Today is the World Against Child Labour Day, I discovered this only this morning when I was riding back from my friend’s house where we were having breakfast; hundreds of children marching and chanting slogans. After rushing back to get my camera, we rode to the front of the march and watched the children go past.
The march was organised by the local NGO ‘solidarity’, which provides a savings and loans service to the child labourers, taking 10 Tk (10 pence) a week from the little that they keep to help them have some financial independence and to build up a pot of money in case they need to run away from their families or they become sick etc.
After the procession went past, 7 boys walked up to me and asked me what I was doing, so I asked them a few questions.
I am now able to paint a brief picture of 3 boys that I talked to.
Basen was the first, he was the tallest and the oldest in the group, at 15 years old (but he looked like a small and skinny 17). Basen worked extremely long hours, from 8am in the morning until 12am at night, 6 days a week. Basen told me that he had to work otherwise he wouldn’t be able to eat. I asked him how much earned a day and he replied "40 Tk, but my master gives me two parotha (small pieces of oily bread) and a banana 3 times a day". 40 Tk is 40 pence – enough to buy 2 kgs of rice.
Ruka was a rickshaw wallah, and earned the highest salary of them all – up to 100 Tk or 1 pound a day. He was 13 years old, and was incredibly malnourished. He said that his parents took all of his money. Ruka was very quiet and was quite spaced out, his eyes glazed over and his breathing seemed weak. Ruka’s chest bones stuck out and the NGO worker that was translating for me knocked his chest to demonstrate to me, making a hollow and disturbing sound. He then said that cycle rickshaws are very hard work, especially for a small child, and they needed a higher calorific intake to compensate, which this child certainly wasn’t getting. After asking, he said that he had 2 meals a day of plain rice and chilly, maybe with some sobji(vegetable mix) on Fridays.
Finally, I spoke to Rasheed. It was Rasheed that brought me to tears when I got back to the office and had some time to myself. Rasheed was working 8am to 5pm and then 7pm to 10pm at a welder’s. Rasheed was earning 60 Tk. a day (60 pence), which is 5.5 pence an hour, and he gets no food. Rasheed was 14. Rasheed had been working at the welder’s for 4 years and had only been payed a salary for the last 2 years, so from the ages of 10 to 12, Rasheed was working an 8 hour day (the extra 3 hours only started with the salary), using hazardous equipment and only a pair of plastic ‘sun-glasses’ for protection from the bright sparks from welding. And all that time, for what was then nearly 1/5 of his life at 10 years old, he was working full time for no salary, his parents kicking him out to do it 6 mornings a week. All he received in payment were ‘snacks’. Rasheed then pulled his eyelid down and showed us how yellow the whites of his eyeballs were, and that small black specs from the sparks of molten steel and iron that had pierced his eyes. Stupidly, I was so shocked that I didn’t remember to take a picture.
Rasheed’s family took 50 of the 60 Tk that he earned daily, and he invested the 10 Tk a week he could afford in the ‘solidarity’ scheme, leaving him just enough to eat just enough to live. the 50 Tk went towards rent and the younger children, and he had to contribute towards meals with the 10 Tk left over when there wasn’t enough, and it sounded like the only thing his parents provided him with was shelter, food, and the occasional beating.
When I asked the children what they wanted to tell people in England, the reply was snappy and strong and simple. "we want our freedom; we want to go to school"
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;
ILO Convention on the Worst Forms of Child Labour (No. 182);
ILO Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention, (No. 6);
ILO Night Work of Young Persons (Industry Revised) Convention (No. 90);
ILO Minimum Age (Trimmers and Stockers) Convention (No. 15);
ILO Minimum Age (Industry Revised) Convention (No. 59);
ILO Forced Labour Convention (No. 29);
ILO Abolition of Forced Labour Convention (No. 105);
Article 20 refers to work as a right and a duty and a matter of honour for every citizen who is capable of working;
Article 14 states that it shall be the fundamental responsibility of the State to emancipate workers from all sorts of exploitation;
Article 34 states that all forms of forced labour are prohibited and any contravention of this prohibition shall be an offence punishable in accordance with the law;
Article 28 of the Constitution empowers the State to make special provisions for the benefit of children.
According to the Labour Act (2006) the minimum age for admission to work is 14 years and 18 years for hazardous work. Further, light work for children between the ages of 12 – 14 years is defined as non-hazardous work that does not impede education.
Other laws that define the rights and protections due to children are:
The Children Act (1974);
The Children Rules (1976);
The Bonded Labour Act, 2006;
The Suppression of Violence against Women and Children Act (2000); and
The Compulsory Primary Education Act, 1990.