Safeguarding children is everyone's responsibility -The Asian Age

 Parvez Uddin Chowdhury

The COVID pandemic has unprecedentedly shaken all aspects of our modern life. Like never before, it has certainly affected every child's life. Since March last year, schools are closed; children - particularly those from poor families and living in the country sides - are distanced from education and increasingly becoming vulnerable toabuse, addictions, violence, drop out, child labor and child marriages. And those living in the urban areas and receiving distance learning - are also living with increased level of anxiety and stress as the opportunities of socialization are restricted. Most importantly, children are spending much time online and they are reportedly being addicted to online games and exposed to sexually explicit content and experiencing various cyber-harassments.

Last year, when the pandemic hit the world devastatingly, Save the Children warned of unprecedented global education emergency saying 10 million children may never return to school. Now the projection is becoming true - children especially in the country sides are out of school for more than a year and families have economically been hit hard, consequentlychild protection concerns have reportedly gone up. In addition, as the COVID restrictions prolong, children in the villages are becoming hopeless about resuming their learning and losing enthusiasm to back to school.

The outstanding progresses Bangladesh achieved in terms of inclusive education is perhaps deteriorating due to COVID pandemic. The World Bank working paper published earlier this year noted that prolonged school closures are threatening to dismantle education development achieved in recent decades, especially for girls and those from underprivileged backgrounds.

As COVID is coming up with its newer variants and lockdown measures protract, education might become exclusive as children in the middle and higher income families are somehow continuing their education online while children in the marginalized, disadvantaged families are away from education or cannot afford distance learning opportunities.

The World Bank warned last year that the pandemic is estimated to push an additional 150 million people into extreme poverty by 2021.  On 1st May this year, a survey run by The Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) and the BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD) exposes the pandemic has pushed 2.45 crore people into poverty in one year in Bangladesh.

In March this year, a survey by Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) revealed that a large number of children have experienced various forms of online harassment like disclosing private and sensitive information on the internet, online sexual harassment and abuse, cyber bullying, blackmailing, getting exposed to pornography or sexual contents during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child marriages have also reportedly increased during the pandemic. A study conducted by ManusherJonno Foundation (MJF) said at least 13,886 child marriages took place between April and October of 2020 in 21 districts of the country during the lockdown. According to UNICEF, 10 million additional girls are at risk of child marriages worldwide due to COVID-19 pandemic.

Education, poverty and child protection - these three things have a deep relation with each other. Like spread of education is the most important sustainable way to reduce poverty and it certainly promotes the children's wellbeing and makes them protected. While poverty rates go up, it has tremendous effects on children - meaning children become more vulnerable to abuse, drop out, child labor, child marriage in the families hit by poverty. Now COVID has pushed us in a situation where schools are closed for long time, more families are becoming poor, so the outcome is clear - a child protection emergency is emerging.

Once in our society, traditionally we had some fallacious concepts and wrong practices which are now outdated. Once, beating children was normal and considered to be something positive in the name of making them disciplined; child marriage and child labor were pervasive. But things have changed a lot over the years. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Children (UNCRC) in 1989 is considered to be a historic and complete statement of the children's rights and it is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history. It recognized all human being under eighteen to be children and all children to have some special rights like right to life, expression, survival and development, education, play and equal importance, family care and right to protection from all kinds of violence and abuse, etc.

Technically speaking, protecting children is more of a professional work while safeguarding children is one's personal commitment. It should be everyone's responsibility. Having worked in the development sector, one of the things that has made me think is the idea of 'child safeguarding'. It is the idea that we should never cause harm to children regardless of time and place - meaning it is a commitment to be shouldered 24/7. It is to ensure that children are safe, their rights are respected and their wellbeing is promoted - at home, in the street and in the working place.

'Children are the future of our nation' is a sentence pretty much known to all but knowing it is not enough, we should act out within our capacity to protect the future of our nation- the children. We should note that protecting children is one of the most significant ways to achieve the sustainable development goals.

Given all the deteriorating situations in place, children cannot stand for themselves unless we do. Having proper awareness, knowledge and education is the key to doing any work effectively. So, to stand beside our children and to build them properly for the progressive future world, having correct education on positive parenting and child development is of paramount importance.Save the Children haslauncheda mobile application named Child Protection, basically for parents and caregivers. It can help the caregivers know about child protectionand know how to support children psychologically during such times. 

The necessity of a way-out from the current crisis is becoming more pressing. To save the children and to build a child friendly environment everywhere in the country, socially and personally we should seriouslythink about how to save our children at this time. Along with all other measures and efforts by govt. and non govt. organizations, our personal commitment to safeguard the children may help us constitute a society free of violence towards children and it would help us be a child friendly nation as well.Unless everyone is becoming aware of child safeguarding and wellbeing and doing our part in our family and society, our children may notwithstand such unprecedented crisis and a child friendly society is not possible to build.

Parvez Uddin Chowdhury, a development worker