Children playing in Bangladesh 2008. Photo: Pernilla Norström/Save the Children
In Bangladesh, 36 percent of the population earn less than one dollar per day. Poverty, discrimination, and the effects of natural disasters pose serious challenges to children.
Maternal mortality rates remain unacceptably high in Bangladesh, despite significant improvements over the past 20 years. Most births still take place at home, without medical assistance.1 Millions of children are malnourished and roughly half of the children under age five are underweight.
Poverty is a big threat to primary education. Adult literacy rates have increased from 34.6% in 1990 to 65% in 2006. However, Bangladesh has one of the world's lowest literacy rates, with an estimated 50 million illiterate adults.2 The practice of child labour is prevalent with nearly 50 per cent of primary school students dropping out before they complete 5th grade. The total working child population between 5 and 17 is estimated at 7.9 million. A total of 1.3 million children are estimated to be working 43 hours or more per week.3
Children on the streets
There is a rising number of children living or working in urban centres, notably in the capital city. Government statistics based on a survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, estimate the number of street children in Bangladesh to be around 380,000 - of whom 55% are in Dhaka city. These children become prime targets of organised child trafficking rings.4
Trafficking, sexual abuse and exploitation are also crucial threats for children. Official estimates suggest that over 13 000 children were trafficked out of the country in the last five years. As many as 20 000 children are exploited in street prostitution.5 Many girls from Bangladesh are trafficked into India for purposes of sexual exploitation. Boys from Bangladesh are trafficked to Middle-Eastern countries to be engaged as camel jockeys.6 Domestic violence is a daily reality for many and dowry-related crimes are reported to be increasing.7 Sexual abuse commonly happens in the home or community, often perpetrated by someone familiar to the child. A study in Bangladesh revealed that around six per cent of children in commercial sex work initially left home to avoid sexual abuse at their own home or by their own family.8
Children under the age of 18, having been sentenced or not, are imprisoned and held together with adult prisoners for long periods of time. Children younger than 15 years have been condemned to life sentences and children younger than 18 years old to the death penalty. Notably, the age of criminal responsibility for juveniles is set at 9 years of age.9 Children are often kept together with grown-ups in jail after long police detentions, and there have been reports of ill-treatment.10
There are more than thirty-five laws that seek to protect children from negligence, cruelty, exploitation and abuse and to promote their development. There is a lack of enforcement mechanisms of specific laws to protect child workers and very limited data on the number of affected children.11 However, implementation of these laws is seen as a challenge. The Children Act, 1974, currently under review,is the principal law that provides for care, protection and treatment for children. Studies in Bangladesh revealed that over 40 types of economic activities done by children were hazardous.12
Harmful traditional practices particularly involving girls, such as dowry crimes and early and forced marriages, have a direct impact on their health, development and full enjoyment of their rights. Girls also experience gender-based violence as a result of these practices.13