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Childhood under threat in Bangladesh

© UNICEF/Bangladesh/Simone Vis
Meeting the education needs of working girls like Aleya is contributing to enrolment, retention and achievement rates for girls education.

The 2005 edition of UNICEF’s State of the World’s Children will be launched on December 9. In the weeks leading up to the launch of the report, we will feature a series of stories illustrating how poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS affect children in their daily lives.

In the brick field in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh, 11-year-old Aleya is chipping bricks together with her mother, elder sister and little brother. Depending on the amount of bricks she breaks, she earns between 20 to 40 Taka a day (US 30 to 60 cents). Two months ago, a small splinter got into her eyes and caused her vision problems for weeks. Now she is back at work to help her family survive.

Aleya is one of the estimated 4.9 million Bangladeshi working children aged 5 to 15. They perform in many different capacities - as domestic workers, garage helpers, factory workers, porters in railway stations and markets, workers in small foundries -- many for little or no pay, and some of them in hazardous conditions. Many boys and girls who work do not have access to education and become trapped in low-skilled, low-pay work that further binds them into the cycle of poverty. The picture is especially bleak for children living in urban slums.

There is growing international recognition of the plight of working children, their poverty, vulnerabilities and deprivations. While in many countries there has been a movement for the ban on child labour, this has not always been accompanied by an analysis or understanding of the reasons for the prevalence of child labour. Also lacking is an acknowledgement of the needs of working children and their families so that they can break out of poverty. Experience shows that children with no access to education have little alternative but to enter the labour market and are often forced to perform dangerous or exploitative work.

A better future for children in poverty

Providing children with a quality education, life and income-generating skills is now seen as a means of increasing the options available to working children and their families. It will enable them to escape poverty and the need to work in hazardous or exploitative occupations.

To enhance the life possibilities for children like Aleya, UNICEF Bangladesh developed the Basic Education for Urban Working Children project for 200,000 children, especially girls and their families, to access their rights to education, protection and development. In six cities, working children aged 10 to 14 are provided a  non-formal basic education that includes reading, writing, math and life skills lessons using participatory teaching methods specifically designed for the needs of this group. Additionally, 20,000 working children aged 13 years and older will have access to support systems to ensure they can optimize their education, thus improving their life chances. The project started in 2004 and is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and several UNICEF National Committees.

UNICEF Bangladesh also actively advocates for educational, social and economic policies in favour of working children and their families and supports the progressive elimination of child labour.

“My mother never had an opportunity to go to school. A teacher came to talk to her last year, to ask if we were allowed to come to the learning center close by,” says  Aleya. “Since the school is in the early morning I could combine earning and learning, therefore she immediately agreed. I love to go to school; I have so many friends there. When I had my eye injury, some of them came to see me at home and told me nice stories about school. My teacher also came twice!

“When our boss is paying us at the end of each day, he used to take advantage of the fact that we couldn’t count. Now I know how much he should pay us and make sure it never happens again!” she adds. “The school also offers livelihood training. I started with a course in bookbinding but after a week I swapped to the tailoring course. I hope I become the best tailor in the neighbourhood and leave my brick-chipping job. When I am big I will be a nice boss, never beating my staff and not cheating them when I pay their salaries.”



The State of the World’s Children 2005

Learn more about the content of this year’s report and read stories illustrating how poverty, conflict and HIV/AIDS affect children in their daily live.

Did you know…

Estimated number of children killed in conflicts since 1990: 1.7 million
Rise in infant mortality rate during a “typical” five-year war: 13 per cent

Voices of Youth

"Commercial exploitation of children especially young women is a stupid act of someone who doesn't value women who in fact gave us our lives (our mothers)."
young girl, 17, The Philippines
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