National Children\'s Day
The horrors of child labour in Bangladesh
Published : Thursday, 15 March, 2018 at 12:00 AM Count : 1258
National Children's Day
Child labour is a discernible yet unnoticed part of everyday life in Bangladesh. Many families rely on the income brought home by their children for survival. Young children work in tea stalls by the streets, public vehicles and weave between cars selling flowers, water bottles, snacks and other goods.
Little children are often employed to different kinds of work that are hidden from plain view, such as in restaurants, households and manufacturing factories. Since no one can see them, monitoring and regulating their working condition is quite difficult. More often than not, we do not even pay attention to them.
Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi children work in various kinds of hazardous and menial work. These are mostly jobs that have been identified by the International Labour Organization (ILO) to expose children to severe hazards including physical, psychological or sexual abuse; excessive work hours; unhealthy work environment, and halted physical and mental growth.
For instance, 3,400 children break bricks and stones for the construction industry. A survey on these child workers found that almost all had some sort of respiratory problem and were not provided with any safety gear or protection from brick dust.
There are clear statistics of child workers in hazardous jobs -- 1,23,000 children working as rickshaw pullers, 1,53,000 children working in restaurants or tea stalls, and 56,000 working in carpentry businesses. Working children often live away from their families. These places often expose them to violence, abuse and economic exploitation.
Experts opine that paid and unpaid work of children can make a positive contribution to child development, as long as it does not interfere with their health and wellbeing or prevent education or leisure activities. However, child labour is usually work that deprives children of their childhood; that affects children's health and education; work that may lead to further exploitation and abuse when they grow up.
According to the ILO's definition of a child labourer, there are about 3.2 million child labourers in Bangladesh. According to UNICEF, most of them are deprived of their right to education, balanced diet, health and nutrition, protection, participation, recreation, safe water, sanitation and hygiene. The most unfortunate part is that it is prevalent more in urban areas than in rural. This happens despite the fact that people are supposed to be more educated and aware in the cities, as opposed to towns and villages.
Almost all child labourers miss out on proper education because they do not have the time to go to school or study. About half of all child labourers do not attend school at all. Among child domestic workers, only 11 per cent get to attend school. As a result, working children get stuck in low paying, low-skilled jobs, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty.
Although Bangladesh has progressed much in terms of enacting law and policy to ensure child safety and security, the practical scenario is yet to change. To bring about this very change, the National Children's Day was established in 1996 and is celebrated on March 17 each year to promote awareness and improving children welfare nationwide.
Moreover, Bangladesh has enacted the Labour Act in 2006, which includes a chapter on child labour. This new law prohibits employment of children less than 14 years of age, as well as prohibiting hazardous forms of child labour for children under 18.
However, children who are age 12 and above may be engaged in "light work" that do not pose a risk to their mental and physical development, and does not interfere with their education. The law does not provide a strong enforcement mechanism for the child labour provisions. Additionally, the vast majority of children (93 per cent) work in the private sector which makes enforcement of the relevant legislation challenging.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment adopted a National Child Labour Elimination Policy in 2010, which provided a framework to eradicate all forms of child labour by 2015. UNICEF was one of many stakeholders to provide feedback on this policy. Its aims included: withdrawing children from hazardous jobs; improving income opportunities for parents; offering incentives for working children to attend school; enacting laws and improving law enforcement to eliminate child labour. A Child Labour Unit was established as part of this policy, which bears certain responsibilities, including collecting and disseminating data related to child labour.
Unfortunately, the social-economic structures and economic realities of Bangladesh have failed to give all children a natural opportunity for growth. If we want to make National Children's Day more prevalent in our communities, we must make a holistic child protection approach that contributes to the elimination of child labour through sustainable solutions addressing its root causes.