Same old sad story | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, June 12, 2011 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, June 12, 2011

Same old sad story

The Daily Star extensively covered the sorry state of labour in jute rope, balloon and kitchen utensil factories. Two years later, days before the World Day Against Child Labour, it has gone back to those places, only to find nothing has chang

Rubel, 8, and Maidul, 10, top left, Shakil, only 5, right, and Sohel, 14, bottom left, toil away while another World Day Against Child Labour passes. Government policymakers after attending seminars and conferences marking the day will gradually forget about the thousands of child labourers of the country. The photos were taken at Kamrangirchar and Keraniganj in the capital yesterday.Photo: Anisur Rahman

Today is the World Day Against Child Labour. But meanwhile…
Eight-year-old Shakil works a 12-hour shift in a balloon factory in Kamrangirchar. When his day's work finishes the boy comes out of the factory like an age-bent dwarf, covered with white powder from his head to toe. His fellow workers, aged between seven and ten, make balloons in a steel frame, spread cheap talcum powder on them and unwind each balloon carefully.
Shakil's friend Imran works at a metal factory just across the yard. He took a small break and came to see Shakil. Imran had dust and residue from spinning metal all over his body and looked as if he was going on a covert military operation. Indeed, he has his own battle to fight.
About three kilometres away at Mandail in Keraniganj, a namesake of Shakil works at a rope factory. He runs almost incessantly between pillars, each 33 feet apart, carrying jute fibre strings from a spinning wheel to another.
The three boys joined their work less than a week ago. Where their daily wages range between Tk 35 to 100, safety measures like gloves, helmet and masks are a far cry there.
Most children working in these small workshops or factories did not even have the chance of schooling. Many have been taken out the schools by their parents and set to work and earn for the family.
According to a Unicef report, around 3.7 million children are directly involved in hazardous labour in Bangladesh. Of them, a staggering 3.3 million are growing up in ghettos like Kamrangirchar and Keraniganj. They are considered as the most vulnerable in terms of healthcare and education.
“These working children have no childhood. The government and political parties must adopt a pragmatic approach to ensure them the maximum opportunity and protection from violation of rights with whatever limited resources we have,” said Sultana Kamal, executive director of Ain O Salish Kendra.
The Unicef data say nearly half the country's population are children, aged below 18 years, and half of them live under poverty which force them to forget or leave school and take up jobs.
As we thrive to become a middle-income nation by 2050, an estimated 80 million more children are likely to join the underprivileged mass or working groups.
“This is unfortunate that none of your leaders realises the gravity of the situation. Bangladesh is a country having no mentionable mineral resources. The only resource it has is the people. The government must invest on children to maximise their potential or else these children will become a huge liability,” said Unicef Country Director Carel De Rooy.
Rooy remembers the sad spectacle of what becomes of those children who grow up abandoned. While growing up in Brazil he saw how denial to a dignified life turned generations of children into criminals only in four decades. Brazil has become a heaven for drug peddlers and gun runners.
The picture is not much different in Mexico, Nigeria, Senegal and Kenya.
The government over the years allocated up to only 17 percent of the social safety budget and 25 percent of the Annual Development programme for children.
A recent Unicef study has shown that only 2.5 percent increase in the allocation for children in national budget for a 10-year period can alter the life of vulnerable children to a great extent.

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