Challenging task of birth registration

Many street children are ignorant about their birth, even their parents cannot say the date

Munna is bubbling with joy as he has got his birth certificate, although he is not quite sure what the certificate is actually meant for.

It was totally unexpected to the 11-year-old boy who does not have a permanent home or address. He earns his living by picking vegetables at the Karwan Bazar wholesale market and selling them to small traders at the kitchen market.

“This is the first important document of my life. I heard that it is extremely valuable and it will help me in future,” said Munna about his latest possession — his birth certificate.

Sharmin, another lucky girl of the same age, however, knows exactly why it is so important. “It will protect me in many difficult situations such as child marriage or trafficking,” said Sharmin who lives in Bashpotti slum in Tejgaon.

Arafat, a floating child labour at Karwan Bazar who also received a birth certificate, said this would be helpful if he ever wanted to get a driving licence. His dream however is to become a singer by participating in the Close-up 1 or Channel-I singing competition.

Like Munna, Sharmin and Arafat, around four lakh street children of the city are getting their birth certificates under a special initiative taken by Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in cooperation with UNICEF, Plan Bangladesh and 11 other partner organisations.

Colonel Dr Md Showkat Ali, chief health officer of DCC, said the project began in last March and they have completed data entry of about 20,000 children. So far around 10,000 street children have received their birth certificates.

“Those who have conscious parents get their birth certificate easily. But these less fortunate street children are being left out as they do not have anyone to take care of it. Our aim is to include the hard-to-reach children in the system,” said Col Showkat.

The official informed that according to Births and Deaths Registration Act 2006, street children without parents or floating children without any address cannot be denied a birth certificate because of their social status.

Under the law parents are required to register the birth of their babies within 45 days.

SM Abdul Quader, project manager (birth registration) of Plan Bangladesh, explained its importance. “Without birth certificate it becomes extremely difficult to address child rights issues. Street children and child labourers are especially vulnerable,” he said.

“For children, birth certificate is a protection tool in case of child trafficking, child marriage and commercial sexual exploitation as it works as a proof of age,” he added.

“It gives them nationality and an identity. Most importantly it is the first bond between a child and the state. With its help children can demand their rights to the state.”

Field level workers of the project working closely with the street children said that collecting information about street children is extremely challenging.

“Most of the street children without parents or lost children who ended up on the streets do not know anything about their age or the place they were born. The runaway kids usually refrain from giving the right information,” pointed out Ashrafun Nahar Rainy, in-charge, Drop-in-Centre of Assistance for Slum Dwellers, one of the partner NGOs.

“Many street children who have parents are also ignorant about their birth year or date. Even their parents do not know anything. It becomes quite hard for us to gather information when the situation is like this,” she added.

Rainy also mentioned that often it becomes difficult to gain their trust in the first place. These children move from one place to another, making it hard to trace them. Unwanted newborns and lost toddlers found in the streets are the most challenging to work with.

There are certain provisions and guidelines in the Births and Deaths Registration Act 2006 regarding how information can be gathered about these children and how they can get their certificate.

Several discussion sessions are usually held with the children or with their parents to find out a significant event of the period they were born.

“It could be a flood, cyclone, election or even a football match. This is how we search for a possible age or birth month,” said Rainy.

The act also has provisions that in the case of parentless street children, officer-in-charge of local police station can apply on their behalf.

Birth registration has been made mandatory to get 16 basic services for every citizen.

A birth certificate serves as a proof of nationality and legal age verification document.

The Births and Deaths Registration Act requires a birth certificate to be used as proof of age for a number of essential services such as appointment in government, non-government and autonomous bodies, issuance of passport, driving licence, enrolment in voters’ list, land registration, trade licence, marriage registration etc.

The government has set a target to register births of every citizen (adult and newborn) by December 2008 and announced birth registrations free of charge from February 2007 to 31 December 2008. In the beginning the date was 2 July 2008.

Educating street children

Point Counterpoint

STREET children constitute one of the most vulnerable and marginal groups in Bangladesh. "Street children" are essentially the boys and girls for whom the streets, unoccupied dwellings, wastelands etc., have become homes and/or sources of livelihood, and who are inadequately protected or supervised by responsible adults.

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. A little less than half of them (49.2%) are of the age group < 10 years, while the remaining fall in the age group of 11-19 years. Their gender composition is as follows: boys 74.3%, while girls account for 25.7%. The above report estimates that by 2014 the number of such children would exceed 930,000.

The major problems of street children are: Insecure life; physical and sexual abuse by adults of the immediate community; harassment by law enforcing agencies; no, or inadequate, access to educational institutions and healthcare facilities; and lack of decent employment opportunity.

The role of appropriate education for empowerment of children — especially the disadvantaged groups like the street or working children — has been unequivocally established. Article 17 of the Constitution of Bangladesh recognises the right to education for all — including the disadvantaged children.

The National Plan of Action for Children (2005-2010) also clearly emphasises the urgent need for "education and empowerment." Along the same vein, the National Poverty Reduction Strategy of the country provides for education as a means of "empowerment of disadvantaged groups" — including children.

Notwithstanding the above official rhetoric, and despite a growing recognition of their vulnerability and disadvantaged status, there have been strikingly limited efforts to improve the condition of street children — especially by providing them with appropriate basic education. It will not be an exaggeration to note that this section of our society has largely remained outside the main ambit of developmental interventions.

Much to the relief of all those who want, and aspire, to see a better future for our street children, there have been a few encouraging, albeit limited, efforts to educate them through Open Air Schools (OAS). These schools are managed and administered by a number of national NGOs, mainly in metropolitan cities.

The schools are strategically located, covering the city-entry points and/or working places for street children, such as railway, launch and bus terminals, market places on riverbanks, busy city markets, parks, etc. The street school spots are typically acquired (often free of cost) from the community or relevant public authorities.

A typical school functions for two to three hours everyday for up to six days a week. School operating hours are decided so that they do not interfere with the working hours of the children. Prior to commencement of classes, the concerned staff (development workers, teachers) walk around the neighbouring area to identify newly arrived children and to invite regular children to classes.

The learning materials predominantly focus on various life skills related topics. To cite a typical example, the schools run by the NGO Aparajeyo Bangladesh use an open learning package that includes the following topics: Life skills, child rights, child labour, protection from sexual abuse and exploitation (including trafficking), creating dreams, keeping safe on the streets, dealing with the police, and HIV/AIDS/STI prevention. The idea is to create an educational foundation amongst the targeted children by blending pedagogical and practical life skills.

Based on my recent experience and interactions with a number of such schools (and the key stakeholders including school staff, children, representatives of the surrounding local communities), a number of problems can be identified regarding the contents and conduct of the life skills training and capacity development sessions imparted in the schools:

The mixed age groups of children make it difficult for the educators to respond to age-specific needs, maturity and queries. For very minor children (aged 6 to 10), for example, sessions on fairly technical topics (e.g. sexual abuse, arsenic contamination, legal issues of child trafficking) are not easily comprehensible.

The time of the training (2 to 3 hours including the time for rapport building) is considered insufficient by most educators.

Some terminologies and technical jargons used in the training sessions are not easily amenable to children’s understanding.

The schools run on bare minimum logistics and facilities, and lack any protection from weather fluctuations in the rainy and winter seasons.

As the children hail from varied geographical locations and cultures, some staff noted that diversity and variations in language (including accents and dialects) sometimes make uniform conduct of training sessions difficult.

Some training materials are not in adequate supply. Use of audio-visual materials is strikingly limited.

In the OAS, ensuring and maintaining regular presence of the children, who often tend to be highly mobile and restless, is a huge challenge.

Although most educators/trainers have basic relevant training (to a varying degree), advanced training on teaching techniques and tools is clearly inadequate.

It may be relevant at this point to think about and furnish some clues on improving the effectiveness of the OAS campaign. Some such ideas include the following:

The training topics, session time, and contents need to be reviewed and analysed by appropriately qualified experts and practitioners in order to make them more consistent, comprehensible and adaptive to the specific age and intellectual development of the targeted children and the local context.

To ensure "age-content compatibility," some educators and trainers opined that the children may be divided into two groups — up to 11 years of age, and 12 years and above.

The logistical requirements of the OAS should be reviewed.

A need assessment for all teachers and trainers should be carried out, and further training such as advanced training on teaching techniques (preferably tailor-made to the street children) and training of trainers may be considered.

The contents and mode of delivery of various training and capacity development initiatives should more clearly focus on (and lean towards) a "right-based approach" as distinct from mere philanthropic orientations.

As far as possible, the training contents and literature should use visual and pictorial materials as well as physical demonstrations, where applicable. Other experimental models of training and learning may provide valuable lessons in this regard. (The relevant materials developed by such institutions as CMES, Breaking the Silence, Fulki-Chittagong etc. may be consulted in this regard).

Along the same vein, the training methodologies used in these schools need to be reviewed by appropriately qualified experts. Emphasis may be given to use of learning by doing, mock sessions, and various illustrative tools.

The
concerned staff should have systematic and regular consultations with the targeted children and community people before designing and/or implementing any training scheme, especially about its contents, time and location.

Female children should be given preference, or at least equal opportunity, in availing various skills development training.

The salience and topicality of education as a means of broad-based empowerment are now unequivocally established, both amongst the academics and the development practitioners. This observation is especially relevant for the street children as one of the most disadvantaged and marginal sections of the society. The OAS campaign, despite all the limitations, does offer some rays of hope. This interesting initiative deserves immediate attention from our policy planners, academics, and development practitioners.

Dr. Niaz Ahmed Khan is Professor of Development Studies at the University of Dhaka, Bangladesh and Honourary Research Fellow, Centre for Development Studies, University of Wales, UK. He can be contacted at: niaz.khan@yahoo.com.

Khulna street children turning into criminals’ accomplice

A large number of street boys in Khulna city and nine upazilas of the district have got involved in different types of crime as criminals use them as convenient accomplices.

The number of street children in the district has risen to over 50,000 this year from 41,000 last year and many of them are involved in crimes, says a report jointly prepared by UNICEF and non-government organisation Aparajeo Bangladesh.

Poverty and wayward life of their parents, loss of shelters due to natural calamities such as floods and cyclone, drug addiction, bigamy or polygamy of parents and missing during journey from one place to another are among the factors that are responsible for a large number of street boys’ get involved in crimes, says the report.

NGO Aparajeo Bangladesh, which works for welfare of the disadvantaged children, has undertaken a project styled ‘Protection of children at risk’.

Funded by UNICEF, this project under supervision of the Ministry of Social Welfare is mainly aimed at bringing the deviated children to the right path and normal life by providing them with necessary supports to build up their career, said Project Manager Shikder Hadiuzzaman Bony.

Aparajeo Bangladesh is implementing the project, he said.

Many of these hapless street boys are being picked up by criminals for keeping arms, throwing bombs at targets, selling drugs and pilferage of food grains for small amount of money, the project manager quoted the survey report as saying.

Rehabilitation of street children emphasised

Rehabilitation of street children emphasised

BSS, Dhaka

Liton, a 12-year old boy sells betel leaves in a park and lives with his distant aunt and her son in a slum at city’s Tejgaon area.

His father is no more and his mother died when he was minor. He used to live with her grand-mother initially and then moved to his aunt, previously known to her late mother. His aunt, abandoned by her husband, earns her livelihood begging.

Like his aunt, Liton also begs along with selling betel leaves. His companion Roni is a nine year old boy, who lives in the same slum with his mother, crippled father and a four-year old sister. Roni’s father was a rickshaw puller and sustained injuries in a road accident that left his parents beg door to door.

Eight year old Moyna sells rejected flowers from Shahbagh area to the nearby campus. She stays with a floating family at the High court area. She lives with her grandmother and aunt following deaths of her parents died at her early age. Abandoned by their husbands, both her grandmother and aunt are beggars.

There are a large number of these kinds of street children, who earn their living by selling flowers, collected papers, chocolates and working in garages temporarily. These street children take up such professions at the instigation of their guardians.

Although Liton, Roni and Moyna seem to earn some money by selling flowers, water and collecting thrown away papers, their main earnings are from asking alms from the passerby.

They said that there are lots of children who are forced to join in this kinds of profession as no other opportunity are available to them and also that their parents are also engaged in this profession.

Sometimes they cannot find other jobs, as they have no identity to give to work in a shop or a garage. Even if they are employed, are often denied wages. All these reasons left them with no choice but to take up their parents’ profession – begging.

These children also adopt new techniques such as asking monetary help from the passerby in the name of treatment for their sick family members.

According to social scientists these children might fell prey to unsocial elements and they could involve them to destructive activities in future and they might become members of organised crimes as there is none to guide them to chose between right and wrong. When grown old they might also turn to criminals.

Society has also obligations towards these children, they said adding appropriate steps must be taken to protect these street children and proper measures should also be taken to rehabilitate them, so that the society cannot turn to a sanctuary for criminals.

Firstly their parents should see to it that their children do not go for begging and they should be sent to rehabilitation centres for their proper mental and physical growth. If necessary, the government should make it mandatory to enroll the street children into the rehabilitation centres.

Besides, the parents might be provided with employment who send their children to the centres. A massive publicity is needed to create awareness among the people to send the street children to the rehabilitation centres.

Secondly, adequate rehabilitation centres should be set up in the major cities of the country and the parents should be encouraged to send the street children to those centres.

Thirdly, the centres should have arrangements for providing vocational training to the street children, besides providing training to a particular vocation so that they could take up professions in the future.

Bangladesh street kids turn from begging to banking

Bangladesh street kids turn from begging to banking

Wed Apr 9, 2008 3:20pm IST

By Azad Majumder

DHAKA (Reuters Life!) – Mohammad Raju ran away from his poor family in Bangladesh’s southern Khulna district eight years ago, hoping for a better life in the capital, Dhaka.

Instead, his life got worse. His tiny income from selling chocolates in the sprawling parliament compound in Dhaka left him hungry and homeless.

"I used to earn up to 20 taka ($0.30) in a day which was in no way enough to survive. Sometimes policemen, who were on duty at the parliament compound, gave me their spare food. Still I spent many days with little or no food," Raju told Reuters.

Raju’s life changed after he discovered an unlikely profession for a street child: banking.

The 16-year-old boy started working for the Children’s Development Bank, a Bangladesh-based lender that is owned by a non-government organization and managed by street children. He now earns 2,000 taka ($30) a month and can save a portion of his income.

His workplace looks like any other Bangladesh bank, with counters and a cash and ledger book — except for the fact that the bank clerks are unusually young.

Raju has been promoted to the post of program assistant at the bank and is now a paid employee, working under an adult supervisor. But most of the children who work here are volunteers wanting to learn new skills and contribute to a system that allows them to save money and earn some interest on their savings. Others simply deposit their money at the bank, which is open two hours a day, without becoming involved as volunteers.

NO PICK-POCKETS

"Often they spoil the money earned through hard labor by taking drugs or watching movies. Our bank keeps it safe for their future," said Basudeb Maitra, coordinator of the Children’s Development Bank.

"Street children who have a valid source of income and are not involved in pick-pocketing, begging, drug-selling, pilfering can bank with us," said Maitra.

Aparajeyo-Bangladesh, the organization that owns the bank, has received a tremendous response from working children aged 9 to 18 since opening the institution in late 2004. If the volunteers prove to be good at banking, the organization offers them vocational training.

"They can open an account with Taka 10 ($0.15) and can deposit the money whenever they wish," said Maitra, adding that bank now has 2,074 depositors in 11 branches in Dhaka and the port city Chittagong.

"Since it is not a business at all, we deposited the entire money collected from the children, which is around taka 450,000 ($65,600), in a commercial bank."

"Butterflies", an Indian organization, pioneered the concept of a bank for children, which has now been adopted by some other organizations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, officials said.

A recent survey by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies showed that nearly 445,000 children sleep on the street in Bangladesh, and 75 per cent of them live in Dhaka.

Many of these children work as porters, rag pickers, cart pushers or shoe shiners. They help in shops and restaurants and on buses, and sell anything from newspapers to snacks.

(Writing by Anis Ahmed, editing by Sophie Hardach)

Media role for mainstreaming street children emphasized

BSS, Dhaka

Speakers at a discussion yesterday urged the media personalities to play their significant role by ensuring quality reporting to integrate the disadvantaged street children in the mainstream of the development.

"The underprivileged street children are not exposed in our society although they are the significant part of the society. The media can play a significant role in promoting their livelihood by making capacity building of the street children", they said at the discussion held at the VIP lounge of the National Press Club here.

The discussion on ‘Role of the Print and Electronic Media, was organised by the Improving Development Opportunity for Street Children (IDOSC) run under the Population Services Training Centre (PSTC) in cooperation with Plan Bangladesh.

Editor of the daily Jugantar Golam Sarwar was present as the chief guest while head of news of the Ekushey Television Shah Alamgir and acting country director of the Action Aid Bangladesh Haider Yakub Chowdhury were present as the special guests.

PSTC executive director Milon Bikash Paul presided over the discussion. Director of community services of the PSTC Fayez Mohammad Mostaque, Programme manager of Dhaka south programme unit of Action Aid Bangladesh FM Shamsul Alam, social development adviser of Action Aid Bangladesh Jinnath Afroz, IDOSC coordinator Surojit Kundu were present, among others.

Three Bangladeshi street children walk along a street with bags

Three Bangladeshi street children walk along a street with bags

Three Bangladeshi street children walk along a street with bags ... AFP/Getty Im...
30 de octubre de 2007, 03:56 AM

Three Bangladeshi street children walk along a street with bags full of goods salvaged from garbage in Dhaka, 30 October 2007. The spiraling growth of urban population, rural poverty, migration to urban centers, and unemployment are some of the causes for the rising number of street children in Bangladesh. AFP PHOTO/FARJANA KHAN GODHULY (Photo credit should read Farjana KHAN GODHULY/AFP/Getty Images)

A monster in the making

Gigi Asem

Sociologist Gigi Asem said street children are part of an urbanised society and in a horribly bifurcated society like ours drug addiction of street children can be a very serious social problem.

“In reality people in our society are not much concerned about drug addiction among street children because they are kept out of sight and so are out of mind. The upper and middle income groups and the educated section of the society are not directly affected by this problem,” she said.

Asem, also a teacher of the Department of General and Continuing Education, North South University, said: “The drug addict street children are a very small part of the society. We have other serious issues like crime and violence. But important thing is whether we care to listen to their voices.”

“The direct impact of the problem is that by losing these children, who will soon become adolescents and teens, Bangladesh will lose a portion of her young workforce. We will lose our potential resources and they will become a national burden,” said the sociologist.

“One reason of their addiction is broken families and indifferent parents. The fathers are missing after breeding the children. This is an outcome of poverty. The poor cannot afford family loyalty. In fact they cannot be blamed for that because it is their survival strategy,” she said.

“If we choose to ignore them then one day they will grow up and may find a voice of their own and impact on the society in a negative way. Then we may find ourselves in an insecure situation,” she added.

Street Children

Experts tell workshop

Experts at a workshop yesterday said only rescue and rehabilitation cannot ensure the mainstreaming of street children.

They said further collaboration between government and non-government organisation is needed for their social integration.

The three-day workshop titled ‘Family and community based reintegration of street children and children without parental care’ began at the LGED seminar room at Agargaon in the city.

The workshop has been organised jointly by the Protection of Children at Risk (PCAR) Project of the Ministry of Social Welfare and the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef).

Social Welfare Secretary M A Hye Howlader addressed the inaugural session as chief guest.

He said overall development of the street children is possible if every segment of the community is brought under the umbrella of integrated development approach.

Presiding over the session, Director General of social services department Hafizul Islam Mia said the workshop is aimed to develop strategies and implement guidelines for the reintegration of children of two categories- street children and children without parental care.

"The workshop would be helpful to go ahead systematically and effectively with standard guidelines for family and community based reintegration of street children and children without parental care," he added.

Speaking as chief facilitator of the workshop, Unicef Consultant John Frederick said only provision of education does not necessarily mean the rehabilitation of the abandoned children unless they are reintegrated into the community and society.

PCAR National Project Director Md Iqbal pointed out the lack of adequate resource for the social integration of the underprivileged children even after receiving lifeskills and vocational training.

Around 30 representatives from different child rights organisations and government officials concerned are taking part in the workshop that will end on Monday.

Call for adequate budget allocation for street children

Call for adequate budget allocation for street children
Bss, Dhaka

Incidin Bangladesh, a non-governmental organisation (NGO), yesterday urged the government to ensure adequate allocation in the national budget to establish safe night-shelter for street children.

Addressing a news conference at the Dhaka Reporters Unity, Ratan Sarkar, executive director of Incidin Bangladesh, said poverty, natural disasters, river erosion, flood, famine and rising water level affect most of the children of poor and marginalised families.

A large number of children are driven to the capital city and other towns for their survival as they face immense suffering due to broken family and natural calamities and take shelters in the streets in different cities and towns, including Dhaka and Chittagong.

"It is impossible to figure out accurate number but it is assumed that about two million children are living in the streets", Ratan Sarker said, quoting the report of government’s Arise Project 2002 and the United Nations.

Although there are different government and non-government initiatives and programmes for the welfare of street children, but these are not enough, he said.

Ratan said due to lack of resources and skills, the area of activity to ensure safe night for the street children could not be achieved yet up to the required level.

Underlining the importance of government’s intervention, he said the government must play a vital role in ensuring safe night for street children.

Emphasising the need for initiatives in resolving painful scenario of street children for their food, shelter, medicare and torture by the traffickers and sex abusers, he demanded the government’s active role to make positive changes in this regard.

He hoped that the government would create instances to ensure safe shelter for street children by making adequate allocation in the budget under the constitutional provision for ensuring rights of life and safety for all citizens.

Adequate budgetary allocation could be the introduction of the initiative of ensuring protection for the children and their safe night shelter, he added.

Referring to the budget proposal for 2007-2008 for the construction of 15,000 flats for poor and migrated slum-dwellers on government khas lands, he demanded inclusion of the issue of establishing shelter home for the street children in the proposed plan.

"Floating children and the children from detached families are part of the homeless people," he said.

Nasimul Ahsan Dipu, advocacy chief, Rakibul Hasan, project manager, Mushfiqur Rahman, project coordinator of Incidin Bangladesh, Hritu Das and Imran Ali were present in the news conference.