Education, protection a right for working children
By Jeannette Francis
12 June 2011, Dhaka, Bangladesh : Every morning 12-year-old Milon takes a short walk from his home in the Shoahanghat Namapapa slum to his makeshift workplace. Milon works as a barber in a street stall, where he helps his father earn a living. “I don’t like working,” he says, looking around his small, crammed workplace. “This is not a good type of job but I have to work for my living,” says Milon.
Milon lives with his father, stepmother and two younger sisters. He is one of the millions of child workers across Bangladesh. For many of them, access to an education – even the most basic – is limited. Since arriving in Dhaka from the north-west district of Rungpur two years ago, Milon has been too busy working to attend school.
The UNICEF-supported Protection of Children at Risk (PCAR) project operates several Dhaka-based safe houses and open-air schools for vulnerable working children. Milon would occasionally drop in to one of the schools and from there he was pre-selected to benefit from a UNICEF-supported cash transfer scheme aimed at the urban poor.
With more and more people coming to the cities in search of economic opportunity, the gap between the urban rich and poor is increasing. The pilot scheme, which began in Dhaka in March 2011, seeks to bridge this gap.
It’s being implemented in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh and partner NGOs and will see the caregivers of orphaned and vulnerable children receive a monthly cash transfer of 1,500 taka (approx. USD 20) to ensure their child stops working and returns to school. Milan’s father Montaz says if he is given the money he will make sure Milon gets an education.
Safer work environments
At another PCAR-operated drop-in centre around 40 girls aged five to 18 – including Bona Ahkter - are enjoying a hearty lunch. Bona quickly finishes her rice and egg dish before heading back to work.
The 14-year-old works 6 days a week at a nearby garments factory earning taka 2,000 per month (approx. USD 27). She and her older sister Mukta come from a broken home and since she was ten-years-old Bona has had to fend for herself. “I worked as a domestic aid in a home where I would cook and clean,” she says. “I didn’t like working there because my employers were cruel to me. They would beat me”.
It’s estimated that 13 per cent of children in Bangladesh work in paid or un paid jobs. Many, like Bona, undertake informal work, which means they are not registered as workers and are often underpaid for exploited. Bona’s case – like that of so many other young girls in Bangladesh – would not have come to light had she not found the girl’s drop-in centre. There, she receives 24-hour shelter as well as vocational and life skills training.
The centre also monitors her workplace to ensure she is getting paid and not being mistreated. Picking thread from a white cotton t-shirt, Bona says she is happy to be working in a safer place, where she can earn enough money to show her parents that she is able to look after herself.
Education to those who need it most
Clutching an English book in one hand and a pen in the other, Nadim Amin Hussien begins to read out loud before his peers and teacher. This classroom is a world away from his former life as a working street child.
The 13-year-old fled an abusive household in the southern city of Barisal to come to Dhaka and spent three months living and working on the street. Nadim was a rag picker, sifting through mounds of garbage looking for items to resell and now, dressed in a blue school shirt and slacks, he is reading at a Grade 8 level. Nadim was lucky to be able to stop working and concentrate on his education but many others can’t.
Through UNICEF’s Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working Children (BEHTRUWC) project, classes last for 2.5 hours a day, six days a week, so that children can continue to support their families while fulfilling their right to education. The 40-month programme aims to allow children to move into safer employment and earn a better income, to improve the quality of life for them and their families.
For children like Milon, Bona and Nadim, a holistic approach is needed to ensure they have a brighter future. For this reason UNICEF has strongly advocated for a more child-friendly budget and has supported the Government of Bangladesh to introduce policies, which aim to eradicate child labour.