The reluctance of the middle class, the largest section of society to employ children in their house, is the biggest barrier to recognising domestic work as a risky job for children, human rights activists and officials said yesterday.
Mikail Shipar, secretary to the labour and employment ministry, said it was mostly the urban middle class that employed children as domestic helps, and they were the ones who made the policy decisions.
As policy makers have child workers in their houses, they are generally unwilling to call it risky, he told a roundtable of the Bangla daily Prothom Alo at its office in the capital.
“The reason why the labour ministry's list of 38 very risky jobs for children does not include domestic work is not that we don't understand the risks, but we are too often confronted by the middle class's reluctance to let go of one of their conveniences,” Shipar said.
Executive Director of Ain o Salish Kendra Sultana Kamal opined that a system of registering the identities of the domestic workers, their parents and employers needed to be introduced and administered by the local government representatives to ensure their safety.
While it is a popular belief that children work because of poverty, the truth is that many of the parents who send their children to middle class households in the capital do this because they hope that the children will have a better future there, she said.
The rights activists present there expressed disappointment as the labour ministry has not taken any measure to implement the draft "Domestic Worker Protection and Welfare Policy 2010", which some rights bodies had submitted with recommendations about work hour, wages, and holidays, among others.
According to unofficial estimates, there are 20 lakh child domestic workers in the country, while the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics puts the figure at only 1.20 lakh.
Other speakers include Salma Ali, executive director, Bangladesh National Women Lawyers' Association; Hasina Begum, representative, International Labour Organization; Anwar Hossain Shikder, deputy regional director, Plan International; and Lutfun Nahar, project coordinator, Nari Maitree.