'Uncle, please stop now, or else, I am going to die,” the 12-year-old boy reportedly cried. But his former employers at the motor garage shop in Bangladesh were infuriated at him for working for someone else. In their rage, they stripped him naked and inserted an air pump nozzle into his rectum and pumped air into his body. After they were done torturing Rakib Hawlader, he started to throw up and faint. His tormentors took him to a local hospital but it was too late. According to reports, his intestines had torn apart and his lungs burst. He died that same night on August 3rd.
This horrifying incident occurred just days after another young boy - Samiul Alam Rajon - was tied to a pole and beaten to death by a group of men, for allegedly stealing a rickshaw cycle. The entire scene was captured on a mobile phone and went viral on social media.
Recently, another young boy named Robiul Alam was struck on the head with a crowbar and died from his injuries after being accused of stealing fish.
And these are just the cases that made the headlines.
The public responded with large demonstrations across the country, demanding justice. But children’s rights advocates say decades of inaction have led to these crimes, and even today, not nearly enough is being done to protect the rights of children in the impoverished nation.
Bangladesh is not an easy place to be a child. According to the Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum, a child advocacy group, 292 children were murdered in 2014. In addition, millions of children in Bangladesh are exploited in broad daylight, much of it is accepted by society. Children, seen as cheap labor, are widely employed - from working as domestic help, to selling trinkets on the street, to working in hazardous jobs.
“I have seen everything from children being used as sex workers, children as the carrier of drugs, children as informal factory help and children being used in political demonstrations and to carry arms,” said Shahana Siddiqui, a children's rights advocate based in Bangladesh. “We do not see poor children to be little persons who need care and protection.”
Bangladesh is a tiny country that won its independence from Pakistan in 1971. In its existence, the country has made significant strides on several social issues: life expectancy has risen, the typical family size has shrunk and two of their largest non-governmental organizations (NGO) - BRAC and Grameen Bank- have helped many poor families escape poverty. But experts say that even though Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1990, there is much to be done.
Siddiqui, who works for BRAC University and is the co-founder of Maya, a website that delivers legal and medical advice to young women and girls, says that a poor child is seen by most struggling families as just another mouth to feed. Young girls have it especially hard - many are married off early or get lured into sex work.
Working children often live away from their families. Those employed as domestic workers usually live with their employer and can endure scoldings, beatings, sexual abuse and economic exploitation. Many children who work in hazardous jobs lack appropriate safety gear and end up suffering from long-lasting health and respiratory problems. Child workers are also prime targets for traffickers. According to UNICEF, many sexually exploited children worked across various sectors before being lured into prostitution.
At the heart of the issue is the wider view of a child's place society that resonates across social strata.
A report by Odhikar, a human rights organization in Bangladesh, claims that though children are welcome in adults’ personal lives and family lives, they are not viewed as having a legitimate voice in society. Children in Bangladesh, the report found, do not get the opportunity to share their feelings or thoughts on matters that have direct or indirect impact on their lives.
“Most of the children under our coverage are street children, who face violence from the police, fellow street children, from everybody"
“In Rajon’s case, the fact he was a poor boy that allegedly stole something made the violence acceptable both because he is poor but also because children are not supposed to be heard,” said Chaumtoli Huq, a human rights attorney who has researched labor issues in Bangladesh, including the collapse of Rana Plaza, a garments factory that employed children.
Many people in Bangladesh also have a hard time looking at a working child as a child, and view them instead as adults. “Most of the children under our coverage are street children, who face violence from the police, fellow street children, from everybody,” said Michael McGrath, Country Director of Save the Children in Bangladesh in an interview in the Daily Star.
McGrath suggested appointing police officers specifically for women and children in every police station to protect them from acts of violence.
“Bangladesh is not a country where people are evil or hard-hearted,” said McGrath. “We must never have people standing while children are beaten and killed.”
Siddiqui believes that until Bangladesh can safeguard the future of its children, its economic advancements are moot.
“A country advances not only by its GDP per capita," said Siddiqui, "but by the kinds of social safety nets they have for their vulnerable communities."