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Bangladesh elections violence: “Children thought abandoned bombs were toys”

Source: Plan UK - Mon, 13 Jan 2014 16:38 GMT
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Last month three-year-old Lima Akhter found a ball in the street in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Like any young child might, she picked it up to play.

But within moments the ball exploded in her tiny hand, blowing away all her fingers.

Tragically, Lima had mistaken an abandoned homemade bomb for a toy.

Rushed to hospital with further injuries to her stomach and her left hand, Lima is one of 104 children injured or killed during wide-scale violent clashes in the Bangladesh capital during the lead up to last week’s national government election.

The election was boycotted by the country’s main opposition parties, and homemade bombs were frequently used during ongoing street violence. Innocent children, like Lima, were at serious risk of injury as many confused abandoned explosives with something they could play with.

Torched vehicles and violent incidents with police have also been part of everyday life for local families, causing huge concern for the safety of their children.

One teenager, Monir, 14, was sat inside his father’s van just outside Dhaka while his father investigated an opposition blockade ahead on the Dhaka-Gazipur Highway, just outside Dhaka.

His father returned to find the van burning, with Monir inside. Tragically, after suffering 95 per cent burns, Monir died of his injuries on November 7 at Dhaka Medical Hospital.

Another schoolboy, Sumon, 10, was killed when he was caught in a gunfight between police and opposition activists in Sirajganj on December 9.

Child casualties are a terrible result of the street violence but, worryingly, they were not always accidental.

There are many homeless or vulnerable children in Bangladesh – children who are easy to hire for small amounts of money. And, incredibly, some political parties reportedly routinely employed them to carry out violent acts during political demonstrations - like hurling homemade bombs at vehicles, or torching cars.

Media reports claim the going rate of setting fire on a vehicle was Tk 500 to 1000 (£4-8). This is a blatant violation of child rights and it’s terribly distressing.

My agency, Plan International, has joined forces with five other organisations - international NGO’s Save the Children, Action Aid Bangladesh, Terre des homes Netherlands, and national networks Child Rights Governance Assembly and Girls Child Advocacy Forum – to launch a campaign against these atrocities that children are facing as they become caught up in politics-influenced violence.

We are appealing to all political parties to urge them to refrain from using children in political activities, and demanding that places such as schools remain off-limits to political activities.

Children must be kept safe and it is our duty to protect them.

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