20 August 2011

Child labour deters socio-economic development :

Child labour deters socio-economic development

Child labour interferes the children with their education, and damages their physical, mental, social or psychological development. Some of the worst child labour abuses for working full-time incredibly even at the age between three and five year are evident in some under developed countries including Bangladesh. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) estimates that 250 million children work in factories, plantations and fields and down mines all over the world. This does not include children working as domestic servants which is very difficult to count or estimate in countries like Bangladesh, where it is next to impossible to get reliable figures.

There are many reasons why children have to work. The main reason for increasing the supply of child labour is poverty along with family breakup, unlettered parents' interest towards their children's employment. However, we cannot look at child labour just at the level of the individual family; we need to look at the economic structures which create poverty for the vast majority of people in the world that is way, children are forced into work rather than education.

The increase in the demand for child labour is caused by the intense pressure on many companies to become more competitive and win a greater market share because children are seen as a cheap source of labour, which may be enough to give a company a slight edge over competitors or provide an opportunity to increase profits. Companies are now freer to maximise profits by either moving offshore or using overseas sub-contractors, and so, availing of cheaper labour costs and the cheapest possible wages are that of a child.

Poverty is one cause of child labour, but child labour is also a cause of poverty. Child labour causes poverty because when a child is employed; it displaces an adult from that job, and also drives down adult wages in that industry or region. When children work, they are denied education and so have no chance of escaping from poverty. Illiterate child labourers usually become poverty-stricken, illiterate adults who in turn have to send their children out to work, and so perpetuate this cycle of poverty.

"Child labour is not only a by-product of poverty, it also generates poverty..... The argument that child labour can't be eliminated until poverty is eliminated reverses cause and effect and provides an excuse for tolerating child labour. Ending child labour is a way out of poverty."

In 2002/03, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) conducted the second National Child Labour Survey (NCLS). According to the survey, the total working child population between 5 and 17 years old is estimated at 7.9 million in Bangladesh. The proportion of boy and girl child workers, in the age group of 5-17 years, is 73.5 percent and 26.5 percent, respectively; the total number of working children aged 5-17 years in rural areas is estimated at 6.4 million as against 1.5 million in urban areas; as many as 93.3 per cent of all working children in the age group of 5-17 years operate in the informal sector. Agriculture engages 4.5 million (56.4 per cent) children, while the services sector engages 2.0 million (25.9 per cent), and industry, 1.4 million (17.7 per cent). A total of 1.3 million children are estimated to be working 43 hours or more per week. More boys than girls are engaged in this form of child labor across all age groups.

A child may seem insignificant in determining the status or condition of a society, but collectively it is a major determinant in a society's progress. Unfortunately, in Bangladesh, street children are victims of trafficking for odd jobs like factory work, shopkeepers' helper, conductor of bus and truck; even for totally illegal work (for adults as well) like prostitution-worker, drug seller. This is due to the poverty, hunger and abuse which a street child experiences at an early age. Street children become more susceptible to these illegal treatments because of the lack of education and awareness towards their society, environment and human rights. As a result, they tend to disregard education and start working at an early age to be able to help themselves as well as their family financially.

From dawn to dusk, thousands of workers, many of them as young as 10 years old, are found to work in vast sandy Sitakunda beach littered with metal scrap from ships. The 20-mile area at the Chittagong end of Dhaka-Chittagong highway is strewn with broken glass, steel spikes, sharp-edged iron sheets and piles of metal scrap. Workers including children can be seen carrying heavy iron sheets on their shoulders. According to rights groups, at least 18 to 20 workers are injured everyday, yet no medical facilities are provided by the employers. This is the second largest shipbreaking yard in Asia. Having no natural metal resources, Bangladesh has become destination of scrapped ships of the developed countries. These ships are recycled for scrap metal to feed the re-rolling mills of Bangladesh. But the working condition in these scrap-shipyards is horrific for workers particularly for child workers.

According to Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), there are about 2000 children and adolescents (between the ages of 10 and 14) out of 30 thousand workers in these yards. Although most of these child workers work as 'helpers', as said by the industry owners, but the real situation is different. In 2008/09, while an average adult worker was paid between Tk 140 to 180, a child 'helper' was paid Tk 60 for 8 hours of work a day. However, many of these child workers are found working shoulder-to-shoulder with adult workers in scrapping an entire vessel with their bare hands. Cranes used to remove engines and other overweight items are rarely tasted resulting in frequent fatal accidents. Standing at wrong place at wrong time can easily crush or behead a child worker. Many of the future adults are found barefooted or only wearing flip-flops with sharp, rusty metal shards and splinters lying scattered on the floor. The ships remain full of dangerous gases and sufficient measures are not taken to clean those before scrapping.

All over the world, child labour is the illegal employment of children more or less about the age of 15 where they are not directly under the sole responsibility of their parents or legal guardians. That means a school going child under age of 15 may help to her mother to cook or household chores which is not counted as child labour. So work done by children after school, on weekends or during holidays to help their family non-financially, some cases financially too, can be counted as a real life lesson for them. Furthermore, that, it should be prohibited, the child's work may be inside the home endangering their life, safety, health and morals or hindering them from schooling. It also includes the situation of children below the age of 18 who are employed in hazardous occupations as mining industry.

Acknowledging the children's rights and restricting their exploitation has become a demand of time, but it may be voiceless if we play silent role in favour of developed countries, multinational companies or, as well as for the capitalists society. So, should not we need to move on to work for the children rights, to establish a beautiful living space for them, to create a poverty free socio-economically developed nation, Bangladesh!

The writer is a researcher and can be reached at, email: sajjad_aiubbd@yahoo.com

Source: The Financial Express. BM Sajjad Hossain. 3 August 2011

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