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gender issues
child rights globalization
civil rights marginalized community
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Child solders in Bangladesh : global report 2001

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Child labour : trends and features

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Child labour : trends and features
By: Mohammad Zulfiquer Hossain00
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Child labour is simply the most severe form of child exploitation and child abuse in the world today. In any society, working children, as a socio-economic group, happens to be the most disadvantaged of all since "they are forced to work for a living, sacrificing their childhood as well as their future for bare survival of self and family" (Masum 1999). Today, as individual well being increasingly depends on literacy, numeracy and intellectual competence, a child working is in fact a future denied.
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The overwhelming majority of working children is found in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Child labour also exists in many industrialised countries and is emerging in a number of East European countries that are now in transition to a free market economy. Although Bangladesh accounts for less than 2 percent of the world population, it is the home of 6.6 million working children, accounting for more than 5 percent of the world's working child population numbering 120 million. In Bangladesh children are found working in almost all the sectors of the economy except mining, quarrying, electricity, gas and water. Many of them work 48 hours a week on an average, earning less than 500 taka per month. A large number of children work in occupations and industries, which are plainly dangerous and hazardous.
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Early involvement of children in work leads to serious health and developmental consequences. Working children suffer significant growth deficits as compared with school children. They grow up shorter and lighter, and their body size continues to be smaller even in adulthood. Many of them work under conditions that leave them alarmingly vulnerable to chemical and biological hazards. Child workers tend to develop muscular, chest and abdominal pain, headaches, dizziness, respiratory infections, diarrhoea and worm infection. Poor working conditions make them more susceptible than their adult colleagues to infectious diseases, injuries and other workplace-related ailments. Many even experience amputations or loss of body parts. Moreover, children in certain occupations experience particular types of abuse. Child domestic workers are often found to be victims of verbal and sexual abuse, beating or punishment by starvation. Children, engaged in scavenging, rag-picking or marginal economic activities in the streets, are exposed to drugs, violence, and criminal activities, physical and sexual abuse in many parts of the country.
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Children have the right to be children: "to be loved, cherished, educated, nourished, clothed, pampered, and fostered as children when they are children" (Hasnat 1996, quoted from Natoli 1992). Child labour is, then, a denial of the right to enjoy childhood and achieve full physical and psychological development. Worse still, many hundreds of children are trapped in forced labour, debt bondage, prostitution and other kinds of jobs that cause lasting and devastating damage. Obviously the formulation of a National Plan of Action for the elimination of child labour in the country is a need of the hour. A critical evaluation of the nature and magnitude of the problem should, however, precede such an exercise. This paper is intended to serve as a humble step in that direction.
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Causes of child labour in Bangladesh:
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Supply factors:
Poverty is the single most important factor responsible for the prevalence of child labour in the country. About 55 million people live below the poverty line in Bangladesh. Poor households badly need the money that their children earn. They commonly contribute around 20-25 percent of family income. Since poor households spend the bulk of their income on food, the earnings of working children are critical to their survival.
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Parents' perceptions greatly influence their children's participation in the labour force. The education system of the country in general does not provide poor, disadvantaged children with any immediate prospects of better jobs or higher levels of income. The curriculum, followed in schools, is hardly perceived to be capable of meeting the practical needs of poor families. Naturally, poor parents fail to appreciate the long-term value of education, and instead opt for the short-term economic gains of child labour. In many cases, the male children of the household are expected to help the father in the field and the female children the mother with the household work. Moreover, parents consider their children's employment in certain occupations like in the engineering workshop as a rare opportunity to learn employable skills. To them, it is an alternative education with much more practical value than the traditional primary education.
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Even though the government launched the Compulsory Primary Education Program all over the country since January 1993, education remains very expensive for a poor family, which is expected to bear the costs of uniform and transportation. In some areas of the country the expenditure on primary level students represents one-third of the entire income of a typical poor family, though most families have more than one child of the school-going age. Many children are, therefore, forced to work to pay for their own education.
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Emergencies often contribute to an increase in the supply of child labour. Bangladesh happens to be a land of chronic natural calamities. Floods, cyclones and riverbank erosion render many people homeless and helpless every year. Low-income families have little margin to cope with any such disaster. They also find it very difficult to deal with the distress resulting from abandonment or divorce, or the injury and illness of an adult member of the household. As a result, trapped early in the world of work, children of such families become the worst victims of any kind of disaster, natural or man-made.
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Demand factors:
The lower cost of employing child workers and the irreplaceable skills provided by them are often cited to explain the demand for child labour. Although there is validity in the first argument, the second does not hold water. In all the industries that rely heavily on child labour, most of the tasks performed by children are also performed by adults working side by side with them. Clearly, children do not have irreplaceable skills. The other factors, responsible for the demand for child labour, seem to be non-economic. Employers are tempted to hire child labour because children are much less aware of their rights and most unlikely to get organised in trade unions. They are also more trustworthy, more willing to take orders and do monotonous work, and less likely to be absent from work. Children's lower absentee rate is immensely valuable to employers in the informal sector where workers are employed on a daily basis and the employers must ensure the presence of a full contingent of workers each day.
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Magnitude of child labour in Bangladesh :
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Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in the "National Sample Survey of Child Labour in Bangladesh: 1995-96" defined child labourers as children in the age group of 5-14 years who were found to be working during the survey reference period (preceding 12 months of the day of survey). A child was said to work if he or she was found either working one or more hours for pay or profit or working without pay in a family farm or enterprise during the reference period, or was found not working but had a job or business from which he or she was temporarily absent during the reference period. According to BBS the number of child labourers was 6.6 million in 1995-96. 19 percent of the total child population (5-14 years) was found to be economically active. 11.6 percent of the child labour force belonged to the 5-9 age group and the rest to the 10-14 age group. 95.6 percent of the child labour force was employed. Of the employed child workers, males constituted 59.8 percent and females 40.2 percent. Child workers were scattered all over the country. 17 percent of the child labour force lived in the urban areas and the rest in the rural areas. Child workers were present in almost all the sectors of the economy with the exception of mining and utilities. Agriculture accounted for 65.4 percent of the child workers, followed by services (10.3 percent), manufacturing (8.2 percent) and transport and communication (1.8 percent). Other activities including household work accounted for 14.3 percent of working children.
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Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) in the "National Sample Survey of Child Labour in Bangladesh: 1995-96" defined child labourers as children in the age group of 5-14 years who were found to be working during the survey reference period (preceding 12 months of the day of survey). A child was said to work if he or she was found either working one or more hours for pay or profit or working without pay in a family farm or enterprise during the reference period, or was found not working but had a job or business from which he or she was temporarily absent during the reference period. According to BBS the number of child labourers was 6.6 million in 1995-96. 19 percent of the total child population (5-14 years) was found to be economically active. 11.6 percent of the child labour force belonged to the 5-9 age group and the rest to the 10-14 age group. 95.6 percent of the child labour force was employed. Of the employed child workers, males constituted 59.8 percent and females 40.2 percent. Child workers were scattered all over the country. 17 percent of the child labour force lived in the urban areas and the rest in the rural areas. Child workers were present in almost all the sectors of the economy with the exception of mining and utilities. Agriculture accounted for 65.4 percent of the child workers, followed by services (10.3 percent), manufacturing (8.2 percent) and transport and communication (1.8 percent). Other activities including household work accounted for 14.3 percent of working children.
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Key statistics of child labour survey, 1995-96 (as on January 1996)

Characteristics
Total
Male
Female
Child population, 5-14 years (000)
34455
17862
16593
Child labour force (000)
6584
3919
2665
    
Child labour force by age group
(5-9 years 10-14 years )
employer no. (000)
767
434
333
Percent ( percent)
11.6
11.1
12.3
Number (000)
5817
3485
2332
Percent ( percent)
88.4
88.9
87.5
    
Child labour force by residence (000)
6584
3919
2665
Urban
1136
637
499
Rural
5448
3282
2166
    
Working child (employed) labour (000)
Bangladesh
6298
3769
2529
Urban
1059
597
462
Rural
5239
3172
2067
 
Wage employed child labour as percent of total child labour
Number (000)
562
303
259
Percent ( percent)
8.5
7.7
9.5
 
Child workers by major occupation (%)
100
100
100
Total
2.7
2.5
0
Technical, admin and managerial services
4.9
4.3
3.0
Production & transport labourers
0.3
0.4
5.9
Clerical workers
6.1
9.6
0.0
Sales workers
8.6
3.8
6.8
Services workers
71.2
70.2
2.9
Agriculture, forestry, fisheries
6.2
9.2
72.8
Not adequately defined (NAD)
-
-
1.6
 
Child workers by major industry (%)
100
100
100
Total
65.4
67.1
0
Agriculture
8.2
9.7
63.0
Manufacturing
1.8
3.0
7.0
Transports/ communication
10.3
14.4
6.1
Other services
14.3
6.8
4.2
Other activities including household services
0
0
25.7
 
Child workers by type and sector of employment (%)
100
100
100
Total
6.0
6.9
0
Private (formal)
4.7
4.5
Private (informal)
94.0
93.1
95.5
 
Employment status of child workers (%)
100
100
100
Total
16.3
14.8
0.0
Employee
4.7
6.1
18.6
Self-employed
63.5
58.4
2.5
Unpaid family workers
2.0
2.9
71.2
Apprentices
13.5
17.8
0.5
Day labourer/casual labourers
-
7.2
 

Average weekly hours worked (all working children

25.6
26.9
23.8

Average weekly hours worked (regular working children)

48.0
45.0
51.0

Average daily wage rates (Tk.)

16.0
17.0
14.0

Average monthly income (paid workers in Tk.)

478.2
507.5
448.1
       
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Photo : Abir Abdullah/ Drik ( Evicted slum dweller)
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