Footage of an international news TV network the other day has apparently made the child rights groups brace for the reemergence of a scourge presumed wiped out. To the distress of many of them, the TV broadcasts have showed scenes from a strife-torn town in South Sudan, the southern part of erstwhile Sudan, which has gained independence not long ago. The footage showed groups of heavily armed teenage militias guarding road checkpoints. With no trace of normal human feelings or compassion, the boys' stern faces clearly spoke of an arrogant resolve to crush their enemies. Lines of cruelty and hatred were writ large on the apparently once-tender faces. Gone were the signs of childhood innocence and blissfulness from the faces of the boys.
Although engaging children in hostilities and battles has officially been banned globally, pockets are there where child-soldiers operating as killing machines/squads are a common spectacle. Apart from battlegrounds, drug cartels are found using children in the hostilities sparked by rival drug syndicates. Assigning teenage boys and girls to drug smuggling and drug-pushing has been a common practice over the last few decades. Children, especially the teenage girls, continue to be coerced into sex trade. They make appearances in pornographic films released online and are lured into lots of underworld activities. Once confined to the poorer countries of South and Southeast Asia, Latin America and Africa, the menace of exploitation of children has also started afflicting the poorer segments of society in many developed and middle-income countries. In fact, the global picture of the state of children is bleak. Against this backdrop, to call the state of children in Bangladesh woeful is understatement. It's worse than officially acknowledged.
Massive initiatives are undertaken by the country's successive governments to improve the lot of children. Unfortunately, the state support for them has yet to cover all teenagers of the country. City-focused in the main, children living in remote villages mostly remain deprived of many privileges enjoyed by their urban compatriots. On the other hand, those residing even in areas adjacent to large and small cities are not deprived of government-sponsored facilities. These include tuition-free education, free textbooks etc at school level. The country has reasons to take pride in its rising rate of school enrolment. Dropout rates have declined remarkably.
In spite of this upbeat scenario, the Bangladesh villages could not be freed of the scenes showing children being weaned away from school to livelihood-earnings. It happens much before completion of their school life. Due to their families being poverty-stricken, the parents do not want to lose the faint chances of engaging their school-going children in income-generating activities. These earnings add to the family incomes. Children are also found working as helping hand for their parents in the crop field or in household chores. As a result, they are made to prematurely part with school. Besides, there is a peculiar discrepancy. Despite most of the country's schools having been included in the monthly payment order (MPO) list lately, and the accompanying increase in their salaries and other benefits, the academic atmosphere doesn't show signs of improvement. To add to the weirdness of the matter, the standard of teaching has deteriorated in many schools. This has been laid bare with many schools showing horribly poor performance in the Junior School Certificate (JSC) and Secondary School Certificate (SSC) level examinations. Dropout rates have yet to be remarkably lowered at Bangladesh schools. After the MPO enlistments, the downward trend in school performances appears to have accelerated.
Over the last couple of decades, a major part of focus of governments, international organisations and NGOs has been thrown on the youths. Given the youths' commendable achievement in many sectors, statesmen, development wizards and social thinkers pin great hopes on the youth power. To the overoptimistic segments of these people, it is the youths who hold the key to the nation's future. According to them, it is the young leadership who will chart out policies and priorities of the fast changing world -- be it in politics, economy or international relations. However, the most significant area where the youths are leaving their mark is scientific innovations. Bangladeshi youths are also not lagging behind.
Against this scenario, the world's children are mostly given a short shrift. With little attention being given to them, the children are eventually finding themselves to be left in the lurch. Theoretically they are attached great social importance. In reality, children in both developing and highly developed countries are equally vulnerable to the disastrous impacts of social neglect. It is mainly this indifference which might explain today's adolescence tendency to lean towards violence. To elaborate on the issue, the frequent shooting incidents in American schools and teenage gang warfare in the Bangladesh cities appear to be triggered by a similar decline in moral guidance. Teachers perform their teaching assignment as a mere job; the children find few role-models before them. In such a dreadful vacuum, the pre-youth boys and girls in most cases grope in the dark. And in course of time, the forces of darkness devour them up.
A bitter reality in the modern world is children are becoming adult prematurely. In the past in Bangladesh they were generally not drawn to adult hostilities. It's only lately that a section of urban children are found involved in different types of crimes. In the bygone days, it was the roguish youths who would be seen engaged in violent turf wars. The spectacles of youth violence in the recent years have large presence of school-going teenagers. The print media not long ago published a series of sensational news of teenage violence. Those hostilities would break out mainly in Dhaka and Chattogram. A few of these riotous hostilities witnessed brutal killings, tortures, and, even, hostage taking for ransom. A lot of social and community experts ascribe these delinquent activities to the children's broad exposure to online sites.
Despite the digital world-spurred revolutionary changes in people's thoughts and action, it has also been emerging as a vast source of temptations to the baser layers of the mind. The digital devices these days are no longer unreachable like they were in the past. Children from the affluent and middle-class families can lay their hands on them whenever they wish. Desktops, laptops and smartphones equipped with mindboggling apps and other web openings have lately become part of day-to-day life of teenagers. Many researchers have found the pre-youth teens to be more drawn to the online entertainment than the adult youths. It is a global phenomenon; Bangladesh is no exception.
That the gullible and vulnerable children run the risk of being afflicted with online addiction doesn't require in-depth research. There are aspects to it which are highly distressing. Through online outlets, children are being drawn to sex-related and anti-social activities. They are reaching adulthood without having the taste of their happy and angst-free childhood. The fact applies to both urban and rural teenagers, and cuts across socio-economic stratifications. Moreover, it's heart-breaking news and a cause of worry for the whole topsy-turvy world. Like in all times, the virtues of youth deserve to be held aloft. But how can societies belittle childhood? The seeds of youth's indomitability remain hidden in the carefree and fanciful childhood.