Policy advocacy and partnership for children’s rights

Social policy: The issue


Adolescents from the slums equipped to realise their dreams - Bangladesh

From left to right -Adolescent club members Yasin (17), Shanaj Pinki (18) Sonia Akhter (18) and Jannat Akhter (16) at BRAC Adolescent club. All four are UNICEF Stipend holders.Doaripara, Mirpur, Dhaka.

Growing up in a claustrophobic little shanty in an urban slum is a grim experience. Devoid of the facilities of infrastructure, sanitation, and privacy, most adolescents in Dhaka slums are or have been child labourers with little or no schooling.

Although they are born into a vicious cycle of poverty, many adolescent girls and boys dream of breaking free and eventually leaving the slums.

Meet 18-years-old Sonia Akhtar, who was born and raised at Tekerbari slum in Dhaka. Missing out on schooling when she was a child, she is now in class VIII. She is not a typical child of the slum doing menial jobs and receiving charity.  She is a member of an adolescent club and has received Life Skills Based Education (LSBE) and is actively involved in other club activities i.e. interactive theatre shows.

As part of the empowerment of Adolescents programme Sonia learnt how to bake from a training programme organised by an NGO partner last year and has been able to set up her little bakery at home with an adolescent stipend of Tk 15,000 (USD 195) she received from UNICEF. Her cakes and doughnuts, which she prepares before leaving home for school at 8:00am, are supplied to two nearby tea stalls. The stipend programme helps adolescents come up with innovative ventures that give them a competitive edge. As a result girls like Sonia are making cakes, biscuits doughnuts and pursuing various innovative and non-traditional ventures.

“Since I’m new in the venture, I do not have a lot of customers. But I am fast establishing a base; the ones who take my cakes seem to like them. Above all, I can now support my father who used to be the only earning member of the family,” she said.

“The bakery has helped me contribute to my family’s income which has helped delay my age of marriage” Sonia added. Child marriage is very common in her community. Her daily income now ranges from Tk 50-150 (USD 0.65-1.94). She can also continue her education and feels empowered within her family and community.

Most of the adults in Tekerbari slum are rickshaw pullers or day labourers. Sonia’s family of six members lives in a one-room shanty that remains dark even in the middle of a bright sunny day. There are more than a hundred such shanties in this slum.

When Sonia comes back from school, she helps her mother with the household chores before she goes to collect her money from the tea stalls. She also has to prepare the dough for baking at night.

Sonia’s bakery may only have a microwave oven and a couple of trays, but these simple things have transformed her life and enabled her to be independent.

She thinks that the stipend programme and her association with the adolescent club will help her take a big step towards realising her dreams. Adolescents, mostly girls from the locality gather at the club in the evening and talk about hygiene, reproductive health, negative affect of child marriage, dowry, gender equality and the risks of early motherhood.

“We facilitate the discussion sessions to empower the adolescents through our life-skills training programme,” said Sabina Yasmin, Senior Programme Organizer of the NGO BRAC.

The teenage members of the club are also encouraged to speak out against child marriage, addiction and child abuse, she informed. “They also get the necessary life skills from here.”

Yasin (17) a UNICEF stipend holder, with her sister Jesmin. She studies in class six. Yasin pays for his sister education from his earning as a mechanic. Vasantek Slum, Mirpur.

In Vasantek, another slum in the same area lives 17-year-old Yasin. He dropped out of the school when he was in class VIII, because he could not do well in the exams. Being a member of the adolescent club in his slum, he knew that he needed skills to pursue a career.

He was lucky to receive a UNICEF stipend with which he took training on mobile phone servicing last year.

“Adolescents make up a significant proportion of the Bangladeshi population – by empowering these girls and boys we are changing negative perceptions of what should happen to them – including issues like child marriage. Through the adolescent stipend girls are given more options and marriages are being delayed” said UNICEF’s Child Protection Specialist Amy Delneuville. 

He now earns about Tk 2500-3000 (USD 33-39 approximately) a month by working at an electronics shop in Vasantek Bazar and provides for his little sister Jasmine who is in class VI.

“If I hadn’t taken the training, I would probably have ended up unemployed and very frustrated,” says Yasin.

Yasin and Sonia are examples of how a little financial assistance and training let thousands of youth in Bangladesh take control of their lives. The urban population has been growing very rapidly since liberation in 1971 and continues to do so at an increasing rate annually. The country will likely have an urban population approaching 50 million by 2015.

This rapid growth has been due primarily to migration by the rural poor, particularly to large metropolitan areas. On arrival, these poor migrants routinely turn to slums and squatter settlements for shelter. All major urban centres in Bangladesh have slums and squatter settlements, the largest concentrations being in Dhaka, followed by Chittagong, Khulna, and Rajshahi.



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