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12 June, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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No end to child labour in sight

MUBTASIM FUAD, Dhaka
No end to child labour in sight

At around 6:00am, Khorsed, 10, wakes up and gets ready to join work at a food factory. Along the way, he watches other kids striding towards school in the opposite direction. But few bother about how he is forced to work to make ends meet for his family. For people like Sultana Anwara Begum, mother of Khorsed, child labour is a fact of life. “My husband deserted me and our three children for another woman. If I don’t let my eight-year-old child work at the food factory, my two youngest kids will go without food,” she said.

She also said many NGOs come to her slum to persuade her to send her child to school. “But talks won’t stave off hunger. Besides, I can’t afford the education expenses of my children,” she added. Even though education up to the primary level is free, nearly 40 per cent of primary school students drop out before they complete Grade V because many of the parents, just like Sultana, cannot afford to pay other expenses like transport, school uniforms and stationary. Their families also depend on them financially.

Sultana’s child is one of the nearly one-and-a-half million working children in Bangladesh, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS).

Around 1.7 million children are engaged in child labour in Bangladesh (Child Labour Survey, 2013). Children work in different sectors which include agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, transport, and others.

According to the Labour Act 2006, the minimum age of employment is 14 years. But children between12-14 years could be involved in light work if that does not affect their education and development.

However, the definition of light work and the conditions of employment are not specified. The government has declared 38 sectors as hazardous for children; nobody under 18 years should be employed in those jobs. But 1.2 million children are still employed in jobs that are hazardous.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) Committee has expressed concerns that children are employed in welding, transportation, auto workshop, tobacco factory and battery recharging.

Ironically, Bangladesh is one of the 22 countries that were the first signatories of the UNCRC (child right convention). Besides, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Labour and Employment and ILO in 1994 to implement International Programme on Elimination of Child labor (IPEC) activities.

In November 2016, state minister for labour and employment, Md Mujibul Haque Chunnu, declared that the government would eliminate child labour from 38 risky sectors of the country within 2021 and from all sectors by 2025. The current child labour situation in Bangladesh shows no sign that the government’s target of eradicating hazardous child labour from the country will be met by that time.

Although these laws are designed to protect them against negligence, exploitation, cruelty and abuse, and other concerns, the BBS report says: “Bangladesh has yet to implement national policies and reform institutional structures and mechanism that could promote, protect and uphold children’s rights.”

Meanwhile, a study by the social welfare ministry has found that children, some of them as young as five years of age, in rural Bangladesh contribute to their family’s income. Male children become the net producers of the family at quite an early age (by the age of 12). After the age of 15 years, their cumulative production exceeds their cumulative consumption, the study added. The participation rate of boys was relatively higher than that of female children, but the advent of the garments industry and rapid urbanisation during the late 80’s has changed the entire child labour scenario. The garments industry started engaging a huge number of female child labour. Besides, due to rapid urbanisation, the engagement of household labour to do domestic chores has become a common phenomenon. This too has increased the number of female child labour.

Talking with The Independent, Abdul Mannan, programme unit manager of Plan International Bangladesh, has said that bringing children out of domestic work and reintegrating them in society is really difficult.

“According to our national standards, up to 18 years a human being is considered a child. At the same time, we are saying that children aged 14 years and above can be employed in domestic works. This is contradictory! Only in special cases, the age limit can be considered where the child will get proper facilities of mental and physical development,” he added.

Currently, the government is implementing many plans to eliminate child labour under the labour and employment ministry, social welfare Ministry, education ministry, and primary and mass education ministry. Besides, the government has undertaken the task of formulating a child labour policy to remove some anomalies in the legislation and fixing uniform minimum age for admission to work.

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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