- 626 children were raped in 2020
- Child marriages increased by 60% during Covid-19
- 145 children succumbed to different forms of violence
- 192 children were killed in various incidents including road accidents
- Children were not safe even at home
- Calls have been made to form a child affairs ministry
- Calls have been made for concerted efforts to address child rape, marriage
A staggering number of children were raped or forced into marriage in 2020 – 626 children fell victim to sexual assault while child marriages increased by around 60% from January to December, according to a survey by Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF).
It said despite the closure of educational institutions and children being virtually locked in their houses in the wake of the pandemic, there has been hardly any let-up in violence against them.
MJF revealed the data at a virtual press conference on Saturday, urging the government to take more effective measures to provide all-out security for the country's children.
The press conference titled "Bangladesh Child Situation-2020" was moderated by MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam while lawmaker Aroma Dutta, member of the Caucus on Child Rights of the Bangladesh Parliament, was present at the programme as its chief guest.
Analysing the child-related news of eight national dailies, MJF said during the novel coronavirus situation, 101 children became the victims of child marriage while 20 were sexually harassed.
Although fewer news reports on the victimisation of children, in 28 categories, were published during the pandemic than in 2019, all sorts of violence against children is still at an alarming level, according to the rights organisation.
The number of negative news items published in the surveyed dailies was 1,361 last year while it was 3,004 in 2019.
According to the MJF review, children of 13-18 years of age and also six to 12 years became the victims of rape last year. Some were lured in with offers of chocolate or food, while others were threatened to do it from the outset. Some children were also killed and found alone at home.
There were even incidents of rape during the collection of relief during the pandemic.
In addition, 145 children died as a result of: rape, attempted rape, murder, abduction, disappearance, or torture. Some eight girls were tortured while working as housemaids and three of them died.
In 2019, 956 children fell victim to rape while the number was 356 in 2018.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of MJF, said in the wake of the deteriorating child rights situation, it is clear that children in Bangladesh are not safe, even at home, as most child rapes are perpetrated by acquaintances within the family.
Similarly, child marriages have increased alarmingly during the Covid-19 period due to family influences.
The rights activist called upon all the government agencies engaged in child protection to be more responsible as well as to work together for the protection of children's rights.
During the period under review, 192 children were killed in various incidents. Of them, 156 lost their lives in road accidents. At the same time, 165 children were drowned.
Attempts were made to kill and maim 145 children in 2020, according to the reports that cited various reasons for the incidents including: family feuds, quarrels over wealth distribution, rejections of love proposals, childbirth, protests against injustice, stress, and rape.
Additionally, there were 16 incidents of child abuse. The abusers included: housewives, parents, teachers, stalkers, local chairmen, employers, neighbours, step-mothers, and co-workers.
Md Muhibuzzaman, joint secretary, Ministry of Women and Children's Affairs, said the child safety crisis is worrisome. He stressed the need for social mobilisation to address the issue.
In her address, lawmaker Aroma Dutta compared the prevailing violence against women and children in the country to a solar eclipse.
She highlighted the need for a separate Ministry or Department of Child Affairs to work closely for the protection of children's rights and called upon all to work together for policy formulation, performance and intensive supervision of work.
According to MJF, suicides and abductions continued; 34 children killed themselves and 23 were injured while trying to commit suicide. Reasons they did or tried to commit suicide included: failure in examinations, family feuds, broken love affairs, harassment, rape or attempted rape, rape or indecency, cybercrime, or blackmail.
In 2020, the number of children that went missing or were abducted was 29. The kidnapping cases were over: money, relationship problems, rejection of marriage proposals, revenge, trafficking, and ransom – according to reports published in dailies.
The rights body pointed out that the number of positive news articles about children, in 12 categories, was 330 last year.
Among others, MJF governing board member Fatema Yusuf spoke at the event while Rafeza Shaheen, coordinator, Child Protection Division, presented an overview of the report during the press conference.