Lost Innocence, Stolen Childhoods Thérèse Blanchet ISBN 984 70220 0013 4 2008 280pp 215x136mm HB Tk.400.00 US$25.00
This book examines the lives of Bangladeshi children and adolescents roughly between 8 and 16 years old, exposing vast discrepancies in the rights they are able to exercise. For example, middle class children and the young domestic servants working in their homes may be roughly the same age but they have profoundly different roles, rights and obligations. The latter are kept out of school, taught to perform domestic tasks and to ‘understand’ their low position and their lack of rights, while the former are highly pressurized to achieve school success and confirm the superiority of their rank. A key notion in the maturation of Bengali children is the development of a state of ‘understanding’, but what should be understood, when and how varies widely for children in different circumstances. Distinct conceptualizations of childhood are shown here to be critical to the construction of a society characterized, by a high degree of class and gender inequality. Children of a similar age share very little in common.
In August 1990, the Government of Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Following this event, it seems appropriate to examine the role played by the Bangladesh government in the establishment of norms and standards defining and safeguarding children’s rights, for example through the enforcement of universal primary education, the effective application of child labour laws and the prevention of child prostitution. Although there are some good laws and promising policies, the state apparatus is shown to be largely inefficient in applying them. Perhaps the most disturbing finding of this study is the corrupt practices whereby state agents use the protective laws to extract payoff’s from those who violate them and not really to protect the children. The price children pay for this corruption is described in the book in at least two instances: brothels and bidi factories.
Thérèse Blanchet has been conducting research in Bangladesh since 1978. Her anthropological field work took her from rural villages to urban slums, from haor to highlands, from brothels to mazars. Her rich and unusually broad experience of Bangladesh society over 17 years is reflected in her writings. Thérèse Blanchet currently works for Rädda Barnen where she is leading a multidisciplinary team conducting studies on children and childhood. She is author of Women, Pollution and Marginality: Meanings and Rituals of Birth in Rural Bangladesh. (UPL 1984).