Poverty still pushes a huge number of children into hazardous labour across the country, depriving them of their rights to a merry childhood.
Some 1.28 million children across the country are in hazardous child labour while some 1.7 million children are engaged in labour, according to National Child Labour Survey 2013 report published in 2015 by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.
According to the study, child labour reduced from 3.45 million in 2003 to 1.7 million in 2013 and the number of hazardous child labour fell from 1.3 million to 1.28 million.
The survey reveals that the country’s total child population aged 5-17 years is 39.65 million. This means that 8.7 per cent of the country’s child population age between 5 and 17 years are working children including 4.28 per cent engaged in hazardous occupations.
The statistics show that child labour in government declared 38 hazardous sectors hardly reduced during the period although child labour reduced considerably.
Child rights activists say that beside poverty, lack of implementation of law and inadequate laws and policies are also driving children to engage in hazardous labour.
Eleven-year-old Ariful Islam had dreamt of becoming a police officer but he could not continue his schooling as he was forced to work in a bathroom fittings manufacturing factory to earn his living.
He says he had passed Class II from his village school in Munshiganj but his father could not allow him to go to school any more as his family moved to Dhaka in search of work and engaged him in the factory to make their both ends meet.
‘Initially I declined to work but my father compelled me to work. If I did not join the work, my father would beat me up and stop my meal,’ said stunted and low wet Arif on Monday while he was carrying a sack of 30 kilogram of metal product to the finishing unit on his shoulder.
The government adopted National Child Labour Elimination Policy in 2010 promising elimination of all forms of hazardous child labour by 2021 and all sorts of child labour by 2025.
Abdus Shahid Mahmood, director of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum, a platform of child rights organisations, finds elimination of hazardous child labour and all sorts of child labour within the deadline set by the government possible but challenging.
He suggests that the government should cut the source of child labour by providing support to the families sincerely and with transparency.
Although 12 ministries, including labour and employment and women and children affairs, social welfare and health, are working for children, labour and employment ministry is the prime custodian.
Rights activists blame the ministry for its indifference to the inhuman labour in all sectors of the country especially in informal sectors.
Labour and employment secretary Afroza Khan says they have taken a Tk 284 crore project to eliminate child labourers providing one lakh children with basic education and life skills training.
The project, supposed to start in January 2019 and end in December 2020, would be implemented in 14 child labour prone areas including Dhaka and all city corporation areas.
‘We have taken initiative to sensitise employers to not appointing children and also proposed to increase the punishment for the perpetrators who employ children,’ she says.
She informs that the ministry is planning another child labour survey as there was no survey report since 2013.
Inspector general of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments Shamsuzzaman Bhuyian claims that they have continued to counsel and file cases against child labour employers to protect children from being employed in factories.
He says child labour in formal sector decreased sharply but it still exists in mostly informal sectors of the country.
He claims that garment, the largest labour sector of the country, and tannery industries are free from child labours.
During a recent visit, New Age found that hundreds of children were working in tanneries at Hemayetpur of Savar, on the outskirts of the capital, in an unsafe working condition.
Bangladesh Tannery Workers Union general secretary Abdul Malek said that the tanners appointed children in tannery due to low wage and to deprive them of their rights.
Beside the Ministry of Labour and Employment, many non-government organisations and several international NGOs and rights organisations including International Labour Organisation and UNICEF are working for child labour elimination.
Non-government organisation Dhaka Ahsania Mission runs a Drop in Centre for children involved in hazardous work at Dhalpur of Jatrabari in the capital.
The centre manager, Mst Tania, told New Age that along with poverty lack of social safety net programmes, family feud and drug addiction in parents force children to hazardous work.
She says there are also other factors responsible for child labour.
‘Employers appoint children for low wage or no wage and to exploit them,’ she mentions.
She says many children needs 24-hour shelter in a safe house as many children are victims of exploitation by members of their own families.
Twelve-year-old Jubair Hossain, a friend of Arif, who also works in a metal factory at Dholpur, has been engaged in producing bathroom fittings for last two years. He gets only Tk 4,000 monthly though he works 16 hours since 8:00am.
His father Anower Hossain compelled him to work in the factory due to poverty.
Jubair says after the death of his mother Amena Begum, his father married again and had four more children.
Bangladesh Bathroom Fittings Manufacturers Association general secretary, also owner of Navila Metal Industries, Shafiqul Islam admits child labour in all the 1,000 factories across the country.
‘We are against child labour,’ he says and goes on to add that some 50 per cent of 30,000 workers in the sector are, however, children.
He blames parents for child labour and says that only the government can stop child labour blocking its sources.
Child labour expert TIM Nurunnabi Khan, referring to a recent survey, says that parents send their children to work mainly driven by poverty.
Around 69.4 per cent parents have replied that they send their children to work for helping family income while 11.9 said they sent their children for repayment of family loan, as per the report.
It also revealed that 39 per cent of employers cited parental request for employing child while 22.5 per cent admitted that they employed children for low wages.
International Labour Organisation country director in Bangladesh Tuomo Poutiainen on Wednesday told New Age that it was a bad idea that child labours were helping country’s economy and employers; it rather has been destroying social security and future opportunities.
He suggested that not only the government but all stakeholders should invest for skilled labour for eliminating illegal child labour.
Children may engage in light work for gathering skills which will not obstruct schooling and his/her mental, physical and social development, he says, adding that only hazardous child labour is what cannot be acceptable.
He emphasises higher level of coordination for pragmatic actions against child labour as there is not a single way to end child labour.
Child labour specialist Afzal Kabir Khan thinks that though the government formed National Child Labour Welfare Council, it will not function for many reasons, mainly for budgetary allocation.
Though seven out of 23 ministries, dealing with child issues, get budgetary allocation, they fail to expend the fund for the welfare of children.
The government declared 38 processes or activities as hazardous for children in 2012 following recommendation from Tripartite Coordinating Committee but did not take any pragmatic actions to stop child labour.
The list includes manufacturing of aluminium products, automobile workshops, manufacturing of bidi and cigarette, brick or stone breaking, steel furniture or car or metal furniture painting, tanning and dressing of leather, welding works or gas worker mechanic, dyeing or bleaching of textiles, ship breaking and truck or tempo or bus helper as hazardous for children.
‘If the government could ensure primary education for all, child labour would be reduced to a great extent,’ Afzal says.
He also stresses awareness among guardians and employees about the harmful aspects of child labour.
He says forced child labour still prevailing in many sectors including brick field and waste collection.
‘Many children are forced even in the worst form of labour including pornography, begging and sex-work,’ he mentions.
Bangladesh ratified ILO’s worst forms of child Labour convention (convention 182) in 2001.
SM Shahidullah, assistant director of United Development Initiatives for Programmed Actions well known as Uddipan, urges the government for ratifying other ILO conventions connected with child labours including ILO convention 138.
He also calls for implementation of other laws and policies made by the government to ensure the effective abolition of child labour and raise progressively the minimum age for admission to employment or work to a level consistent with the fullest physical and mental development of young persons.
State minister for labour and employment Mujibul Haque repeatedly said the government was firmly committed to eliminating hazardous child labour in the country by 2021.
He said child labour continued for centuries and it was not a new issue to be solved through a magic.
‘Child labour is decreasing day by day and it would be over certainly,’ he said.
Bangladesh’s Children Act 2013 identifies anyone under the age of 18 as children. United Nations and other organisations have declared humans under 18 as child.
Rights activists have criticised the government for allowing children above 14 years to work in the labour law.
The labour law doesn’t permits any children under the age of 14 years to work but it states that from 14 till 18 years of age, children can be authorised to do light and hazard-free jobs up to 42 hours a week.
Child rights campaigners say 5 to 11 year-old children working for any period of time in a non-hazardous job is considered child labour.
Hazardous child labourers are those, irrespective of 5 to 17 years, working for more than 42 hours a week in non-hazardous job or engaged in a job listed in the gazette notification as hazardous for any period of time, they say.
Not only government’s target, target 8.7 in UN set Sustainable Development Goals also asked the member countries to take immediate and effective measures to eradicate forced labour, end modern slavery and human trafficking and secure the prohibition and elimination of the worst forms of child labour, including recruitment and use of child soldiers, and by 2025 end child labour in all its forms.
National Human Rights Commission chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque says that child labour deprives children of all human rights.
He asks all to come forward to end this serious human rights violation.
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