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Stolen playtime – The Child Laborers of Bangladesh

A girl breaking bricks for a living

A girl breaking bricks for a living

Social norms and economic realities mean that child labor is widely accepted and very common in Bangladesh. Many families rely on the income generated  by their children for survival, so child labor is often highly valued. Additionally, employers often prefer to employ children because they are cheaper and considered to be more compliant and obedient than adults. There are over 7.4 million working children in Bangladesh (UNICEF, 2006).

Poverty causes families to send children to work, often in hazardous and low-wage jobs, such as brick-chipping, construction and waste-picking. Children are paid less than adults, with many working up to twelve hours a day. When children are forced to work, they are often denied their rights to education, leisure and play. They are also exposed to situations that make them vulnerable to trafficking, abuse, violence and exploitation. Millions of children are reported not to attend school.

Child labor is a visible part of everyday life in Bangladesh: young children serve at roadside tea stalls, and weave between cars selling goods to motorists. Other children work in jobs that are hidden from view, such as domestic work, which makes monitoring and regulation difficult. On average, children work 28 hours a week and earn 257 taka (3.3 USD) a week.

A girl selling flowers on the side of the street

A girl selling flowers on the side of the street

I personally am not opposed to all work that children perform. Children helping out parents at an early age is a social norm in Bangladesh, and I think it can have a positive contribution to the child’s development. However when a child is forced to work, or when the work interferes with the health and well-being of the child, and in the worst case prevent the child from undertaking education and leisure activities – therein lies the problem with child labor.  Bangladesh enacted the Labor Act in 2006, which includes a chapter on child labor. This new law prohibits employment of children under 14 years of age, as well as prohibiting hazardous forms of child labor for persons under age 18. However, children who are aged 12 and above may be engaged in “light work” that does not pose a risk to their mental and physical development and does not interfere with their education. However, as we all know, some laws are never enforced in Bangladesh and remain within the pages of law books.

A boy working in a factory

A boy working in a factory

Education is free and compulsory up to the eighth grade in Bangladesh, although more than one million children have never been to school. Working children are usually forced by their parents/circumstances to work, or cannot bear the indirect costs of attending school, such as transport and uniforms. Many child laborers miss out on their right to education because they do not have the time to go to school or to study.

Working children, particularly those in “hidden” jobs such as domestic labor, are at risk of abuse and exploitation. Over 60 percent of child laborers are victims of abuse, ranging from scolding and beating, to rape. Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi children work in hazardous jobs. Their vulnerable situation puts them at risk of trafficking as they seek a better life for themselves.

There are some organizations that champion the cause of the working children in Bangladesh. Two of the most effective ones are UNICEF and PLAN Bangladesh. Please consider making a small contribution towards this important cause:

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