SEATTLE — With more than 7.4 million working children aged five to 17, Bangladesh has an extremely high rate of child labor. Child labor is both dangerous and detrimental to the development of children. Working children lack access to the education and play needed from a young age to lead a successful life. They are consequently unable to exit the cycle of poverty that causes families to depend on child labor in Bangladesh.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), child labor constitutes working a certain number of hours, depending on age and type of work, with harmful effects on the child. All types of work performed by children are not considered child labor, but exploitative work that hurts children’s access to childhood necessities must be prevented.
Recent reports have found that children in Bangladesh are working an average of 64 hours per week and are earning less than two dollars per day. Children as young as six are employed full-time. Jobs vary from construction work to factory work for boys, while most girls work in the garment industry.
Child labor has extremely adverse effects on children’s access to education. UNICEF estimates that more than one million children have never attended school. Many more drop out of school to begin working at a very young age. The lack of quality teachers and frequent movement of families in poverty provides barriers to education for children. Most notably, education is only free and compulsory for elementary school, so tuition costs are a major reason for the high rates of dropouts.
Child labor in Bangladesh puts children at risk for abuse and exploitation. Domestic workers, of which most are girls, are especially at risk because of the lack of government oversight for these types of jobs. Many child workers are dependent on their employers because of restrictions on freedom of payment in the form of shelter or food rather than wages. Many are also abused by their employers. Others still are at risk of trafficking because of mistreatment resulting from living and working away from their families.
Bangladesh’s Labor Act was implemented in 2006. It prohibits work by children under 14 and hazardous work by children under 18. However, enforcement is near-impossible because most children work in the informal sector. The law also allows children to perform “light work” for a limited number of hours but does not define the nature of this work specifically.
Bangladesh created a National Child Labor Elimination Policy in 2010 to reduce child labor more rapidly. The policy aims to remove children from hazardous jobs, introduce more jobs for parents so they do not have to rely on child labor, improve incentives for attending school and create new laws to prevent child labor in the future.
It is clear that steps are being taken to eliminate child labor in Bangladesh. Expanding access to education, changing social norms surrounding child labor and introducing legal reforms to protect children are just some of the actions helping to change this practice. Since most child laborers live in slums, removing families from the cycle of poverty is key to reducing dependence on child labor in Bangladesh and countries across the globe.
– Lindsay Harris