In Bangladesh, poverty causes many families to send their children out to work, often in hazardous and low-paid jobs such as making bricks and waste-picking. According to a survey conducted by the UN’s child agency (UNICEF) and the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, 19% of children aged 5–14 living in slums will be carrying out work classified as “child labour”, i.e. for more hours than is deemed safe for their age and for the type of work in which they are involved.
Bangladesh enacted the Labour Act in 2006, which prohibits the employment of children under 14 years of age, as well as in hazardous forms of work for those under 18. The garment industry has also introduced stricter regulation, allowing only children aged 15 and over to carry out work and for five or fewer hours a day. However, even with such regulation in place, the vast majority of child labourers work in the informal sector – for example, in small workshops, on the street or as domestic servants, where enforcement of labour laws is virtually impossible.
Tackling child labour in Bangladesh is problematic because children are often able to get work more easily. Employers consider underage workers to be more compliant, as well as cheaper. Wages can start at just 20 taka or 16p a day. Even when they are given their hard-earned money, many child labourers are at risk of losing it to gangs or thieves, especially those who don’t live with parents.
Giving slum children the chance to save
An article on the BBC’s website highlights the work of Chayabrikhkho, a project set up by Save the Children for the child labourers of Dhaka. In the crowded sums, holding on to cash can be risky, especially for children who sleep rough on the streets, where theft is rife. Set up in 2007, Chayabrikhkho enables the children to deposit their money in a safe place, since currently children under the age of 18 can only obtain a bank account with an adult co-signee.
Staffed by the children themselves on a voluntary basis, the scheme holds the accounts of around 750 Bangladeshi street children and similar projects across the country cater for 13,000 other youngsters in a similar position. A spokesperson for Save the Children in Bangladesh told the BBC that many children see volunteering to help with the savings scheme “as a learning opportunity... [and] they’re very proud to work there.” Some of the children use savings to pay for the education of younger siblings or buy livestock for families living outside Dhaka. Whatever the use for their money, the scheme allows the children to feel more confident about the future.