Childhood under threat
In a 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 to ban 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 living in poverty
Providing children with a quality education, including life and income-generating skills, is now seen as a means of increasing the options available to working children and their families; as well as a way to 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. Through the project, 200,000 children, mainly girls, are able to receive an education. In six cities, working children aged 10 to 14 who are part of the project 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 classes take place 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 paid 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 I make sure he gives us the right amount” she adds.
At school, Aleya is taking a tailoring course. “ I hope I can become the best tailor in the neighborhood and leave my brick-chipping job,” she says. “When I grow up I will be a nice boss, I will never beat my staff and never cheat them when I pay their salaries.”