Child Labour Laws of Bangladesh
hands in floating dustbins
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.
is the second largest ship-breaking 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 works in these yards. Although most of these
child workers work as 'helpers', as said by the industry owners, but
the real situation is different. 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. While an average
adult worker is paid between Tk. 140 to 180, a child 'helper' is paid
Tk. 60 for 8 hours of work a day. No statistics of death/injury of child
workers out of 400 dead workers and 3000 injured workers has been available.
labour in Bangladesh Laws
to 16 years
(Pledging of Labour) Act 1933
of Children Act 1938
to 15 years in case of railway transport and carriage of goods in
port up to 12 years in case of specified hazardous occupations
Plantation Labour Ordinance, 1962
to 15 years
Factories Act, 1965
to 16 years
and Establishment Act, 1965
to 12 years
Transport Workers' Ordinance, 1961
to 18 years
to 15 years
causes of child labour
*Lack of schools
Children Act, 1974
This law was enacted to consolidate and amend the hitherto existing
laws relating to the custody, protection and treatment of children and
trial and punishment of young offenders. Section 44 of Part (vi) of
the Act is relevant for child labour.
(1) Whoever secures a child ostensibly for the purpose of manual employment
or for labour in a factory or other establishment, but in fact exploits
the child for his own ends, withholds or lives on his earnings, shall
be punishable with fine, which may extend to Taka one thousand.
(2) Whoever secures a child ostensibly for any of the purposes, mentioned
in sub-section (1), but exposes such child to the risk of seduction,
sodomy, prostitution or other immoral conditions shall be punishable
with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years, or with
fine which may extend to Taka one thousand, or with both.
Comment: This Act is silent about exploitation of
children in the name of family enterprises/businesses. The issue is
whether such exploitation in the name of family business is punishable
Children (Pledging of Labour) Act, 1933
This Act was passed to prohibit the making of an agreement to pledge
the labour of children and employment of children whose labour has been
An agreement to pledge the labour of a child shall be void.
An agreement to pledge the labour of a child means an agreement, written
or oral, expressed or implied, whereby the parent or guardian of a child,
in return for any payment or benefit received or to be received by him,
undertakes to cause or allow the services of the child to be utilised
in any employment:
*Such agreement will not be void if it is without detriment to a child.
*Such agreement will not be void if made in consideration of any benefit
other than reasonable wages to be paid for the child's services.
*Such agreement will not be void if it is terminable with one week's
Comment: Whether an agreement is detriment to a child
is to be decided by court of law. Due to absence of any case law/precedent,
there is no legal interpretation in this regard.
Employment of Children Act, 1938 and Rules 1955
*Employing or permitting children of less than 15 years is prohibited
in any occupation
*connected with the transport of passengers, goods or mails by railway,
*involving the handling of goods within the limits of any port.
Comment: Children above 15 years are allowed to be
employed in such occupations which may prove to be hazardous for them
and therefore it comes into conflict with ILO Convention 182.
Children up to the age of 17 must not be employed in any such occupation
referred to in sub-sec. (1) unless interval of at least 12 consecutive
hours is allowed to them, which must include 7 consecutive hours between
10pm and 7am.
The above provision technically allows the children up to 17 years of
age to work during evening up to10pm. It also technically allows employment
of children between 17 and 18 years to work even between 10pm and 7am.
This may be hazardous for such children.
8 to the Act lays down that such children may be permitted to work between
10pm to 5am if
*he is an apprentice/receiving vocational training
*the period of employment does not exceed 6 hours a day
*a competent medical officer certifies him to be fit to work during
*he is employed under the supervision of a person of more than 18 years
*rest of 13 consecutive hours is allowed
The above provision enables the employers to force an apprentice or
a trainee of between 15 and 17 years of age to work in night hours which
night be hazardous for that child. Moreover these conditions need not
be observed in case of children between 17 and 18 years.
*Employment of children below 12 years is prohibited in the following
*Tobacco (Bidi making)
*Cloth printing, dyeing and weaving
*Manufacturing of explosives, fireworks and matches
*Mica-cutting and splitting
Children above 12 years and below 18 years of age are impliedly permitted
to be employed in these sorts of works. Any violation of any provision
of the Act amounts to a fine extending up to Tk. 500, which is too weak
a punishment to deter employers from employing child labours.
Factories Act 1965 and Rules 1979
A factory is a place where 10 or persons are employed.
No child who has not completed fourteen years of age shall be required
or allowed to work in any factory.
No child under the age of 14 years shall be permitted within the work
rooms and godowns of any factory at any time during which work is carried
No young person shall work at any machine unless he has been fully instructed
as to the dangers arising in connection with the machine and the precautions
to be observed, has received sufficient training in work at the machine
or is under the supervision by a person who has thorough knowledge and
experience of the machine.
No person below the age of 16 will be allowed to work in any factory
for pressing cotton in which a cotton opener is in operation.
A child cannot be employed in a factory to work for more than five years
in a day and between the hours of 7pm and 7am.
Hazardous operations for children under section 87 are:
*grinding or glazing of metals
*manufacturing, treatment or handling of lead
*gas generation from petroleum
*cleaning/smoothing articles by jet of sand, metal shot or grit
*liming and tanning of raw hides
*feeding of jute, hemp or other fibres into softening machines
*lifting, stacking, storing and shipping of jute bales
*manufacturing, storage or use of cellulose solutions
*manufacturing of chromic acid/sodium/potassium/ammonium
*printing press/type foundries
Adolescent male 50 pounds
Adolescent female 40 pounds
Male child 35 pounds
Female child 30 pounds
and Establishment Act 1965 and Rules 1970
A shop/establishment is a place where five or more persons are employed.
No child, who has not completed the age of 12 years is allowed to be
employed in any establishment.
young person who has not completed eighteen years is allowed to work
in an establishment provided that he does not work for more than seven
hours a day or 42 hours per week. These limits may be extended to 52
hours per week if overtimes payments are included.
Any violation of above provision will lead to a fine of Tk.250. For
subsequent offences, punishment includes imprisonment extending up to
three months or a fine of Tk. 500. This punishment is too weak to deter
Laws against Child Labor
The Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (no. 138) of ILO provides following
options regarding minimum age for labor:
to The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (no.182), the worst
forms of child labour comprise: (a) all forms of slavery or practices
similar to slavery and forced or compulsory labour: (b) use, procuring
or offering of a child for prostitution, for production of pornography;
(c) use, procuring or offering of a child for illicit activities such
as production and trafficking of drugs; (d) work which, by its nature
or the circumstances in which it is carried out, is likely to harm the
health, safety or morals of children. Effective and time-bound measures
to eliminate the worst forms of child labour include preventive measures,
removal from work, rehabilitation and social integration through among
others, access to free basic education and reaching out to children
at special risk and taking account of the special situation of girls.
to Article 32 of the United Nations convention on the Rights of the
Child 1989, State Parties recognize the right of the child to be protected
from economic exploitation and from performing any work that is likely
to be hazardous or to interfere with the child's education, or to be
harmful to the child's health or physical, mental, spiritual and moral
or social development. State parties are under obligation to take legislative,
administrative, social and educational measures to provide for a minimum
age or minimum ages for admission to employment, to provide for appropriate
regulation of the hours and conditions of employment and to provide
for appropriate penalties or other sanctions to ensure effective enforcement
of these provisions.
18Under certain conditions:16
No law in Bangladesh has defined 'hazardous' or worst forms of child
labour. In Factories Act 1965, under section 87, there are some dangerous
operations, which can be termed as hazardous or worst forms of child
labour. In the schedule of the Employment of Children Act 1938, there
are ten processes, which can be termed as hazardous or worst forms of
child labour. Case laws/precedents regarding child labour law issues
in Bangladesh are not available. Not many cases have been filed challenging
the violation of child labour laws. Bangladesh has signed and ratified
the UNCRC and ILO Convention no. 182. For implementing the provisions
of the Convention in Bangladesh, some amendments are required to be
made in the existing laws or a new law needs to be enacted.
Department of Inspection has regional and zonal offices for enforcement
of labour laws. Its functions include
*Inspection of factories, shops, commercial establishments, tea plantations,
ports/docks, railways, inland water transport and road transport under
labour laws for enforcement of the provisions relating to safety, health,
hours of work, rest etc.
*Prosecution against the violation of labour laws in different courts
are seven labour courts in Bangladesh. They are established under Industrial
Relations Ordinance of 1965 for resolving mainly labour disputes. But
they have jurisdiction to adjudicate violation of all labour laws (Section
is one Labour Appellate Tribunal. This usually disposes off disputes
settled in labour courts but appealed for further adjudication.
Author is a human rights activist.