Kids out of Hard Labour
countries like Bangladesh, child labour often translates to
sheer survival of children. For developed countries it is
an evil that violates the basic right of a child to education.
The two opposing views came at loggerheads in the early 1990s
when (in 1992) a bill was presented in the US Senate to ban
imports made with child labour. Before this bill, trade unions,
human rights groups, consumer and religious organisations
under the umbrella of Child Labour Coalition, had promoted
legislation for such a prohibition. The media hype (mainly
from the West) about the grueling hours kids had to work in
the garment factories created the image of the industry as
a monster eating up children's health and future. With growing
international criticism, the BGMEA (Bangladesh Garments Manufacturers
and Exporters Association) got busy urging its members to
remove underage workers from their work places to conform
with the national Factory Act that set a minimum age for employment
of 14 years.
to media reports, around 40,000 to 50,000 children lost their
jobs. It was generally believed that many of them were forced
into hazardous forms of work, including prostitution. In Bangladesh,
the ILO's (International Labour Organisation) main intervention
through IPEC (International Programme on Elimination of Child
Labour) has been in the garments sector, in particular, supporting
and organising these projects that have helped displaced child
garment workers to go to school. In addition to regular schooling
the ILO projects have tried to create employment opportunities
for the parents of these children. This is the result of an
MOU signed in 1995 by the BGMEA, the ILO and UNICEF and endorsed
by the Government of Bangladesh. So has this agreement really
worked to make the lives of former child workers better? According
to Frans Röselaers, Director, IPEC, while visiting Dhaka
recently, Bangladesh has been more proactive in its commitment
to end child labour compared to many other countries with
better economic conditions. "Bangladesh was one of the
first countries to become a member of IPEC," says Röselaers.
programme had several components. It included a ban on new
recruitment of child workers but also a temporary halt to
the firing of under-aged workers until an education programme
was in place. Children, moreover, would go to non-formal schools
and would get educational stipends to make up for the loss
of income. A monitoring and verification system was also part
of this project. In 2000, skills training and credit and income
maintenance were incorporated. A steering committee was formed
to coordinate the programme and comprised of representatives
of the BGMEA, the Government of Bangladesh, the ILO and UNICEF
with the US embassy as an observer. While UNICEF developed
the education programme with NGO partners, the ILO was responsible
for verifying and monitoring. Over 300 NFE (non-formal education)
centres were set up with trained teachers. In late 1999, the
skills training and micro-credit projects were started.
the MOU programmes seemed to have all the elements of success,
there was widespread criticism that laying off children from
the factories had forced them to take far more hazardous jobs
elsewhere. Roselaers is skeptical about this allegation."This
may have happened in '93 and '94. But the number of children
who got lost is very limited, according to UNICEF and ILO
evaluation studies." According to the report that came
out this August, says Röselaers, around six percent (of
former child garment workers) said they ended up on the streets.
"One percent of the girls surveyed said they had 'heard'
that young female workers had been forced into prostitution.
"It is therefore important to distinguish between a panic
approach and a coordinated approach," says Röselaers.
"The consequence of industry and government to involve
everyone internally and externally, was a very positive approach.
It helped many children in a sustainable way and has become
a prototype for child labour policies in other countries."
Röselaers admits, has its limitations. According to the
UNICEF and ILO evaluation report, only about 30 percent of
children working in the garment industry during the period
of the programme (1995-2001) went to MOU schools. There weren't
enough schools and many children did not even know about the
MOU programme and the stipends offered. Distance to school
and irregular stipends led to children dropping out of the
MOU schools."Of course there are shortcomings, but these
have not been hidden but registered," says Röselaer.
"The programme has given us important insights in to
the way the child labour presents itself and the way we can
tackle it. It also suggests how UNICEF and ILO can work better."
says that other industries have addressed the issue of child
labour and asked for ILO's assistance.
also adds that ILO continues to address the worst forms of
child labour, such as prostitution and working in bidi
factories. He says that ILO intends to intensify the programme
and reach as many children as possible.
why has ILO been preoccupied with garment workers when many
children are engaged in far worse forms of labour such as
domestic work? ILO has in fact been collaborating with Shoishab
Bangladesh, an NGO that works with child domestic workers,
to help them get education and be treated better. The project
has just ended this year and covered 5,000 child domestic
workers. The problem with interventions dealing with child
domestic workers, says Röselaer, is that there is no
baseline data to work with as is the case with an industry
like garments."Child domestic workers are more diffused,"
says Roselaer, "more hidden in a sense, and so, difficult
Africa we had to go in a round about way to get accurate information,"
relates Röselaer. There were differences in neighbourhoods,
the type of employers and age differences. First we helped
girls (domestic workers) to get organised into clubs where
they could take classes, for leisure, sports, etc. This gave
us the opportunity to interview them to understand their needs."
Röselaer says that this was a very lengthy process but
proved to be very useful in the long run. It also helped in
understanding how to target advertisements through radio and
adds Röselaer, can also be brought about by imposing
regulations on civil servants who employ domestic workers.
These would include limited working hours, minimum wage, decent
treatment and so on. "It is a long road to go through.
Traditions and habits are difficult to change. But we are
in constant dialogue with governments. It is not a question
of pointing fingers but finding constructive solutions,"
(R) thedailystar.net 2004