More than three years ago, the government had taken up a project with the aim of eliminating hazardous child labour from Bangladesh by 2020.
It has been more than six months since the deadline has come and gone, but the project named "Eradication of Hazardous Child Labour in Bangladesh (4th phase)" has seen hardly any progress.
According to the latest Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division (IMED) report, the Tk 284 crore project had progressed just 1.33 percent till end of December last year -- the original deadline.
The deadline of the project, being implemented by the labour and employment ministry with the help of national-level NGOs working on child labour, has now been pushed to December 2021.
But child rights activists are sceptical about the timely completion of the project as progress is still at a very early stage.
For the glacial rate of implementation, project officials blamed the pandemic, although the first cases of coronavirus were detected in the country on March 8 last year -- more than two years after the project was initiated in January 2018.
Child rights activists blamed bureaucratic wrangles and delay in selecting NGOs for the sluggish progress of the project, which aimed at getting one lakh children out of hazardous labour.
These children work in 38 sectors categorised as hazardous, which include welding, transportation, automobile workshops, tobacco factories and battery recharging shops.
According to the project, one lakh children will be provided six months' non-formal education and four months' skill development training, and a monthly stipend of Tk 1,000.
At the end of that time, the best 10,000 trainees would be provided Tk 15,000 as seed money. A database would also be prepared to track the employment information of one lakh children.
KM Abdus Salam, secretary of the labour ministry, said an initial list of NGOs has been prepared and it will be finalised once the cabinet committee on government purchase approves it.
"The process of sending the list to the committee is underway. After getting the approval, the NGOs will start working," he said.
Experts and child rights activists said the project could have made a tremendous contribution to the government's objective to get children out of hazardous child labour at a time when children's involvement in such risky work increased due to the pandemic.
According to a recent survey of Manusher Jonno Foundation, some 7,800 out of 30,313 child labourers who were involved in risky jobs have switched to "riskier jobs" in eight districts between July and September 2020.
The report said some 5,600 child labourers migrated in search of a job in the past three months, and 2,400 have been forced to join new work at nominal wages.
Another MJF survey found that many parents, who were unemployed for quite some time, took advantage of the Covid-induced school closure and sent their children to work in the hope of getting some extra money.
More and more children joining work in both formal and informal sectors amid the pandemic also increased violence against them at the workplace, as an MJF study found child abuse in the workplace shot up by 137 percent in July last year, compared to previous years.
Project Director Md Monowar Hossain admitted that they are far behind the schedule and blamed the Covid-19 pandemic as a major reason.
"We couldn't work properly in the pandemic."
He said they received applications from the NGOs through Expression of Interest (EOI) in 2019, which were shortlisted by a seven-member committee.
The list was then reviewed by another five-member committee and the reviewed copy was sent to the Prime Minister's Office early last year.
"In May 2020, we asked for a request for proposals (RFP) from the shortlisted NGOs and by June, we received the proposals from them," the PD said.
"After scrutinising the proposals, we have prepared an initial list of 112 NGOs, which will be later approved by the cabinet committee on purchase. We are hoping that we will receive the approval soon and start our work shortly," he added.
Former Labour and Employment State Minister Mujibul Haque Chunnu, who made the declaration of eradicating hazardous child labour in 2016, said it was frustrating that even after the extension period, those implementing the projectcould not yet finalise the list of NGOs.
Chunnu, who is the chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on labour and employment ministry, said, "As the standing committee chairman, I've raised the issue in several meetings, but didn't find any particular progress."
MJF Executive Director Shaheen Anam said there were allegations that some of the NGOs who do not have experience on working with child labour issue have submitted proposals in the project.
"The government must make the list public so that everyone can see who has been selected and what their qualification is," she said.
Ambika Roy, child rights unit coordinator of Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), said the target is unlikely to be achieved as everything is unclear till now.
Apart from this project, the government should take more initiatives to solve the problem and increase the job opportunities of the parents so they stop sending their children to risky work, she said.