Street children live, work and pass their times on the streets with or without parents. They have been described both as "courageous", given their remarkable survival instincts, endurance impulses and fortitude in their daily battle; and "hopeless", because of the aberrant families who abandon, abuse and neglect them. As per Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), the number of street children was 1.5 million in 2015. And it will reach 1.56 million in 2024.
In spite of having large numbers of street children, there is no particular legislation in Bangladesh where the subject matter is specifically about them. But some existing provisions protect and secure children in general from abuses and exploitations.
As per UNICEF, street children habitually find themselves the victims of sexual abuse, prostitution, HIV infection, physical torture and trafficking. Although Article-18(2) of the Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh states that all forms of prostitution shall be prevented included child prostitution, most of the child prostitutes are street children.
According to section-10 of The Prevention of Oppression Against Women and Children Act (2000), sexual oppression of children shall be punished with imprisonment for not extending to ten years and not less than two years, and also with fine. But in reality, there has been zero implementation of such provision and those vulnerable children do not even know if there will be justice in court and protection for them by the state.
"International Journal of Humanities, Social Sciences and Education" (Volume 2) says that for abject poverty 19% of children are forced towards the streets. At the same time, 14% of children are pushed because of their parents' premature death and 7% are pushed towards the street by their parents. But abandonment of a child under 12 years by parents or the person having care is considered as an offence under section-317 of Penal Code (1860). Violation of such provision shall be punished for the extend to seven years or with fine or with both.
Alongside abandonment by the parent, children in the street frequently face negative practices and torture from the members of law enforcement agency who are supposed to protect the children. In a survey by Breeding Bird, one-fifth of the street children reported they were arrested by the police and 50% of the arrests had no reason
Beating up a street child is a common scenario in Bangladesh. But the Constitution of Bangladesh states in article-35 that no person shall be subjected to torture, cruelty and degrading punishment or treatment. Section-70 of the Children Act (2013) says about the penalty for cruelty to a child. If any person commits such offence may be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to five years or with fine which may extend to one lac Taka or with both.
The families of street children are poor with a shortage of money and assets. They are usually unfit to satisfy their necessities. Most of them do not have the ability to purchase daily food. Nearly half of them could take meals three times a day. And for this reason at a very early age, they start working to survive. 50% of children start working at the age of 8-11 years. Some of them are engaged in heavy work which is very dangerous for their health. But according to the Bangladesh Labour Act (2006), the minimum age of working is 14 years.
As Bangladesh has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Child, it is obligatory for the country to implement all its principles and provisions. For the betterment of the street children, the government can play a vital role. Some of the suggestions are: (1) Government can enact a special law for street children as they are the most vulnerable population to protect them from drug dealers, brothels, exploitation, abandonment, torture, heavy works, etc; (2) Government have to give them at least secondary education with technical knowledge because primary education cannot give them a good job. So free education should be given to all till secondary level; (3) Ministry of Women and Children can play a good role by delegating legislation at the grassroots level.
We have the example of Zahid (the viral singer of Modhu Hoi Hoi at the beach) and Rana (singer of Dhakaiya Gully Boy). They are contributing to the music industry and are inspirations to many children. But we also have numerous unnamed street children who are involved in drug dealing, contract political violence, etc.
Criminologist Sally Atkinson-Sheppard wrote in her research paper that some Bangladeshi street children are also involved in contract killing and criminal gangsterism. But we believe that a proper guideline, proper legislation, a proper executive body can make a difference. They can change the vulnerable lifestyle of street children. They are marginalized from mainstream society but they need much more attention from the government and NGOs.
The author is a student of Law and Human Rights at University of Asia Pacific