Virtual roundtable

Concerted efforts needed to protect child victims of migration

Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh.
Rohingya refugee children in Bangladesh. Reuters
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Concerted initiative of all concerned is essential to ensure the safety of the three categories of migrated children in the country. For that, a survey must be carried out based on updated information and data. The reason of the children’s migration, trends, and requirements can be analysed from the survey. Then a work plan can be prepared through joint government, inter-ministerial and non-governmental organisation initiatives.

Experts and functionaries made these observations at a virtual roundtable held on Wednesday. At the roundtable on ‘Child Migration in the Context of Bangladesh: Challenges and the Way Forward’, migrant children were placed in three categories. There were the children who were rescued from child trafficking, street children, and children who were compelled to relocate with or without their families.

The roundtable was jointly organised by Unicef, the European Union and Prothom Alo.

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Speaking at the event, director general (additional secretary) of the department of social services, Sheikh Rafiqul Islam, said between 2015 and 16 September 2020, at least 248 children had been rescued from human traffickers. Many of them are presently at the rehabilitation centres. There are 85 shelter homes in the country providing these children with education, shelter and healthcare.

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However, he said, children over 10 years old are generally unwilling to stay at the shelter homes. Street children are unhappy in these homes. They prefer moving around in groups on the streets. The government has allocations for the street children and children without families. But it is more important to motivate or encourage these children towards rehabilitation.

Abul Hossain, project director, of the Multisectoral Programme on Violence Against Women, ministry of women and children affairs, said children are losing their families for a variety of reasons. The children face harm the moment they lose their family. They face sexual harassment and are deprived of education and healthcare. Children without families must be protected. The government, NGOs and civil society must make concerted efforts to ensure these children do not become a burden to the state. Initiative must be taken for their protection and rehabilitation.

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He highlighted certain constraints, such as the fact that street children did not want to go to shelter homes. They needed to be motivated. There was also need for a survey on how many street children or children without families there were, where they came from and why. An integrated initiative was required to determine how to bring them under the social safety net programme.

Natalie McCauley said there was internal migration due to poverty. These children coming from various parts of the country to the cities, with or without their families, took up work in the informal sector. The street children collected garbage or begged. There were also incidents of sexual abuse.

Prothom Alo associate editor Abdul Quayum made the opening presentation of the event which was moderated by assistant editor Firoz Choudhury.

Presenting the keynote at the roundtable, Natalie McCauley, Chief of Child Protection, UNICEF, said child migration is a very sensitive issue and it is even more complex in Bangladesh. Of the total migrants worldwide, 14 per cent were children. She said there was more or less no research on migrant children in Bangladesh. There was a deficiency in data in this regard.

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Stating that three types of children were migrated, Natalie McCauley said there was internal migration due to poverty. These children coming from various parts of the country to the cities, with or without their families, took up work in the informal sector. The street children collected garbage or begged. There were also incidents of sexual abuse.

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The second category was human trafficking. Children were trafficked to neighbouing countries without legal documents. These children, aged between 5 to 12 years, fell into the hands of the ‘dalals’ or ‘agents’. Girls were lured with promises of marriage.

The third category was of the Rohingya children coming from Myanmar. They too were now at risk of abduction and human trafficking. The government and various NGOs were working there, but further attention was necessary.

Haruno Nakashiba, Protection Officer, UNHCR, said in general, lack of access to livelihoods and education contribute to a sense of desperation among children and adolescents that can easily be exploited by trafficking network.”

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AKM Masud Ali, Executive Director, INCIDIN Bangladesh, said the wheels of economy are linked to migration. As child labour can be availed for meagre wages, children’s participation in the informal labour sectors of the country is high. That is why many children are forced to leave their homes, sometimes alone and sometimes with their families.

He said child labour was higher in the transport, construction and other informal sectors. These children later cannot enter the labour market as skilled workers when they grow up.

The government should curtail some of the expenditure on costly projects and increase allocation the safety of the street children.
Wahida Banu, Executive Director, Aparajeyo Bangladesh

Tasneem Siddiqui, Founding Chair, Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit RMRRU, said family poverty is the main reason of internal displacement of children in Bangladesh. Poverty forces them to drop out of school. The families look for means of earning through the children. The government is doing many things to prevent drop outs from the classroom, but further initiative is required.

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Asma Khatun, National Programme Officer of the Migrant Protection and Assistance Unit, International Organisation for Migration (IOM), said all concerned must make concerted efforts to prevent children from such displacement. Collecting data and information in this regard is the first step in such efforts.

Wahida Banu, Executive Director, Aparajeyo Bangladesh, said the biggest problem about the issue of street children is that there is no data at a national level. The last work in this regard was conducted in 2005. She said the government should curtail some of the expenditure on costly projects and increase allocation the safety of the street children.

Professor Ishrat Shamim, President, Centre for Women and Children Studies, said their organisation was running a shelter home at the border area of Satkhira. Children recovered from traffickers were kept there. She said that these children were trafficked through agents because of poverty. She said that the local government and people’s representatives needed to be more active in taking measures to speedily get these children to safe shelter once they were rescued.

Mohammad Tariqul Islam, Bangladesh Country Director, Justice and Care, Bangladesh, said that alongside legal aid for the trafficked children, efforts were needed to bring them back to normal life. They should be given psychological counselling too, if required. Bangladesh and the border forces of the neighbouring country could have can joint agreement in this regard. Once the children were recovered, initiative had to be taken to bring them back to the mainstream.

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