Participation of children in activities such as helping their parents at home, assisting them at work, and earning pocket money during school holidays is considered to have a positive contribution to the acquisition of children’s skills and experience and to help them to be productive in society in adulthood. However, child labor has been often associated with work that deprives human rights, harms both mental and physical health and has a negative impact on his development. Due to the fact that children are being violated and exposed to serious hazards and illnesses, child labor became one of the major problems around the world. This term is referred to as work at dangerous places, with dangerous for health machinery, equipment, and tools, in an unhealthy environment, and under difficult conditions for long hours or during the night hours. Child labor strips of the potential opportunities of children to have a usual childhood, a proper education, and mental and physical welfare. This issue is still pending in many countries of the third world.
According to UNICEF (2020), one of the four children in the poorest countries of the world is engaged in child labor. Worldwide over 150 million children aged between 5 and 17 years are victims of child labor, almost half of children work in hazardous working conditions. Despite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) and Conventions by the International Labour Organization (ILO) address the issue of child labor, child labor is still prevalent in developing countries of Africa, South America, Asia, and the Middle East comparing with regions in Europe, North America, and Australia, where laws on child labor were promptly adopted.
Bangladesh is one of the developing countries that has the largest number of children, who work under difficult conditions. The country’s most recent survey conducted by the International Labour Organization revealed that 3.45 million children aged 5-17 years were working, out of which 1.28 million children are engaged in hazardous work [International Labour Organization, 2013]. The government of Bangladesh has developed and adopted a number of legislative measures to address the issue of child labor. The effective implementation of the UN CRC, the ILO Convention, the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, the Children Act 2013 improved the situation of child labor in Bangladesh. By the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, which determines the basic principles of employment of adults and children, an individual has to issue a particular certificate from a medical practitioner to be permitted the employment of maximum 42 hours a week, while children aged 12 years could be involved in a light work without any negative impacts to their health and education. If a child works more than 42 hours a week, it is considered to be hazardous child labor or working under hazardous conditions. In Bangladesh, over 1.2 million children work under hazardous working conditions. Despite the adoption of the National Labour Elimination Policies 2010 and 2012-2016, further measures should be taken to eliminate child labor more effectively since there are a number of socio-economic causes of child labor in Bangladesh.
Firstly, poverty is the main factor, which pushes children to work. The unemployment or low level of income of parents increase the likelihood of children being sent to work as children “have to” contribute to the family income. According to UNICEF (2010), 46% of working children in Bangladesh live below the poverty line with one quarter living in an extreme poverty. Living in poor and extremely poor households, these children are deprived of the basic needs – food, shelter, medical care, sanitation facilities, and drinking water. With the average wage less than $5 a day, parents are forced to send their children to work to have additional financial support to family income [Al Jazeera, 2020]. Children from poor families are more likely to be engaged in child labor than children from non-poor families. Thus, poor living standards and poverty stimulate the use of child labor in Bangladesh.
Secondly, the demographics have a considerable impact on the existence of child labor in Bangladesh. As stated by the World Bank (2018), almost 63% of Bangladesh’s population lives in rural areas. People of Bangladesh historically and traditionally have been working in agriculture, growing crops like rice and jute, looking after livestock and fisheries. Agriculture is the most important economic sector of Bangladesh that provides workplaces for more than 70% of Bangladesh’s population (World Bank, 2016). It is a custom in Bangladesh to assist parents in agricultural activities, thus, children are a substantial part of labor in rural areas. Due to the fact that the vast majority of rural households depend on income derived from agriculture, the concentration of child workers in rural areas is greater than in urban areas, which means that the demographic situation of Bangladesh impels the child labor.
Thirdly, education becomes a cost to poor families, although it is free and compulsory to grade eight. The majority of children do not complete primary school and begin working. According to the International Labour Organization (2013), only 28.6% of working children are attending school, which implies that the opportunity to attend a school is negatively correlated with child labor. Most working children are unable to bear educational expenses as education involves many indirect costs such as stationery, exam and tuition fees, transportation, and school uniforms. The survey by the ILO revealed that 28.9% of respondents could not afford the educational expenses necessary to attend school and continue education. Moreover, the low level of education of parents impacts on sending children to work. These parents do not consider education a vital part of the life of their children as parents are concerned only about the short-term result of earning money and survival rather than the potential opportunities of their child. Therefore, child labor is also provoked by the inaccessibility of education.
Overall, child labor has become one of the concerning issues for many governments all over the world. Working long hours with dangerous equipment and exploitation of employers at the workplace hinders the physical and mental development of the child as a child could not use his potential for his own to attend school and university, consequently, he cannot count on a well-paid job in the future. The utilization of underaged children in workplace abuses and harms their health. In Bangladesh, child labor is an important topic that is being debated as a serious issue of the country. Millions of children are being forced to work under hazardous working conditions because of poverty, demographics, and the cost of education in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh should further promote the rights and interests of children by formulating legislative acts solving this issue. As children are the future of a nation, Bangladesh should pay close attention to the issue of child labor.
Al Jazeera (2020). Bangladesh: One in five people live below poverty line. Retrieved from https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/01/bangladesh-people-live-poverty-line-200126100532869.html. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
International Labour Organization (2013). Bangladesh National Labour Survey 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ilo.org/ipec/Informationresources/WCMS_IPEC_PUB_28175/lang–en/index.htm. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
UNICEF (2010). Mitigating Socio-Economic Inequalities to Accelerate Poverty Reduction: Investing in Vulnerable Children. Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/socialpolicy/files/Investing_in_children_Web.pdf. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
UNICEF (2020). Child Labour. Retrieved from https://data.unicef.org/topic/child-protection/child-labour/. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
World Bank (2016). Bangladesh: Growing the Economy through Advances in Agriculture. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2016/10/07/bangladesh-growing-economy-through-advances-in-agriculture. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
World Bank (2018). Rural population – Bangladesh. Retrieved from https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.RUR.TOTL.ZS?locations=BD. Accessed on 19.06.2020.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute’s editorial policy.
Dautova Ilana holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from KIMEP University (Almaty, Kazakhstan). She has also studied at the Foundation course at Lancaster University (Lancaster, United Kingdom) and on the exchange program at Ewha Womans University (Seoul, South Korea). Previously, she worked as a business development manager at the POSCO International Corporation.