The small country of Bangladesh is continuously dealing with lot of obstacles. Among them, population problem will be found on the top position of all the major problems. As a result of this population issue, as matter of poverty, as result of other social issues, child labour has become a common phenomenon in this country. Though, child labour is not only a national disease, it has become a global disease of modern time. Hundreds of millions of children around the world are engaged in various works, many of them for long hours and in hazardous conditions. Children are being used by their employers. They are being abused, exploited & tortured. Laws and regulations, initiatives of the govt. have failed to control the situation properly. As a consequence, this specific matter is gradually going beyond the reach of the concerned authority.
According to a survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, as of 2015, the country had some 3.45 million active child labourers. The report also said 1.2 million children were engaged in hazardous jobs.[footnoteRef:1] That’s why it has become difficult for the govt. to control the situation. With the process of many activities, the govt. is trying to solve the puzzle of this labyrinth. In this article, it is tried to find out the existing governmental initiatives to deal with this demon and it is also discussed, what necessary steps can be taken in future.
Understanding Child Labour
In order to get a proper definition of child labour, the types and nature of the work, the age of the children who perform the work, and the development level of the country must be taken into consideration. According to International Labour Organisation (ILO), “Child Labour” indicates some sorts of activities of the children that deprive themselves of their childhood, their potential and their dignity and which is truly dangerous for mental and physical development.
Forms of Child Labour in Bangladesh
There are different forms of child labour in Bangladesh. Children from less affluent backgrounds are forced to work in severe circumstances as bus conductors, domestic workers, tanners, casters. They are often found in garment factories, farming, manufacturing, brick-kilns, coal mines, and other dangerous places. Child Labour of Bangladesh can be divided into 2 sectors-
- Child Labour of Informal Sector
- Child Labour of Formal Sector.
Child Labour of Informal Sector
Most child laborers in Bangladesh will be found in the informal sectors. The most common forms of work are agriculture, in rural areas, and domestic service, in urban areas. These forms of labour are difficult to regulate and monitor.
According to various researches and surveys initiated by ILO, UNICEF, Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) and Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), more than 4 million young and adult populations extend their laborious contribution to the household activities as a domestic worker.[footnoteRef:3] Among them, 83 percent are female, who are mostly children and young in age. Domestic child laborers work long hours and subject to harassment, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse.[footnoteRef:4] Most of them have to work seven days a week, without any holiday.
Other informal industries include ship breaking and recycling operations, production of soap, matches, bricks, cigarettes, footwear, furniture, glass, jute, leather, textiles, restaurants, garbage picking, and trash hunting, vending, begging, van pulling, etc.
Child Labour of Formal Sector
The biggest formal sector of child labour in Bangladesh is the garments factory. The industry expanded rapidly from 1983 to 1999, becoming the country’s largest source of export earnings. Bangladesh is also one of the top ten largest garment exporters in the world. The majority portion of the labours in the garment factory consists of girls and women. Bangladesh garment factories have been accused of forcing girls as young as 13 to work up to 11 hours a day to produce garments for the consumers. The workers hardly get any break during their continuous busy schedule,
There are a lot of health and safety issues in those factories also, for the children. In recent time, it is seen, lot of fire incidents in the garment factories, lot of losses of lives. Most of the Garment Factories don’t have proper crowd control, adequate fire safety precautions, emergency exit mechanisms. Working in garment factories also exposes children to dangerous chemicals and heavy machinery.
Approximately 1.2 million children in Bangladesh are working in the worst forms of child labour, according to the National Child Labour Survey report, published in 2015.
According to Bangladeshi Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) (2010) study on the situation of child domestic workers in Dhaka city- almost 73 percent of child domestic workers have experienced physical abuse and a significant number of children (17 percent) were sexually abused.[footnoteRef:9] As Child domestic labour is the informal labour sector, domestic workers are even excluded from legal protections. So, after being exploited in the workplace, they cannot seek remedy from the law, only because of the loopholes of the law. According to Maplecroft’s Child Labour Index, Bangladesh has ranked first in the list of worst countries for child labours.
Initiatives of the Government to Eliminate Child Labour
The govt. of Bangladesh has enacted unified and simplified labour legislation repealing different relevant laws titled The Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 (Act XLII of 2006). It works as a safeguard for the protection of the workers, as well as the child workers.
Govt. has introduced the Domestic Workers Protection and Welfare Policy to recognize the need for a framework of rights of domestic workers. The policy said- 14 years is the minimum age for light work. According to this, if any child is being used by the employer in the workplace under 14 years of age, it will be a punishable offense.
The National Education Policy 2010 raises compulsory education from grade 5 to grade eight and compulsory education age from 10 to 14, which, experts say, should be implemented immediately, as it would help curb child labour.
The government has adopted the National Social Security Strategy in 2015 sketching out a life-cycle approach to better address poverty. It will help the urban poor people and ultimately, child labour will definitely be reduced.
The government of Bangladesh has ratified the ILO convention on the worst forms of child labour, 1999 (No. 182) on 12 March 2001. National legislation on hazardous child labour was subsequently revised in 2006 and a list of hazardous forms of child labour was adopted in 2013.
The Ministry of Labour and Employment has adopted a National Child Labour Elimination Policy (NCEP) 2010. “Women & Children” labour unit was also established under this policy. This unit will cover the problems and obstacles of women and children. In addition to that, the government has the plan to eliminate child labour from 38 sectors categorized as hazardous by 2021, and from all sectors by 2025 also.
It is hoped that the establishment of a National Child labour Welfare Council, the participation of non-government organizations and collaboration with different international and national organizations will ensure to declare Bangladesh a hazardous child labour free country.
Laws and Their Shortcomings
The constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh has clear provisions regarding forced Labour. According to Article 34, all forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this provision shall be an offense punishable in accordance with law’. In Bangladesh, most of the child labour is forced labour, in a sense. They are forced to join the workforce, which is a clear violation of the constitution.
The Children Act 2013 repealed the previous Children Act 1974 which was inconsistent with international standards particularly with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. According to Section 4 of this Act, notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being in force, every person shall be deemed to be a child who is below the age of 18 years[footnoteRef:16]. This act contains no particular provision for child labour, but, section-80 of this act proscribes and punishes some serious offenses against the exploitation of children.
According to the Factories Act 1965, children under 14 to work in or be present in factories are totally prohibited.[footnoteRef:18] It also listed various protections for children from hazardous machines and operations. It prohibited any work duration of longer than 5 hours between 7 pm to 7 am. It also states the weight lifting limits for types of workers (male, female, child). But these provisions are hardly being maintained by the owners of the factories.
The Shops and Establishment Act of 1965 has prohibited children under the age of 12 from working in any establishment. It allowed children aged 12–18 to work in establishments but limited the number of work hours to a maximum of 7 hours a day.
There is a proverb, “Alone we are nothing, but together we are supreme.” To mitigate the burning issue of child labour, united steps towards the problem is very crucial. And, as we have mentioned earlier, governmental initiatives are going on. But, still, the problem is not seeing the light of hope properly. In addition, with all the existing features, some other initiatives can play a good role in this regard.
Firstly, social awareness should be initiated. In a current status-quo, letting people know about the demerits of the problem can put a huge impact. Mass people should know about the bad consequence of child labour. National campaigns, media publicity, workshops are very crucial in this regard. The govt. should spread the message to the rural and slum communities vastly. Because most of the child workers have emerged from this sector. Technical facilities can help to spread the necessary messages to the people.
Secondly, identifying different sectors of “Child Labour” is very crucial. Though, it is not easy to find out all the sectors of child labour. Because there are lot of unknown sectors, divisions, sub-divisions where children are working continuously. As govt. have no idea about those sectors, they have no state mechanisms, no adequate initiatives as well. That’s because sorting out the different layers of “Child Labour” is so crucial.
Thirdly, Legal mechanisms should be made stricter, balanced and exact. As we have mentioned earlier, due to some loopholes, some ambiguity, and darkness, the victims are not getting justice properly. Finding out the weak laws, and proper modification and enforcement of those laws can be done. We can talk about our very own “Labour Law 2006.” According to Labour Law 2006, under 14 years of age, no child should go into the workforce. But the reality is, as many as two million children are working in perilous conditions under the age of 14. It indicates, we have laws and at the same time, we have violation of laws.
In addition to this, the govt. should ratify ILO Convention 138 which is about minimum age and ILO Convention 189 about decent work for domestic workers. Child domestic work should be included in the list of hazardous work. Though the child domestic work is similar to the definition of hazardous work, still the government has kept the work outside the recently published list of hazardous work.
Fourthly, enhancing educational programs is very important. Education will change the scenario of the children, true. But why the poor parents will send their children to the schools instead of sending them to the workforce, when they don’t have minimum food in their house? This is a basic question. The answer is, the parents will send their children to workforce over anything else. The govt. has taken a lot of initiatives considering education. At the same time, almost all the NGOs’ are performing in Bangladesh, operating their own educational institutions for poor children. Studying in such institutions is free, true. But there are many other additional costs also, for say, buying educational instruments. How a poor parent will bear all those additional expenses? The govt. has taken Initiatives of providing in primary and secondary levels, but that is not adequate.
Fifthly, assistance to the families by the concerned authorities can be another option. We know, poverty is the main reason for child labour. If the govt. takes some steps to help the poor families by taking different plans, the ratio of child labour will definitely be reduced. Already, the govt. has taken some plans regarding this, as it is mentioned earlier. But this is not exact and proper. More and more such initiatives are necessary.
Sixthly, there are some confusions regarding the provisions of Child Law-2013 and the provisions of Labour law-2006. As a result of the controversy in those laws creates some opportunities for the exploiters to exploit children. These provisions should be traced and modified, as soon as it is possible.
“Child Labour” is spreading at a terrific speed all over the globe. In Bangladesh, the situation is not different at all. Controlling the “Increasing Rate” of child labour is a necessary yet difficult process. And, definitely, it will take time to handle this complex situation. The geographical and sociological pattern of Bangladesh is such, poor people always keep the mentality to send their children to earn money, in the period of their childhood. All the stakeholders relating this issue will have to come forward and will have to follow some essential steps. Otherwise, all the initiatives, which have been taken by the government till now, will definitely go nowhere. The inspiring matter is that social awareness is spreading among the mass people, people are thinking of and discussing this. Social media is playing a good role here also. Online services have made getting proper justice easy. These activities give us hope, child labour will definitely come into a good and tolerable shape, one day. Till then, we can stand together against this inhumane process and fulfill our obligations.