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Children quiz state minister on child labour issues

© UNICEF/2010/Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury
Children interview Begum Monnujan Sufian, State Minister for Labour and Employment, on BTV’s Our Voice programme

By Iftikhar Ahmed Chowdhury

Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 2010: The BTV studio is filled with children; disadvantaged and working children, street children, child representatives, and child journalists – all are here to take part in the thirteenth episode of hard-hitting talk show, Our Voice, produced as part of a joint project between UNICEF and the Government of Bangladesh.

Our Voice allows children to quiz the country’s top policymakers on matters pertaining to child rights. In the programme’s first episode, the children started at the top by interviewing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Today, they will put questions to State Minister for Labour and Employment, Begum Monnujan Sufian. There is a hush as the lights go down. Then, the director gives his cue and the recording begins:

Jotsna, school student and part-time domestic helper:
Many children working as domestic help get beaten up by their employers. What can you do to stop such physical abuse?

This is not the first time that I’m encountering this complaint. There are legal provisions on the control of child labour under the Women and Children Repression Act. The government is taking action using these legal instruments. If we can successfully enforce these laws, I’m confident that the rates of abuse against children will come down.

Md. Shohag Hossain, student and child representative:
Can education and recreation be ensured for all working children of Bangladesh?

In my ministry there are stipend programmes for primary school students to ensure that they do not give up education for work. During the first phase of the programme, my ministry gave tokens to 10,000 children; in the second phase, 30,000 children received primary education and life skills training. We gave small loans to 5,000 poor parents so that they don’t have to send their kids to work. We plan to give education and life-skills training to 50,000 more children, which will start shortly.

Opu, student and motor garage worker:
Children are exposed to hazardous work in motor garages and are often made to pour acid water into batteries. Employers do not give any compensation to affected child in case of serious injuries. Is there any solution to this problem?

We can definitely take very harsh measures against such establishment owners provided there is a specific written complaint against them. We can even cancel their trade license.

Children from all walks of life pose with Begum Monnujan Sufian, State Minister for Labour and Employment, on the set of the UNICEF-supported Our Voice programme.

Kohinoor, student and part-time worker at a tailoring shop:
I get one day weekly holiday. But most working children do not get weekly holidays. How can you ensure holidays for all working children?

According to the labour law, a worker is entitled 1.5 days of weekly holiday. If anyone has to work on a holiday, it should be as per his/her will and for that extra work he/she should be paid overtime. But this law is being violated by many factory owners, so greater awareness is needed on the part of working people to ensure nobody takes undue advantage of them.

Abony, child journalist:
Many poor children are forced to work as beggars in the cities. How can it be stopped?

The Prime Minister is also vehemently against this. We have taken up various plans to help insolvent families so that they don’t have to push their children into unethical and risky professions. If we can do this, much of this problem will be solved. 

Hamida, disadvantaged child from Old Dhaka:
How can the government stop the trafficking of children from villages to cities and from cities across the border?

First and foremost, everyone in the society must become aware about the evil tactics of fake manpower recruiting agents. People have to know the proper procedures when it comes to going abroad. They have to first find out whether the manpower agent has an authentic license or not.

This project is funded by UNICEF’s regular resources.



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