One of the strongest determinants of a nation's progress is its treatment of children. In this regard, the government should lead from the front to build them up as competent citizens and scope should be created for them everywhere in family, society and cultural arena to tend their talents. The poor children in particular should be taken care of so that none of them suffers from starvation and left out of education. But the nation is yet to know the size of the child budget, reportedly ensured in the 2016-17 national budget.
It is true that Bangladesh is a country of 160 million people where the government has ensured food security of everybody. But all have to remain alert so that no child is deprived of food, education and health services. It is against this backdrop that the UNICEF's plea for Bangladesh to invest 20 per cent of the social sector budget for children by 2020 for their better life and to attain the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has to be taken into consideration. A report by the UN agency said some 85 per cent of diseases having roots in climate change affect children. Moreover, such climate change, already set in monition in Bangladesh, has posed risks of water and vector-borne diseases, malnutrition, death and injury during disasters.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina hit the right chord when she said at a recent programme that children are holy creatures, who are not born with poverty. She said a sense of poverty and prosperity should not be created in children's mind from their childhood. Happily, the government has extended maternity leave to six months from four months while day care centres were opened for working mothers. These steps have helped reduce mother and child mortally rate to a significant level.
But then more steps need to be taken to create an environment conducive to proper physical and mental growth of children. Such steps should include operating children development centres, creating a torture/violence/suppression-free environment, ensuring education and safety of children facing potential risks of labour and marriage and establishing more day care centres for poor and middle class women. In addition, services such as emergency night shelter, child-friendly area, open air school, toll-free child help line -should be provided for underprivileged children. To make society child-sensitive, Child Protection Network Committees need to be formed at district and upazila levels.
The 2016-17 budget has not made public a child budget although the finance minister in his budget speech said that there is a budget for them. But none knows yet what the size of the budget is. There must be transparency in use of such funds in a country where the corrupt often go scot-free. This is because the national budget is an important instrument for ensuring adequate and equitable resource allocation for children. No investment will be more effective and efficient than to invest in children aimed at giving them a good start in life.