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Providing basic education to working children

© UNICEF/2009/Habibul Haque
Raja puts himself at risk by welding without the use of adequate safety equipment.
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 10 June 2010 - Like almost 8 million Bangladeshi children, Muktar Hossain Raja, 13, has to work to support his family.  His widowed mother earns only 3000 taka (45 USD) a month, so since age eight, Raja has been forced to work in a metal workshop to contribute to the family income.

"I never had a chance to go to school. This made me very sad. I gave up hoping that I would ever go to school. I thought that I would only ever have the chance to work. Nothing else!" he says.

When he started at the iron workshop, Raja earned only 500 taka (7.25 USD) a month. His duties included fetching tea and water for more senior staff members, and sweeping the workshop every morning and evening.

School especially for working children
Raja now attends a learning centre run by the Basic Education for Hard to Reach Urban Working Children (BEHTRUWC) Project, under the Government of Bangladesh’s Bureau of Non-Formal Education, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education. UNICEF provides technical and financial support to the project.

Raja’s life changed when Nusrat Madam, a teacher from one of the basic education learning centres, visited his house and encouraged his mother to enrol Raja in the learning centre. Nusrat explained that the classes and learning materials would be free, and more importantly, Raja would not have to leave the job that he and his mother depend on for survival.

The project provides education to more than 166,000 students in 6646 learning centres in six divisional cities in Bangladesh. Children attend classes six days a week, for 2.5 hours each day, so they can continue to support their families while fulfilling their right to education.

Students learn basic Bangla, English, social science and maths, as well as life skills on topics such as interpersonal relationships, critical thinking, decision making, negotiation, job seeking and self employment.

© UNICEF/2009/Habibul Haque
Muktar Hossain Raja completes his homework from his simple tin shed house in Lalbagh, Dhaka.
Changing lives through education
Jesmin Akter Momena, 12, used to have a job in a safety-pin factory to help support her family of four. “One day my finger got stuck into the machine. To my acute pain it was bleeding. I got frightened and started crying," says Momena. In Bangladesh, there are about 1.3 million children like Momena who work in hazardous jobs. 

Since starting at her local learning centre, Momena began to reflect on her risky safety pin job and think about finding something safer. In life skills sessions, she learnt about the physical and mental health threats of hazardous jobs as well as how to contact employers to find a suitable job.

Momena proactively gathered information from locals about different employers and finally got a new job. Without basic education, working children often lack the confidence or knowledge to change jobs, particularly because their families are so dependent on their income. “Now I am engaged in Puthi Pathir Kaj. In this job I decorate clothes with beads. I do not have to work on a machine. This job is safe. I feel secure and safe,” says Momena.

Raja has also made progress towards a better job since starting at the learning centre. At the centre Raja has learnt relationship skills that have helped him progress at work. "I cooperate with others. I take lessons from my seniors. As a result now I know how to shape iron rods to make windows, doors etc.”

Raja also learnt how to talk to his employer to claim his right to just wages and conditions. The learners do role plays, where one learner acts as an employer and the other as a worker. “After practicing in the role-play I talked with my employer and convinced him to give me a promotion as an assistant to the seniors. I asked him for a raise. Now I am getting 1200 taka per month. I am really happy.”



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