‘Shishu Paribar’ centres mired in problems

The building of the Sarkari Shishu Paribar in the Farhadabad area of Hathazari in Chattotgram is so dilapidated that people are even afraid of walking thereSaurav Das

“People normally look downwards as they walk, but we always have to look upwards as there is no guarantee that the plaster of the roof won’t fall on us”, says an 11th grader boy of Hathazari Sarkari Shishu Paribar. The Housing and Public Works Division five years ago had announced this building of Shishu Paribar to be abandoned.

During a recent visit to the place, it was seen that the plaster of the roof was coming off at different parts of the building. Rods were sticking out in other places of the building. The children are living in fear in these conditions. Several children said the plaster falls very often, injuring the students.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Shishu Paribar’s deputy supervisor Shubrata Chandra Bishwas said, “There are seats for 175 children here. Now, we have 63 children. They have been accommodated in different rooms of the house. Some 20 rooms are locked as these are too risky."

Mentioning that the work on the new building is underway, Shubrata Chandra further said, “A temporary tin-shed has been built for the children until the inauguration of the new building. Children will be shifted to that building very soon.”

The construction of a new building for the girls of Pirojpur Government Shishu Paribar is underway as well. In 2018, the Public Works Department declared the main building there as risky. The building was demolished the next year. The children there were crammed into the two buildings constructed for the employers of the Shishu Paribar. Since then, all the 68 children of the Shishu Paribar have been living there.

The Public Works Department has declared abandoned a total of 18 buildings of the government Shishu Paribar, a hostel of ‘Chhotomoni Nibas’, the residence of a supervisor and a training centre. However, these buildings have not been replaced by new ones. Therefore the children are now living in constant risk.

The Social Services Department of the Ministry of Social Welfare is running Shishu Paribar project for the orphans in the Sadar upazilas in every district and few other upazilas. Orphans aged six to nine years are admitted here. The children are kept here until they reach the age of 18.

The number of such Shishu Paribars is 85 in the country with a capacity of accommodating 10,300 children in total. According to the figure of the Social Services Department, there were some 7,066 children in the 85 Shishu Paribars in the country as of March 2023.

Project delayed

The government undertook a project named ‘Construction-reconstruction of Shishu Paribars and Chhotomoni Nibas' to shift the children from risky buildings in July 2018.

A total of 18 buildings of the government Shishu Paribar, a hostel of ‘Chhotomoni Nibas’, residence of a supervisor and a training centre were supposed to be constructed at cost of Tk 2.97 billion under this project.

The duration of this project has been extended up to June 2024 as the work under this project was not finished within the due time. As a result, the project cost has increased to Tk 3.85 billion now.

The Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Department of the Ministry of Planning published an evaluation report on this project in June 2020. It said the project was proceeding at a slow pace.

The children were moved into this room after the building were abandoned
Saurav Das

The project at the moment is being implemented jointly by the Social Services Department and Khulna Shipyard Limited under the Bangladesh Navy.

Sheikh Reshad, the engineer (in charge) of the project, says works on some 13 centres will be finished within this year. Demolition of buildings and removal of trees are needed in the remaining of the centres.

It will be possible to finish the project within the extended period of time if there is no natural disaster, he added.

Lack of manpower

Shubrata Chandra Bishwas has been serving as the deputy supervisor of the Hathazari Shishu Paribar for the last nine months. He said, “There are 22 posts for taking care of the children here. Some 14 of them are vacant at the moment. Several vital posts, including assistant teacher and matron, have been vacant for years. There is only one cleaner for such a big institution like this.”

There are 97 children in the Roufabad Sarkari Shishu Paribar (girls) in Chattogram. Speaking to Prothom Alo, its deputy supervisor Tasnim Akter said, “At least six ayahs are needed for 97 girls. However, we have two at the moment.”

Meanwhile, of the 18 posts in the Patiya Sarkari Shishu Paribar (boys), 10 are vacant.

The people concerned said the children are supposed to get all sorts of training including in sewing, computer servicing, poultry, dairy, electronics, block printing and embroidery. But it has not been possible to train the children as there are no trainers in most of the Shishu Paribars.

Md Afzal Hossain, deputy director of the Department of Social Welfare and in charge of supervising the Shishu Paribar centres, told Prothom Alo that, “The seats in the Shishu Paribar centres remain vacant due to several issues, including complications regarding the definition of an orphan and lack of accommodation facilities. It is not possible to ensure proper service without an adequate workforce.”

He further said, “We have to change our mindset about rehabilitating children by getting them married. Arrangements should be made to train the children under the Bangladesh Technical Education Board (BTEB).”

The Sarkari Shishu Paribar building in the Farhadabad area of Hathazari in Chattotgram
Saurav Das

“Besides, arrangements should be made to ensure higher studies in quality educational institutions with the help of local administration and public representatives. It will be possible to set a precedence if these children can become professionals like physicians or engineers in the future,” Afzal Hossain added.

According to the figures of the Social Services Department, some 69,972 children have been rehabilitated through the Shishu Paribar centres. Some 4,610 girls have been married off while 42,227 children have been handed over to their families through this project.

Abdullah Al Mamun, director of Save the Children in Bangladesh (children's safety programme), expressed concern over the fact the children are residing in risky buildings.

He told Prothom Alo, “The responsibility of the children, who are not able to stay with their families, doesn’t lie only with the Ministry of Social Welfare. The other ministries have some liabilities in this regard.”

Abdullah Al Mamun said, “Although the United Nations developed directives to ensure the minimum services for the children at the alternative institutionalised child care centres in 2009, it is ignored in Bangladesh. Everybody, including local influential persons and non-government organisations, should come forward to ensure overall services for these children.”

[Correspondents from Chattogram, Patiya and Pirojpur have helped prepare this report]

*This report has been published on the print and online versions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu