Scalding Wake-up Call

June 27, 2008

[Ratna with her mother at the hospital — her tongue, legs and buttocks bearing the marks from the torture endured at the home of Sylhet’s Chief Judicial Magistrate Rafiqul Alam.]

Fourteen-year-old Ratna who worked as a maid for the last 10 months reveals the horror stories of how she faced demonic torture by her employer, the wife of Sylhet’s Chief Judicial Magistrate. If this is the way his home is run, how can he administer justice in the courts? Read the rest of this entry »


Stolen Childhood

May 3, 2008

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, May 3, 2008]

Two weeks ago there was a shocking news report about the brutal murder of a 56-year-old writer. The 23-year-old murderer was a nephew of the woman, and reports allege that he was a drug addict and came to his aunt looking for money. When he was refused, he went ballistic and murdered her. The whole incident was witnessed from the beginning by one person– an eight-year-old girl, called Momota. News cameras caught her describing in gory detail every step of the murder, and finally the murderer running away and warning the girl of dire consequences if she spoke about it to anyone.

How is Momota related to anyone in the house? She’s not. She used to work as a ‘bandha’ (derogatory term for full-time employment) maidservant of the house. Read the rest of this entry »

Accident or Negligence?

January 25, 2008

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, January 25, 2008]

Baby Afia

When Shafiqul Islam admitted his sick baby girl to one of the best cardiac hospitals in Bangladesh he was somewhat relieved. He thought that if his baby who had a congenital heart problem had any chance of survival it would be at this hospital. And he was right. Lt. Col. Dr. Nurunnahar Fatema, the clinical and interventional child cardiac specialist who did a septostomy at Labaid Cardiac Hospital on 45-day-old Afia spent four hours at the operation theatre and the operation was a success. But Afia’s operation was done at the very last moment. Another day longer would have taken her life. But her troubles had begun much earlier. Read the rest of this entry »

Waiting for Justice

May 25, 2007

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, May 25, 2007]

No one knows how Shaptorshi is spending her days without her mother’s care.

It was the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr in 2005. Nine-year-old Shaptorshi had just come back from Dhaka to celebrate the big festival at her dadi’s house in Barisal. After playing with her friends, Shaptorshi came home to eat iftari and was told that her mother Papia was not feeling well and was resting in a room upstairs. She decided to go to her uncle’s house next door to have iftari and then rushed to the rooftop with her friends. After catching a glimpse of the new moon she rushed home to share the excitement with her family. She never got to hug her mother though. Right after sighting the new moon Shaptorshi’s little world fell apart when she was told that her mother was no longer in this world. Read the rest of this entry »


May 11, 2007

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, May 11, 2007]

Shumi woke up one day to find herself in a train with another man.

Seven-year-old Shumon can’t stop grinning and his eyes sparkle with curiosity as he greets us at his adopted home in BNWLA’s (Bangladesh National Women Lawyer’s Association) hostel in Agargaon. He’s one of the many children who has had to face the cruel reality, a child’s worst nightmare, of losing his parents and home and enter an unknown and unfamiliar world. According to BNWLA, in 2006 a total of 367 children went missing from their homes.

Whatever horror Shumon has had to go through in the past few years does not reflect on his face though. He looks genuinely excited about the arrival of people from outside the hostel. He enthusiastically shows us his jigsaw puzzle of the Bangladeshi flag. When I ask him if he has solved it all by himself, he takes apart the whole thing and redoes it to prove that he did indeed solve the puzzle himself. Shumon doesn’t know his last name or the name of his village home; he only knows that somewhere in Netrokona a mother who goes by the name of Saleha is crying out for her lost son. Read the rest of this entry »

The Invisible Millions

May 4, 2007

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star Cover Story, May 4, 2007]

A typical middle-class family employs a single homeworker (varying from age anywhere from 10 to 40, mostly women and girls) who is responsible for all the work in the house. She has to wake up earliest in the morning and prepare breakfast for everyone in the house and also the Tiffin for the school-going children of the house. She has to get the children ready for school. Then she has to clean the furnsiture and sweep the whole house and wash the clothes. After which she has to cut and clean the raw food for preparing lunch. Sometimes she has to clean the toilets. After everyone in the house has had lunch and she has completed eating whatever leftover that has been handed down to her she has to clean the dishes. Read the rest of this entry »

The Price of Staying in School

March 16, 2007

The Price of Staying in School
by Hana Shams Ahmed
[March 16, 2007]

One of the reasons for the high rate of drop out is that there is little interaction between teachers and students.

Thirteen-year-old Tuma has been working at a home in Dhaka for the last three years. When she was eight years old, her parents had enrolled her in a primary school in their home district of Brahmanbaria. She studied there for two years but had to drop out when her sister who worked in Dhaka said that her employer’s relatives were looking for a maid. Her education came to a premature end and that too not for the best of reasons.

It is unfortunate, shocking even, that Tuma is among 48% of primary school students who drop out from the many government and non-government rural schools all across the country. Like Tuma, many come from very poor families, for whom education is not a priority. Families with very low income place more importance on food and shelter, rather than education or healthcare, and thus the alarming rate of untimely dropouts every year.

Read the rest of this entry »