Homelessness is a Curse for Children in Bangladesh: In Quest of a Remedy

By: Md. Saidur Rashid Sumon

The United Nations Child Rights Convention (UNCRC) represents a significant tool to protect children’s rights. Non-discrimination and the best interest of the child are two organizing principles of this historical document. Moreover, protection is one of the major principles among the 5 Ps of this convention. Although the government of Bangladesh is adopting various policies, building partnerships and collaborating with development agencies or NGOs, children and youth groups, academia, journalists and different professionals at national and international level to implement the UNCRC, violation of child rights continues to increase at a substantial rate. Under the convention, the government is obliged to send a state party report to depict the status of children’s rights in the country to the United Nations (UN) Child Rights Committee after every five years and has done so 5 times. But one of the main problems identified by the Child Rights Committee’s concluding observations is the consistent lack of data about the implementation of children’s rights in Bangladesh. This gap in knowledge hampers the capability of policy making process to protect children’s rights in Bangladesh.

Persistent traditional and social customs, perceptions, attitudes and practices towards children within Bangladeshi society often obstruct their development. Discrimination based on gender, economic status and ethnicity is common. Girls are deprived of facilities, have a very low status and face unequal distribution of resources. The general taboo against speaking of sexual abuse prevents children from voicing their complaints against close family and community members who are often among the perpetrators. Street children are among the most vulnerable members of Bangladeshi society and violation of their rights is rampant. Article 27 of UNCRC clearly declares that states parties recognize the right of every child to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The state has failed to provide shelter due to the scarcity of resources or unequal distribution of resources. The right to housing is especially of concern, while the government of Bangladesh is obligated to provide children special protection as per UNCRC articles 24-27 and 33-36.    

Bangladesh is an overpopulated country with over 65 million children which represents about 40% of the total population (UNICEF, 2009). Though Bangladesh has, very recently, shifted from The Least Developed Country (LDC) to The Lower Middle-Income Country (MIC) status because of its stable and growing economy, half of these children continue to live below the international poverty line (Barakat, 2012). Recent urbanization patterns tend to expand the residential segregation of poor, marginal and homeless children in the city. Thus, the absence of good urban governance, the huge pressure of rural-urban migration, the lack of apposite management of the urban dwelling system have exacerbated the housing crisis that created a growing number of street children. These children have become vulnerable to crime and violence. The vulnerability of street children has led to the criminalization of children in Bangladesh potentially because an organized syndicate of criminals is governing street children and forcing them to commit criminal activities. This means that, among homeless children, crime and violence are common components of daily life and shape their social and cultural norms. Rampant violence, de-socialization and negative socialization also work to promote a criminal culture among street children.   

Despite a paradigm shift in the state’s approach to children and childhood, child rights have yet to emerge as a discourse in the academic arena. Issues relating to child rights have not been adequately integrated in various disciplines. It is essential that we bring academia, practitioners and policymakers together in one platform to foster a long-term partnership that can contribute to effective policy design to actualize child rights. The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal Decisions on First Nations Child Welfare and Jordan’s Principle also proposed mid-term and long-term reform to address some of the structural factors. Addressing this policy gap could have social, theoretical and practical relevance help make child rights a reality.

Barakat, Abul et al. (2012). Situation Analysis of the Street Children involved in Begging in Dhaka City. Dhaka: HDRC and UNICEF

UNICEF (2009). Situation Assessment and Analysis of Women and Children in Bangladesh. Dhaka: UNICEF.