Bangladesh children toil to survive

Tony Birtley reports on how millions of children miss school to support their families.

    Many families in Bangladesh are forced to send their
    children to work to pay for basic foods items

    It was a routine raid by Bangladeshi police on a textile factory in a shadowy suburb of the capital, Dhaka.

    But the raid was not because employees there included a "workforce" of girls as young as 10-year olds.

    It was because the factory was operating illegally.

    The girls work for 12 hours a day, six days a week, for just 70 US cents a day. They say they are happy and consider themselves lucky.

    "I went to school for four years but I have to work because we are poor," one of them said.

    Millions of children worldwide have no choice but to sacrifice their education in order to support their families.

    It is estimated that 218 million between the age of five and 17 work in developing countries.

    In Bangladesh, at least five million children are believed to be working illegally in the agricultural sector, shops and factories.

    As a result, the South Asian country is coming under international pressure to address the issue of child labour, despite families saying they have no choice but to send them to work.

    Battle for survival

    External links

    Unicef: Bangladesh

    Save the Children: Bangladesh

    ILO International Programme on Elimination of Child Labour

    In a country where the majority of the population of about 150 million people face a daily battle for survival, child workers are cheap and plentiful.
     
    One in every six children worldwide are said to be working under age.

    In Bangladesh, children as young as eight begin their working life in factories, simply because they have no choice.
     
    Ujjal Muttin is 10 years old. He left school and started work at a Dhaka glass factory a few weeks ago. He works 16 hours a day in hot, dirty conditions with one day off a week. For that he earns just over $1 a day.

    "We don't feel the heat in the factory we like it," Ujjal said in front of the factory owner.

    Ujjal is happy to work but misses school
    On top of the long hours and small pay, he has to travel for an hour by foot and boat to get to home from work, where he shares a small room with his parents, grandmother, two brothers and two sisters.

    Ujjal's mother says she has no choice but to send her son to work, because the family would not not be able to survive otherwise.

    "I have to send him to the factory because my husband cannot earn enough to pay for more than rice and rent.

    "With Ujjal's money we can buy vegetables and fish. I feel bad that he cannot go to school but what can I do we are poor," she said.

    International pressure

    Bangladesh is under international pressure to address child labour. But many of those who criticise the country's inability to tackle child employment forget that families can only often survive because of the money their children earn.

    Basudeb Maitra Basu, from the Organisation for Disadvantaged Children, a nongovernmental organisation, said: "No parents want to send their children to work, especially in hazardous conditions."

    The UK's department for international development says more than 82 per cent of Bangladeshis live below $2 per day.

    At least five million children are believed to be
    working illegally in Bangladesh
    As a consequence, Basu says, families are "helpless" but to send their children to work.

    "They send them to the factories to save their families. They know this is harmful to their kids but they don't have an alternative."

    While, on one side of Bangladesh's education coin, parents have to pay for the tutoring of boys over the age of 10, on the other side all Bangladeshi girls get free education.

    But parents are still forced to take the decision to send their daughters to work because of the need of basic food items.

    No complaint

    Ujjal does not complain about work and is happy to provide for his family, but he misses school.

    "I used to know everybody," he says. "The teacher used to tell us stories and during break we used to play. I loved all those things."

    In contrast, many children like Ujjal find themselves exposed to long working hours, unsatisfactory working conditions and back-breaking work loads.

    Unavoidably placed in these conditions, millions of children in Bangladesh have found themselves vulnerable to exploitation with only dreams of school.

    Al Jazeera cannot be held responsible for the content of external websites.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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