Bangladesh Children’s Parliament advocates for children’s rights
In Bangladesh, where a large majority of children continue to be forced into marriage at a very young age, the Children’s Parliament aims to empower children and ensure their rights are protected across the country.
Children’s Parliament is the advocacy wing of the National Children’s Task Force (NCTF), a well-known children’s organization, established primarily to monitor the implementation of the National Plan of Action (adopted in 2002-2006) against the sexual abuse and exploitation of children, including trafficking.
The Parliament is run by a committee of 11 children, aged 12-18 years old, elected by child members of the NCTF. It has about 30,000 members – all children – working together to raise the voice for children’s rights.
It is an excellent space for children to make their voices heard in public debate and decision-making processes, with the main objective of holding those in power to account. Children invite policymakers to attend the session of the Parliament most relevant to their area. For example for a debate on education the Education Minister was invited.
One of the initiatives conducted by the Children’s Parliament was a research project into the position of children’s rights in the country. It is a continuous process to collect data and information for research over the year. Children collect information related to issues in the field by reviewing daily newspapers, interviewing other children and adults and observing their community. They then choose an issue to present in the Parliament and develop a short report based on their research.
More than 250 child researchers (12-18 years old) engaged in the project, collected relevant data and made recommendations for action. The children were able to prioritise the information collected and select the issues on which they wanted to focus. Last year, one of the key issues emerging from the research was child marriage and so their representations focused on the Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2014.
Child Marriage is a big issue in Bangladesh, where discriminatory attitudes and patriarchal values and norms remain embedded. The result is that Bangladesh has one of the highest rates of child marriage in the world, a violation of children’s human rights. The legal age of marriage in Bangladesh is 18 for girls and 21 for boys, but the ‘tipping age’ is usually 15 years.
It is estimated that 66 per cent of girls in Bangladesh are married off before the age of 18, and 32 per cent before the age of 15. And while the prevalence of child marriage is high in urban areas, at 53 per cent, it is even higher in rural areas where 70 per cent of girls are married early. UNICEF also recently reported that the largest number of very young brides can be found in the Western and southern parts of Bangladesh that border India.
Child Marriage Act 2013 amended
During the last Children’s Parliament Session, on 21 December 2014, when more than 300 children attended, the findings of the research were presented by elected delegates. The session also included a diverse range of Bangladeshi children, including street children, working children, children from ethnic minorities, and disabled children; as well as other vulnerable and marginalised groups. The event featured in national newspapers and broadcast on national television.
The child parliamentarians presented their recommendations and some of these were enacted by the main Parliament through amendments to the Child Marriage Act of 2013, including: not to reduce the legal age of marriage for girls from 18 to 16; and to ensure better social security for them at a community level.
Media representatives queried children about Child Marriage and this exposure showed once again that platforms like the Children’s Parliament are very important in providing opportunities for children to raise their voices and reach policy-makers, government officials, philanthropists and members of civil society. These interviews highlighted the issues most important to them such as protection, health and education.
While it may not yet be certain how the those in power will address these concerns, they can be sure that if they are open to it the Children’s Parliament offers them a persuasive, on-going dialogue with the children for whom they carry such responsibility.