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In Bangladesh, a new UNICEF-supported initiative helps poor urban children

By AM Sakil Faizullah

UNICEF’s flagship report, ‘The State of the World’s Children 2012: Children in an Urban World’, was launched on 28 February, focusing attention on children in urban areas. One billion children live in urban areas, a number that is growing rapidly. Yet disparities within cities reveal that many lack access to schools, health care and sanitation, despite living alongside these services. This story is part of a series highlighting the needs of these children.

DHAKA, Bangladesh, 2 March 2012 – Twelve-year old Mohammad Faisal Hossain works to support his family of four – himself, his mother, younger sister and brother. To meet their needs, he holds down two jobs on the packed roads of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka: selling newspapers in the early morning and working as a helping hand on a small minibus.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on a new UNICEF-supported initiative targeting the urban poor in Bangladesh.  Watch in RealPlayer


Every morning, Mohammad collects newspapers from the retailer and weaves his way through the crowded railway stations and bus stops. On an average day, he earns 70 to 80 taka, less than US$1, at this job. 

His second job takes up most of his time until evening. On the minibus, he shouts out the vehicles’ destination to potential passengers and collects fares from each rider. At this job, Mohammad worries for his well-being.

“I really hate this job. There is nothing to enjoy – it’s full of risk. I might die someday while doing this,” he said. “There is no assurance. I also want to go to school like other children. But my mother doesn’t have the capacity to bear my educational expenses.”

His mother, Rokhsana Begum, knows that her son is doing more than he should at this age.

© UNICEF video
Mohammad Faisal Hossain, 12, works as a helping hand on a minibus in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

“I used to work as a maid servant,” she said. “After getting sick, I left my job. With a lot of difficulties, I did manage to send my son up to fifth grade. Now, I just can’t afford to continue his studies. His father left us few years ago. I have no other choice but to send him for work.”

Children in slums

Mohammad lives in a Dhaka slum, alongside many thousands of deprived children. Urban slums in Bangladesh grew much faster than the overall rate of urbanization. And although Bangladesh has made significant improvements in access to primary education, children living in urban slums remain the most disadvantaged.

In most cases, slums lack even the most basic amenities, such as running water, sewage systems, latrines, waste disposal services and electricity. Slum dwellers also have restricted access to basic social services, such as health clinics and schools.

© UNICEF video
A slum in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Slums in Bangladesh have grown much faster than the overall rate of urbanization and often lack even the most basic services.

Although residents of urban areas experience, on aggregate, better living conditions that those in rural areas, slum dwellers typically do not enjoy these benefits. According to a 2010 report by UNICEF Bangladesh,  net secondary school attendance was 48 per cent in rural areas and 53 per cent in urban areas – but in slums, this number fell to 18 per cent.

Helping the urban poor

But the good news is Mohammad’s fate is about to change: He has been selected to receive a ‘cash transfer’, part of a new UNICEF-supported initiative targeting the urban poor being implemented in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh.

With this assistance, he can go back to school while his family still receives the financial support they need.

It is a small start to addressing a very large problem. But for Mohammad and his family, it is will make all the difference in the world.



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