On 13 November this year, Sadat Rahman of Bangladesh won the International Children's Peace Prize. Sadat is a student of Class 12 at Narail Abdul Hye City College. The international organisation, Kids' Rights Foundation, awarded him this prize for the mobile app, Cyber Teens, which he developed to prevent cyber bullying. Sadat is now in the Netherlands where he has received the award. On 14 November morning he spoke in an interview with Prothom Alo over Whatsapp from the Netherlands.
It's probably not morning yet in the Netherlands. Were you sleeping or too excited to sleep?
It's 6:30am here, but I've been waking up at 3:00am every morning because of the time difference with Bangladesh. And tonight I've hardly slept even an hour. The prize is on my bedside and I keep opening my eyes to check if it's still there! Last year Greta Thunberg won this prize. I can't believe I won it this year. I never thought that I would come all the way here from the banks of the river Chitra in Narail. I thought I would get nominated at the most and that would help me spread my work to the districts outside of Narail as well. I was quite happy with that much.
You delivered your speech in English but ended in Bangla, "Shobai bhalo thakben", "Stay well everyone". Was that planned?
No, that wasn't in the script. I always end my talks with that phrase and I did so here too. Everyone appreciated it. It was a small programme because of coronavirus. It is so cold here, I was shivering even in my suit. I like talking in public, but am not too comfortable in front of the camera.
How did you come up with the idea of an app for cyber bullying?
In Bangladesh, 49 per cent of the children and teens are victims of cyber bullying in one way or the other, but the problem isn't addressed. When we are bullied, we do not tell anyone. From childhood our parents use 'threats' like, "Hurry up and finish your food or the police will come to get you." "Go to sleep or the police will catch you." So from our childhood we have been programmed not to consider the police as our friend. With nowhere to go for help, young people get distressed, some fall mentally ill and some even commit suicide.
Only recently a girl called Beauty Mondal committed suicide. Someone had edited her photograph and uploaded it on Facebook. The girl had done nothing wrong. Her parents even hadn't wanted to marry her off early. She was studying in school and everything was fine. Just this one incident turned her life upside down. That is why I came up with the Cyber Teens app, so even if they don't want to go to the police, girls like Beauty can make their complaints here.
What challenges did you face?
It is quite a risky task actually. We first try to solve the problem if someone's account is hacked or if there are IT problems involved. If that is not possible, we inform the police. We have managed to catch eight criminals so far. I call this award my second peace prize. My first peace prize is when I first managed to get a criminal arrested.
You have been dabbling with all sorts of ventures from childhood. Can you tell us something about that?
My father is a postmaster and so, because of his work, we had to shift to different districts every three years. I have lived in Faridpur, Patuakhali and Satkhira. Since Class 7 I've been interested in web development and I even began to work as a freelancer then. I am also interested in making films. I won an award from the Satyajit Ray Film Institute in India for a short film that I made.
In Satkhira I was involved in the Prothom Alo Bondhushava. When my organisation, Narail Volunteers, began working on cyber bullying in Jashore, people first didn't accept it. They said, you do your studies, let the police do their work. Now I hope people will understand what I am doing.
You have to shift every three years, won't it be hard to leave Narail?
My father has already been transferred to Kushtia, but I haven't gone because I am studying at Narail College and also because of the coronavirus pandemic. Narail may not be my home town, but now it is. There is such peace by the river Chitra. And most important of all, Mashrafe bhai (Mashrafe Bin Mortaza) is here. He mixes so well with the young people of Narail, it's hard to imagine he is someone so important.
It will certainly be sad to leave Narail, but I want to spread out to 64 districts of the country. In fact, gradually I want to work around the whole world. In Bangladesh, 49 per cent of the youth are subject to cyber bullying. In the US, this rate if 59 per cent. That means work must be done globally to prevent cyber bullying. I have discussed the matter with police in Europe after receiving this prize. They have involved Interpol too. They discussed about what sort of assistance I would need.
What plans do you have ahead?
Our app is being developed further. Alongside preventing cyber bullying, I also want to change the mindsets of parents and children. We would work from Narail and I didn't get much help from the Dhaka cyber team, but hope I will now. I want to build up a network with the celebrities of the country. If someone is a victim of bullying, a motivational phone call from one of his or her favourite celebrities can provide mental support.
I am student of the Arts group, but have received this prize for my IT related innovation. That means Bangladesh is advancing in the IT sector. This has to be proved to the world.
The International Children's Peace Prize is known as the 'Children's Nobel'. You received the prize from Malala Yusufzai who won the 'Children's Nobel' in 2013. The next year she went on to win the actual Nobel. Do you have any such aspirations?
No. You don't get awards by hankering after these prizes. When I was a child, I would take part in all sorts of quizzes hoping to win a prize, but I never did. I won where I hadn't aimed to win.
* The interview, originally published in Pro Swapno Niye, a Prothom Alo supplement, has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir