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Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Bangladesh

Publisher Child Soldiers International
Publication Date 20 May 2008
Cite as Child Soldiers International, Child Soldiers Global Report 2008 - Bangladesh, 20 May 2008, available at: [accessed 30 November 2021]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Population: 141.8 million (59.4 million under 18)
Government Armed Forces: 126,500
Compulsary Recruitment Age: no conscription
Voluntary Recruitment Age: 16 (air force); 17 (army and navy); 18 (paramilitary and auxiliary forces)
Voting Age: 18
Optional Protocol: ratified 6 September 2000
Other Treaties: GC AP I, GC AP II, CRC, ILO 182

Under-18s were reported to be serving in the armed forces. Despite government assertions to the contrary a number of armed groups were known to be operating in the country, and there were allegations that some had recruited children.


Following a series of bombings in 63 districts in August 2005, the government cracked down on Islamist groups. Hundreds of arrests were carried out and several Islamist organizations – including the Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (JMJB), Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) – were banned.1

In January 2007 a state of emergency was declared by the president. Imminent elections were cancelled following widespread political violence. A military-backed caretaker government took power; it banned political rallies and other political activity and began a campaign against corrupt politicians and organized crime under which thousands of people were detained.

Observers voiced concern that the slow implementation of the 1997 Peace Accord in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) threatened the return of organized violence. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) concerned with child rights feared that such violence would involve children.2 In May 2007 the CHT Affairs Ministry Advisory Committee held its first meeting for six years to discuss implementation of the Accord.3

India continued to allege that numerous separatist groups active in northeast India were operating from inside Bangladesh's borders. In early 2007 the caretaker government of Bangladesh appeared to acknowledge this and said that it would take action against them.4

According to the government in 2005, a National Child Labour Policy had been drafted, but not finalized, which would remove anomalies in legislation, fix a uniform age for admission to work, and simplify and consolidate all legal provisions for the progressive elimination of child labour, including its worst forms.5 A Baseline Survey conducted by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2005 estimated that there were 532,000 child workers aged 5-17 engaged in hazardous labour.6

The age of criminal responsibility was raised from seven to nine years. UNICEF commented that "for children in conflict with the law, rehabilitation instead of punishment is yet to become the main aim".7 Under the 1974 Children Act "child" and "youthful offender" were defined as a person under the age of 16, so that children between the ages of 16 and 18 were treated as adults.


National recruitment legislation and practice

There was no provision for compulsory recruitment into the armed or paramilitary forces. There was no legislation governing the minimum age for recruitment and deployment, but according to the government the minimum age of recruitment into the army and navy was 17 years, and 16 for the air force.8 The minimum age for recruitment into Bangladesh's armed paramilitary and auxiliary forces, including the Bangladesh Rifles and the Ansars, was 18.9 The government maintained that there was no scope for any person to be employed for actual service or combat duty in the defence services, internal security services or paramilitary forces before attaining the age of 18, because those recruited below that age were required to undergo periods of training (although in the case of the army, the government indicated that training was for a period of only nine months).10

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the reportedly high number of children under 18 who enrolled in the armed forces and the difficulty of determining the real age of recruits.11 Recruitment information issued by the Army of Bangladesh specified the need for education certificates, a nationality certificate and a certificate of parental consent, but not a birth certificate. The birth registration rate was reported as 10 per cent (having been 7 per cent in 2003).12 The Committee also expressed concern about the lack of mandatory parental consent except for recruits to the air force, and the lack of measures to ensure that recruitment of under-18s was genuinely voluntary and well informed.13

Military training and military schools

According to information provided by the government to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, durations of training varied from one branch of the armed forces to another. Army training lasted nine months and the duration of naval training was from 15 months to two years. The training period was the same for recruits of all ages, including those under the age of 18, who on completing training were required to perform the same duties as other soldiers.14

Ten cadet colleges (including one girls' college) enrolled children from the age of 12 and provided military and academic instruction. The Defence Ministry and the Bangladesh Army had a direct role in the operation of these colleges, and a high number of students were said to join the armed forces on leaving.15

Armed Groups:

In its initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, the government stated that "There is no armed group in Bangladeshi territory, so the question of involving under-18s in such a group does not arise".16 However, a number of armed groups were operating in the country, and there were widespread allegations that many of them had recruited children.17

Islamist groups

There were fears that the spread of madrasas (Islamic religious schools) might make children more susceptible to recruitment by militant Islamist groups. The Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern about the possible military training given to children in unregistered madrasas from a very young age.18 Concrete evidence of child recruitment by Islamist groups was scarce, but non-governmental organizations (NGOs) reported that they considered incidents of child recruitment to be common. In the Khulna and Rajshahi districts, some teachers in the privately owned unregistered madrasas were accused of providing under-age activists to the JMB, which was involved in the serial bombings of August 2005. It was also alleged that children aged 12-15 were working for the JMJB, not only as couriers but also to carry and set off bombs.19

It was reported that most members of the JMB, including district and regional commanders, who had been arrested were barely 18-20 and that two of those arrested in 2005 had been 16. Most of the boys were said to have been recruited from madrasas.20 A report in the local media further claimed that another militant group, Hizbut Tawhid, which believed in a jihad to establish Islamic rule globally, said that groups of 6-11 "skilled mujahids" currently operated in almost every district in the country to persuade children to join in preparation for an armed jihad. Financial incentives were offered in some cases, while others received a mobile phone. The report claimed that most children who joined were acting against their parents' wishes.21

Maoist groups

In southwest Bangladesh, factions of the banned Maoist Purbo Banglar Communist Party (PBCP) were reported to have recruited children aged 13-16 to make and plant bombs and throw grenades. Party operatives were reported to have targeted children from slum areas and families of victims of political violence for recruitment. A number of such children were reported to have been killed by police in "crossfire" in 2004 and 2005.22

Criminal gangs

Primary research on recruitment of children by criminal gangs (known as mastans) was scarce, but some child rights NGOs claimed that poor children were being used for drugs trafficking and arms carrying in slum areas of Dhaka. The increasing availability of small arms made under-age slum and street children increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by gangs.23

Disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR):

There was no formal disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) process for children involved in the conflict in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. With the government having reported to the Committee on the Rights of the Child that there were 1,947 persons with "some sort of combatant background", the Committee expressed concern about the lack of information about programs for DDR, in particular for children who had been involved in the Chittagong Hill Tracts conflict, taking into account that involvement in armed conflict produces long-term consequences requiring psychosocial assistance.24


Bangladesh's initial report on implementation of the Optional Protocol referred to a number of plans and policies for the protection of children, which focused on child trafficking, birth registration and juvenile justice, but included no policies for the protection of children involved in armed conflict.25

1 International Crisis Group (ICG), Bangladesh Today, Asia Report No. 121, 23 October 2006,

2 Charu Lata Hogg, Child Recruitment in South Asian Conflicts: A Comparative Analysis of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh, London: Chatham House and Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers, 2006. (An edited extract from the report, Child Recruitment in South Asian Conflicts: Bangladesh, issued by the Coalition in April 2007, is available at

3 "CHT leaders for full implementation of peace accord", Daily Star, 29 May 2007.

4 "No refuge to Indian insurgents: Bangladesh",, 3 March 2007.

5 Initial report of Bangladesh to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on implementation of the Optional Protocol, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/BGD/1, 14 July 2005.

6 International Labour Organization (ILO), International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), cited in US Department of State, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2006.

7 UNICEF: Juvenile Justice in Bangladesh, undated,

8 Initial report, above note 5.

9 Ibid.

10 Answers by the State Party to the questions asked by the Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/BGD/Q/1/Add.1.

11 Committee on the Rights of the Child, Consideration of report submitted by Bangladesh on implementation of the Optional Protocol, Concluding observations, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPAC/BGD/CO/1, January 2006.

12 Response to the issues raised by the Committee on the Rights of the Child related to the report submitted by the Government of Bangladesh on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography in 2007, UN Doc. CRC/C/OPSC/BGD/Q/1/Add.1.

13 Committee on the Rights of the Child, above note 11; Answers by State Party, above note 10.

14 Initial report, above note 5.

15 Information from websites of a number of cadet schools, including

16 Initial report, above note 5.

17 Lata Hogg, above note 2.

18 Committee on the Rights of the Child, above note 11.

19 Lata Hogg, above note 2.

20 "Militants found teenagers easy to brainwash", Daily Star, 16 March 2006.

21 "Turning into a militant", Daily Star, 22 August 2005.

22 "Outlawed parties recruiting slum boys, street urchins", Daily Star, 24 July 2005.

23 Lata Hogg, above note 2.

24 Committee on the Rights of the Child, above note 11; Answers by State Party, above note 10.

25 Initial report, above note 5.

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