as human shield in different districts including Jhenidah, Rajshahi, Satkhira, Thakurgaon, Gaibandha and Bogra in last couple of months.
It was noticed that more than one thousand children of different Madrasas of Gorea area of Thakurgoan were engaged in atrocities by Jamaat-Shibir on March 3.
Jamaat-Shibir men in Gaibandha engaged children in frontline while attacking police information centre at Sundarganj on February 28 and vandalising the Ganojagoron Mancha at Palashbari on February 22.
On February 22, Jamaat-e-Islami and likeminded Islamist organisations unleashed violence in major cities of the country including capital Dhaka. Several hundred madrasa students were seen taking part in the violence in different districts.
On February 28, hours after announcing Saydee’s death sentence, religious fanatics unleashed mayhem on Hindu communities at Rajganj of Begumganj in Noakhali. The victims and witnesses said major portion of the attackers were aged between 12 and 15.
Many children were seen joining the grand rallies of Islami Andolon Bangladesh on March 29 and Hafajat-e Islam on April 6 at the capital’s Motijheel.
“I have come here with all the student of our madrasa. Our teachers have instructed us to come here,” said a class-seven madrasa student from the capital’s Rampura, seeking anonymity. He was carrying a placard and chanting slogans in the grand rally of Islami Andolon Bangladesh.
In the grand rally of Hefajat-e Islam on April 6, many children were seen engaged in distributing food, carrying sticks in their hands and chanting slogans at the top of their voice.
Apart from Islamic organisations’ gatherings, children are used in other programmes of different other political parties and organisations as well.
Dozens of children were seen engaged in clashes between pro-blockade and anti-blockade demonstrators at the capital’s Gabtoli on December 9, the day opposition BNP enforced road blockade. Besides, BNP-led 18 party alliance used children in picketing during hartals in and outside Dhaka.
“Very often, some of our senior brothers come and ask us to take to the streets with sticks and brick chips for vandalising vehicles on hartal day. They usually pay us Tk 100 to Tk 150 a day,” said Shaheed, a 12-year old boy, at Kamalapur railway station.
Immediately after violence between Jamaat-Shibir and police on February 22, leaders and activists of Awami League and its front organisations brought out processions at Shahabagh and Kataban area. Many children were seen taking part here with sticks in hand.
Gonojagaran Mancha held rallies at Rayerbazar Martyred Intellectuals Memorial on February 23 and at the capital’s outskirts Ashulia on March 15. Many children were seen joining the rallies with different groups and processions under the banners of different thana and ward units of Awami League, Juba League and Chhatra League.
Rights activists have been raising concern over the rampant use of children in violent political activities, terming these ‘evil-practice’.
National Human Rights Commission Chairman Dr Mizanur Rahman at a function on March 13 said protection of child rights is facing new challenges in Bangladesh as children are largely used in violent political movements now-a-days.
Unicef Bangladesh has expressed concern over the trend of using children in violent political activities.
In a statement on April 26, Unicef Representative in Bangladesh Pascal Villeneuve said, “The use of children for political gain must stop. We urge all political parties in Bangladesh to refrain from using children for political purposes and ensure that children are protected from all possible violence.”
Child rights activists Rasheda K Choudhury, said this is a clear violation of Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). If this culture is not stopped, it will have adverse impact on the country’s future generation.
“They (children) will be part of violence and negative political culture. When they will grow up, they will think violence is natural in politics and they will not be able to establish any healthy political culture,” she said.
Choudhury stressed the need for national consensus and political will to address the nuisance.