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Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Pressure for jail orphans' release
Bangladeshi street children
Bangladeshi street children can end up in jail
By Alistair Lawson in Dhaka

One of the most prominent human rights groups in Bangladesh, the Law and Mediation Centre, has said it will take legal action against the government to secure the release of 220 children who are being held in protective custody in the country's adult prisons.

The children have not been found guilty of any criminal offences and are being held in jail because they have no family or friends to look after them.


Physical, sexual and drug abuse are all commonplace

The Law and Mediation Centre says that jails in Bangladesh are notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic.

It says the government is failing in its legal duties by putting neglected children in prison.

Human rights groups say the appalling plight of children in the jails of Bangladesh is vividly illustrated by the case of a seven-year-old girl whose photo is on the front page of the country's main English language Daily Star newspaper on Saturday.

Lawyers are filing a petition in a magistrate's court to try to secure her release from Dhaka's central jail.

The child was picked up by the police off the streets and put in jail because she had no family or friends to look after her.

Not guilty

Human rights groups say there are at least 200 other children who, like her, have been put in prison for what the government calls protective custody.

Normally, such children are put in homes but, if these are full up, the authorities put them in prison, even though they are not guilty of any criminal offence.

The government has so far refused to comment on the issue, which it treats as highly sensitive.

It does, however, acknowledge that conditions in jail are oppressive.

Dhaka's central jail was built to hold around 3,000 inmates. An estimated 9,000 prisoners are currently being detained there.

Abuse

Human rights groups say that most of the country's 72 main prisons are unsanitary and that physical, sexual and drug abuse are all commonplace.

They say that many inmates are malnourished and that the government refuses to allow independent monitors inside jails to assess conditions.

The Law and Mediation Centre says that only 15,000 inmates out of the total prison population of 60,000 have been convicted because of the backlog in the country's criminal and judicial process.

The Centre says the government makes no effort to rehabilitate offenders.

Ministers, however, say that they are doing their best to improve conditions in jails and that plans are afoot to rebuild Dhaka's central jail.

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See also:

29 Nov 00 | South Asia
Bangladesh torture 'endemic'
29 Mar 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Bangladesh
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