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Courts in Bangladesh get tough

Last week, a ten year-old boy committed suicide, after saying he’d been beaten by his teacher. This tragic case is only one of many which have drawn new attention to the issue of corporal punishment in Bangladesh.

Despite the fact that corporal punishment was outlawed in schools during the 1990s, it is still common for pupils to be beaten or given severe punishments. In another recent case, a seven year-old at a religious school was chained up for his misbehaviour. And in another incident, eight students had to be admitted to hospital after they were caned for not having coloured pencils in school.

Following these shocking cases, the High Court in Bangladesh has ordered that the government must insist that primary and secondary schools can no longer use corporal punishment. Activists in the country have welcomed the High Court’s decision, countering arguments made by teachers that they only use such methods to keep order, by reminding Bangladeshi’s about the rights of children and the damage to their development inflicted by harsh punishment.

This month has also seen success for environmental activists in Bangladesh, as the cabinet of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has proposed the creation of a new court with powers to jail those who pollute the environment.

Yet to receive parliamentary approval, the new court, with its headquarters in Dhaka, but also branches across the country, would allow any citizen to file a case against factory owners or builders who pollute the waterways or air, and also those who grab land illegally. The court would have the power to jail offenders for up to five years or to impose fines of up to 7,000 dollars.

The four major rivers of Bangladesh, which provide a lifeline for millions of people, are already severely polluted by industrial and human waste, which has left much of the water unfit for use and killed many fish. A World Bank study last year estimated the rivers received 1.5 million cubic metres of waste every day from around 7,000 industrial units along their banks and another 0.5 million cubic metres from other sources. Some of the industrial units illegally occupy land near canals and in parks.

Many Bangladeshi’s suffer from pollution-related illnesses and pollution of the air is also a huge problem. In an Air Quality Management Project report funded by the government and the World Bank, it was estimated that the country suffered 15,000 premature deaths because of the poor air quality in the capital, and millions of people were left with pulmonary, respiratory or neurological problems. During the dry season, the density of airborne particulates reached the highest level recorded anywhere in the world.

Activists have therefore welcomed proposals for the new court and await to see how effective it will be.

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