to make homes child labour free
Shoishab- A humane approach towards child
Child domestic workers- the world's invisible
workers, stay alone in individual households, hidden from
public scrutiny, their lives controlled by their employers.
Trapped between four walls, millions of children are toiling
night and day as domestic servants in the homes of wealthier
families. Scrubbing, sweeping, serving and suffering,
these children have long forgotten the joy that childhood
usually meant to be.
widespread practice throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin
America, the use of children as domestic servants has
been condemned as one of the worst forms of child labour.
The ILO has described domestic work as among the lowest
status, least regulated, and poorest paid of all occupations--that
performed by children.
In Bangladesh, complex socio-economic
conditions also force many children into the informal
labour market. Rapid urbanization in the extremely poor
agro-based country has continued to increase the number
of homeless and slum-based children in the cities without
an adequate family and financial support system. These
children are easy victims of highly exploitative forms
of child labour. Child domestic workers generally have
never attended school or fail to complete their schooling.
Their social isolation also excludes them from community-based
health services and recreational opportunities.
In Bangladesh, historically children have
formed part of production process for generations that
means working childhoods are often accepted as a normal
part of life. Because of the extreme economic poverty
and its consequences, the poverty stricken families in
the rural setup forced their children to release from
school and to engage them in work. The rapid growth of
child labour in the country in one hand created opening
for the poverty stricken children to survive somehow.
But on the other hand it created a far-reaching affect
both on the economy as well as on the education. Side
by side the abuse and exploitation on the children gradually
increased at an alarming stage.
In such a backdrop, Since 1991 Shoishab-
a rights based organisation has been working with urban
disadvantaged homeless children. It pioneered the activities
with street children in Dhaka and expanded into areas
of child domestic workers. The organisation is striving
to support and stand for the children living in extreme
vulnerability, helps them to change their life style through
service delivery, advocacy, skill training and education.
The main purpose of the child domestic workers programme
is to empower and rehabilitate the domestic child labours
and raise their voice against all form of abuse. By non-formal
education they are trying to re-socialise them with minimum
disturbance of their existing living practices or without
removing them from their own environment. Education opens
up the opportunities for them to explore options that
have been hitherto unavailable to them. It gives them
access to alternatives or choices, delaminating the boundaries
within which they are trapped.
According to a survey there are approximately
6 lakh children engaged in domestic work in Dhaka city.
Shoishab is continuing the program in 11 thanas of Dhaka.
A total of 2540 children are regularly attending in 102
Under the Advocacy and Social mobilization
program Shoishab is trying to raise awareness among the
employers on the issues of abuse, torture on the child
domestics and aware them about the process of eliminate
violence. An essential concomitant of this approach is
to mould the attitude of the employers who must agree
to accept the improvement in the conditions of the child
workers and to give them their basic rights. By this process
employers are motivated to provide opportunities to the
child workers to enjoy a better deal. These children suffer
from many restrictions on their activities, movement and
behavior. They are confined to drudgery, are victims of
denial of basic human rights and basic rights of the children
such as lack of access to education and are often subjected
to cruelty and violence. The remarkable change of attitude
is certainly a huge step forward in making employers sensitive
to the needs of their domestic workers. It also shows
that age old perceptions can be changed and that making
employers more humane, just and caring is not such an
Another innovative effort is to build
up the Halfway House that has been designed with a view
to provide support to the children in need. In this program
temporary residential facilities for the children along
with the medical support are ensured. The overall aim
is to dramatically increase awareness about the extent
and seriousness of the problem. By this movement it will
be pushing for legal measures, rehabilitation programs,
and direct interventions to protect child domestic workers.
Domestic child labour is one of the most
elusive forms of child labour to tackle. There are different
international instruments that prohibit child labour.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by
all countries except Somalia and the United States, guarantees
children the right "to be protected from performing
any work that is likely to be hazardous or to interfere
with the child's education, or to be harmful to the child's
health or physical, mental, spiritual, moral or social
The Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention,
adopted by the International Labour Organization (ILO)
in 1999, and ratified by 150 countries worldwide, develops
the prohibition on harmful or hazardous work more fully.
Under the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, some
forms of child labor are flatly prohibited, such as slavery
or practices similar to slavery. Other types of work are
prohibited if they constitute "work which, by its
nature or the circumstances in which it is carried out,
is likely to harm the health, safety or morals of children."
Also the Convention on the Rights of the
Child guarantees children's right to education, stating
that primary education must be "compulsory and available
free to all." Secondary education, including vocational
education, must be "available and accessible to every
child," with the progressive introduction of free
secondary education. With regard to the interplay between
child labor and education, the Convention on the Rights
of the Child explicitly guarantees children the right
"to be protected from performing any work that is
likely . . . to interfere with the child's education .
. . ."
The Convention for the Elimination of
All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) provides
for the elimination of discrimination against girls in
education, including access to schooling, reduction of
female student drop-out rates, and programs for girls
who have left school prematurely. Government laws often
exclude domestic workers from basic labor rights, labor
ministries rarely monitor or investigate conditions of
work in private households, and few programs addressing
child labor include child domestics. Shoishob submitted
a memorandum to the Ministry of Women's and Children's
affairs on September 30, 2002 that specifies the rights
of the domestic workers that need to be addressed. But
till date we are lacking of strict law on domestic violence
and any law that ensures the rights of the domestic workers
An absence of legal accountability contributes
largely to these children's extreme vulnerability to all
the negative elements of society. These children are sometimes
victims of child trafficking, prostitution, sexual abuse
and economic exploitation. Situation also forces them
to get involved in anti-social activities such as gambling,
drug trafficking and selling etc. Therefore these children
should be addressed and should be protected from all forms
of abuse, exploitation and discrimination.
Efforts to address child labour must take
into account child domestic workers and ensure that their
rights to education, healthy development and a protected
childhood are safeguarded. For children to be guaranteed
a protective environment, governments must be committed
to their protection by enacting and enforcing laws that
punish those who exploit children and communities must
be aware of the risks children face. Children are the
soul and spirit of every nation, but behind closed doors
their dreams are facing a silent death if we don't act
now. No more Cinderella story we want to hear that remains
as a tragic episode of a child's life.
The author is
Law desk Assistant of the Daily Star