The List of Shame

 Published in: The Daily Star on March 16, 2016
The List of Shame

HE stood there at the reception, with a sling bag filled with documents. He worked for a courier company. He was 10 years old. He was handsome. And he had the brightest eyes I had ever seen before. His name was Al-Amin. He had a mother who lived in the village, who did nothing, and yet received Tk. 1,000 from her 10-year old son every month without fail. Al-Amin earned Tk. 2,000 from his employers, sent half of his salary to his mother and kept the rest for himself in order to get through the month. He had studied only up to class three and had totally given up on the thought of going back to school. But he wanted to if given a chance. So when given the option to go back to school and have his mother employed at a garment factory, he bounced back. My next thoughts centered around the social rules of “compliance”. As readymade garment manufacturers, we are not supposed to have “any” trace of child labour linked to the supply chain. If that child were to continue delivering the parcels to our office, I would have to be transparent about it and share it with all concerned. My meeting with Al-Amin, therefore, ended on that note of concern. A week later, Al-Amin returned with his mother, quite fit and young, who, quite surprisingly, expressed her inability to work in a garment factory. I was shocked and dug a little deeper. She refused to budge and insisted that it would be “difficult” for her to work at this stage of her life. Here was a mother who was willing to allow her ten-year old to work and earn for her. Having left with no other alternative arrangement, Al-Amin was offered to be enrolled in a free school, meant for workers’ children, and receive a monthly amount of Tk. 2,000 and live and eat at a safe place. I was relieved. After all, saving even one Al-Amin would ease my conscience for the day. Unfortunately, my relief did not last for long, as my daughter informed me yesterday that she had spotted Al-Amin delivering the parcels last afternoon. My heart sank. Not again! But then this is the reality. Al-Amin must have gone to school in the morning, seized the opportunity to do an afternoon job, earn a little and then returned to his designated safe haven at night.

Now, how do we make sure that we won’t employ a child? How do we make sure that the same child will go to school? How do we make sure that a few of us spot a few Al-Amins every now and then? How do we make sure that our children remain safe out in the streets? How do we make sure that our children don’t go hungry?

1,730 children faced abuse in Bangladesh in the last two years. RAB reports 35 children being killed in August 2014, along with 25 being killed over the two months of September and October of the same year. 968 kids were tortured and killed over a period of three and a half years between late 2011 and mid 2015. According to Ain-o-Salish-Kendra (ASK), 126 children were killed in 2012, 128 in 2013, 127 in 2014, and 69 till July 2015. In between July and August the same year, 13 had been brutally killed, and last but not the least, there was a 61 percent increase in the murder of kids in 2015.

The cycle of violence is on the rise. Starting from July 8, 2015, when Rajan was murdered with the video circulating in the whole of the social media sphere to the August 3, 2015 incident of Rakib in Khulna being tortured to death with a compressor machine pumping air through his back; Nazim being mercilessly beaten up in Khilkhet with a metal rod being inserted to his back in Dhaka on April 13, 2015; Abdullah from Keraniganj being abducted and killed in February 2016, with Solaiman having the same being done to him in Gazipur; two children being poisoned to death in Pabna by their own mother; the Banasri kids being killed by their own mother, Mahfuza Malek, on February 29, 2016; the list just sits there, gets longer, stretches to a point of shame beyond tolerance, and pleads with us to immediately react, resist and protest the brutalities.

The extent of brutality stretches from the 64 bruise marks on the fourteen year old Rajan’s body, to the body of an unidentified kid being dumped in a suitcase bearing burnt marks left near Dhaka Medical College recently, from Rabiul Awal, an 11-year old’s eyes being gauged in Barguna while being accused of stealing fish, from Zahid Hassan (15) and Imon Ali(13) being tortured for apparently having stolen cell phones in Rajshahi on February 12, 2016 to many others who go unreported and unlisted.

Cruelty has no bars. The acts of many of these tortures are videoed and shared on Facebook. Almost 13 million Facebook users have access to these tales of brutality in Bangladesh. According to the report of World Justice Project, Bangladesh ranks 93 out of the 102 countries being surveyed – only Afghanistan and Pakistan in South Asia rank worse than Bangladesh – in terms of justice. The Children Act 2013 has no definite law relating to the murder of children. But fortunately, death penalties and life imprisonments are now being awarded to such culprits.

My fear is that with so many tales of brutality, we may find it increasingly difficult to read the newspapers, watch the news and maybe we may all just helplessly look away. Before we reach that level, let’s arrest the desensitisation…If there’s a child being employed by your neighbour, report it; if there’s a child walking in your sector, stop it; if there’s a child you spot being harassed or tortured, confront the abuser; if there’s a child who’s gone hungry, spare a meal. Every little kid walking on the street is ours. Their rights equal the rights of our own children. After all, the bar of conscience needs to be raised to a considerable level in this country.

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