ILO Bangladesh office director Tuomo Poutiainen talks to New Age staff correspondents Sadiqur Rahman and Rashad Ahamad
Only law prohibiting child labour is not enough to discourage the poverty-stricken parents from pulling their kids out of education. This is not only a question of law. It’s really about other services in a broad manner that will allow children to go to school.
More investment is required in social security as well as in economic development to ensure access to education and these will ultimately reduce child labour.
Hazardous child labour is characterised for children aged between 14 and 18 years. Citing the latest statistics for Bangladesh that came from a survey in 2013, he says that there are 1.7 million people in child labour of which around 1.28 are in hazardous forms of child labour who are working in conditions which are detrimental to their health or detrimental to their development as young adults.
‘Much has been done but still quite a big number of young people are currently categorised as hazardous child labourers in the country,’ Tuomo says.
He says that the child labourers are often engaged in agriculture, industries such as small-scale mining, brick fields or tanneries where the work is mechanical and sometimes dangerous for them. Most often hazardous child labourers in informal economic work places are left outside government supervision.
He observes that the effects of child labour are multifaceted. He says, ‘It is not only about health. It is also about their future opportunities in life. When a person starts working at too early an age and often finds work that cannot be called as decent work ends up in a precarious and non-conducive working conditions’.
He adds that unskilled and unhealthy youth fails to catch up with those who have been provided with opportunities like access to education and skills development programmes and can enter the labour market with better situation.
Here he finds the importance of education, as he says, ‘I am not talking about the basic schooling but also the vocational skills training. The ILO campaigns for workers’ decent work. It is not about any work but the quality of the work that matters’.
He thinks that good governance can play a crucial role to eradicate child labour together with positive kind of economic growth.
‘The economy of Bangladesh is growing very fast. And obviously, because of having such a big population, so many people are depending on rural economy. As the country is moving forward, it is able to put better system in place, better regulations and better pathways for young people to enter the labour market in a better way,’ he says.
Video by: Sony Ramany
Although the child labourers contribute to their family earning, Tuomo thinks that they are not the indicators of economic growth as are skilled manpower of the country.
‘Whatever contribution they make, in our view, much higher levels of contribution can be generated from the legally working workers who are being equipped and trained as well as productive. There is a misconception that somehow child labour would be a benefit to the employers or somehow child labour is a good thing for economic growth. It certainly is not. There is zero evidence that could somehow show that using child labour or allowing child labour benefits the economy as a whole. It is an unfortunate symptom of poverty and lack of access to education, not an economic dividend,’ he says.
The concern about low wage and lack of benefits for the child labourers is irrelevant as child labour is illegal.
‘Hazardous child labour is purely illegal and it cannot be condoned in any way. Our position is very clear like the government and the formal employers that there should not be any child labour or hazardous child labour. It must be stopped. What should be done instead is to provide good working condition and better wages for the adults,’ Tuomo says.
‘If the adults — parents and custodians — were well-paid, the children would not have to be used as bread earners. If the parents have enough to provide, they can continue to support the kids’ education and good health.’
He continues that the children in future will provide more than now if they can get better education, food, necessary skills training and awareness. They would turn into more productive labour force for Bangladesh in the years to come.
Tuomo says that young girls and boys entering labour market at a wrong time eventually become handicapped for lack of skills. They are working in a condition in which exploitation is common, which indicates a weak workforce of the country. He adds, ‘This is not for but against the national economic growth.’
ILO is closely working with the government to find different ways of employment as it is evident that a large number of youths are coming to labour market, he says citing that every year more than two million people are entering the labour market.
ILO acknowledges that not all the employment come from the formal economy. ‘Some of the employment must be based on informal economy like self-entrepreneurship. At the end of the day, these are jobs that the young people need to have,’ he says.
In Bangladesh, children aged above 14 can enter the labour market. Tuomo says that the national law of the country is aligned with the ILO Convention 138 on minimum age of work.
However, he says, this is not optimal. It would be better if the children would have an opportunity to stay longer in school and develop their skills.
He does not think that the government is the only responsible entity to address child labour issues. Rather, community engagement is crucial to eradicate the problems instigating children’s drop-out from their schools.
The government has, however, still something to do, he says, ‘The ILO Convention 138 is not yet ratified by Bangladesh. It is one of the fundamental rights Convention that all countries are proud to have ratified. Bangladesh has set a goal to eliminate child labour by 2021. That comes quickly’.
He reminds that the regulatory bodies should not limit the anti-child labour programmes to the densely populated capital city. Rather the coverage should be all the way down to the lowest levels of community.
‘Additionally, discussions as to what constitutes child labour and how we can all together address it should continue.’ Tuomo concludes.
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