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Referring to data provided by UNICEF concerning the state of children in the country, it was said that the birth of 44 per cent of the children under five years of age, had still not been registered. And 59 per cent of girls under 18 years old had married and become mothers. This has led to an increase in maternal and infant mortality. Also, 89 per cent of children between one to 14 years old had been victims of some sort of physical and mental abuse. A total of 1.2 million (12 lakh) children were engaged in labour.

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Speaking as chief guest at the event, state minister for religious affairs, Faridul Haque Khan said that the matter of children’s safety can be highlighted in religious sermons at the mosques and other religious gatherings and in various religious institutions. Small plays and documentaries in the light of religious directives can also be produced. He called upon the print and electronic media to come forward in this regard.

Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission Nasima Akhter called upon families to imbibe values in their children. She said no religious supported immorality. Good behavior taught in childhood created values. Many children at present had access to all sorts of negative content online. They were using various apps and going astray.

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Member of parliament Gloria Jharna Sarkar said, not just the government alone, but all sectors had to come forward in the interests of child safety. Child abuse had increased during the prevalence of coronavirus. Rather than lashing out at the children, the parents should take time to explain their financial constraints to them.

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Director general of Bangladesh Islamic Foundation, Md Mushfiqur Rahman, said that children were the future of the nation. The lessons of Islam and other religions concerning child safety must be disseminated among the people. The prevailing laws must be highlighted. The obstacle to child safety must be removed.

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Swami Devadhyanananda, sannyasi of the Ramkrishna Math and Ramkrishna Mission in the capital Dhaka, said honesty, justice and helpfulness were natural qualities. If these qualities were strongly rooted in the people, there would be no negative influence on children. Everyone should also come forward to financially help poverty-stricken families in order to protect their children.

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President of the Bangladesh Baptist Church Sangha, Chistopher Adhikari, said children were the future. So taking care of children meant taking care of our future. Values could be spread in the society through children.

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Professor of Pali and Buddhist Studies at Dhaka University, Biman Chandra Barua, said children in these lockdown circumstances must be taught good habits during their mental development. If they could be kept away from dishonesty, immorality and drugs, and also if their education can be ensured, violence would diminish and children could be protected.

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Muhaddis Mufti Maulana Waliur Rahman Khan of Islamic Foundation’s research wing, said the imams of mosques were local leaders. There are around 450,00 to 500,000 mosques in the country. If child safety awareness was spread from this platform, people would pay heed.

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Country director of Islamic Relief Bangladesh, Akmal Shareef, said that due to socioeconomic and other reasons during the coronavirus pandemic, children were being subject to abuse, child marriage and forced marriage. Efforts to lessen such violence must be taken jointly by the leaders of all religions and development agencies.

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Thanking the participants of the roundtable, World Vision Bangladesh’s national director Suresh Bartlett said there had been unprecedented development amongst children in the past few years. However, there were still many children who were deprived of health, nutrition and education rights, who were victims of abuse. Children were having to live on the streets and it had not been possible to eliminate child labour. He said, religious leaders had a lot of influence in the community. He called upon religious leaders and development organisations to come forward in the interests of children’s welfare.

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Senior operations director of World Vision Bangladesh, Chandan Z Gomes, presenting the keynote paper, said the income of many families had decreased during coronavirus times. Financial stress had a negative impact on positive parenting and children were being subject to abuse. And so the government could arrange special stimulus funds for the financially struggling poor families who had children.

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In the opening presentation, Prothom Alo associate editor Quayum Chowdhury said it is the responsibility of each and everyone to build children up as good citizens. Children were even killing each other over minor issues nowadays. He called upon all institutions to consciously carry out their responsibilities towards children.

Prothom Alo assistant editor Firoz Choudhury moderated the roundtable.

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