Nine in ten children – accounting for 45 million boys and girls – below the age of 14 are subjected to violent disciplining in their homes regularly, United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) has said.
Violent disciplining, sexual abuse, child labour, child marriage and psychological punishment remain widespread in Bangladesh, putting millions of children at risk of harm every day, it said.
To identify these children and to protect them from harm and abuse, a well-planned, trained and supported social service workforce is critical, said a press release issued by Unicef on Tuesday.
More than half of girls, 51%, are married before reaching their eighteenth birthday. Millions of children are living on the street, are out of school or trapped in hazardous child labour, said the release.
To adequately respond to the needs of vulnerable children, over 100,000 social workers are needed, but currently there are only 3,000 social workers in Bangladesh.
"The Government of Bangladesh, under the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, has been implementing social safety nets focused on vulnerable people. The Ministry of Social Welfare is distributing different types of allowances for the old age people, widow, destitute and deserted women, and persons with disabilities under social safety nets programmes, said Social Welfare Minister Nuruzzaman Ahmed.
"We also provide shelter for the orphans and vulnerable children in our Shishu Nibas and shelter centres. UNICEF has been providing their support to ensure the safety, security and rights of every child in the country. I hope social workers around the country will work for the betterment of the lives of common people," the minister added.
Unicef has joined hands with the Department of Social Services (DSS), under the Ministry of Social Welfare to launch a year-long campaign calling for greater investment in the social service workforce promoting the critical role of social workers in protecting children and women.
"Professionally-trained social workers are at the core of every well-functioning child protection system that reaches every child in need of protection. We must recognize the importance of their work, and we must invest in them," said Sheldon Yett, Unicef representative to Bangladesh.
Already, dedicated social workers under the DSS, supported by Unicef and the European Union (EU), are protecting children in urban and rural communities. These social workers reached over 200,000 children in 2021, providing them with psychosocial support, case management follow-up, and referral services. Since April 2020, they also facilitated the release of over 5,000 children from detention centres – known as Child Development Centres – and have supported these children to reunite with their families.
"Experienced and well-trained social workforces are key to enforcing the rights of children. The EU is keen to support building the capacity of the government officials, social workers, and other specialists working with and for children, through training and the development of child protection policies requirements. We should acknowledge the efforts of the social workers who are working in vulnerable communities to address child rights issues in Bangladesh," said Charles Whiteley, Head of Delegation, Delegation of the European Union to Bangladesh.
In 2015, with support from Unicef, DSS established the Child Helpline 1098, a toll-free nationwide number. In 2021, the helpline responded to calls from over 120,000 children and concerned members of the public, providing counselling and referrals to legal aid, shelter, health and education services.
At the height of the pandemic, in 2020, the Child Helpline 1098 responded to over 180,000 calls.