Ending child labour needs decisive interventions

Bangladesh has significantly reduced child labour, but there is still work to be done to completely eradicate the practice.

Fataraz Zahan

Fataraz Zahan

The Daily Star


Socioeconomic conditions, poverty, limited access to education, and deeply ingrained cultural norms have normalised the idea child labour. File photo of a young child working to make a living. PHOTO: THE DAILY STAR

June 19, 2024

DHAKA – Child labour, a global problem, is a narrower concept of working children. In terms of national and international laws, child labour is unlawful. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 160 million child labourers worldwide (as of 2020)—63 million girls and 97 million boys—most of whom are engaged in agriculture, followed by service and industrial sectors, as well as in domestic labour. The majority of them are from the Asia-Pacific region. Nevertheless, the number of children engaged in labour worldwide decreased by 85 million between 2000 and 2020, according to ILO.

Bangladesh has also significantly reduced child labour, but there is still work to be done to completely eradicate the practice. This progress has been facilitated by a number of international agreements that set out legal guidelines and frameworks for action, including the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (C182) and the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention (C138). Over the past 20 years, there has been a noticeable improvement in the rate of child labour reduction. The National Child Labour Survey 2022 finds that Bangladesh has 39.96 million children (51.79 percent boys and 48.21 percent girls) aged five to 17 years. Out of the entire child population, 3.54 million are working children. The report also highlights their involvement in various sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, and transport. Some 60.8 percent of them are employees, and 99 percent of them informally employed. Despite government initiatives, child labour is still a common practice especially in the rural region of Bangladesh.

However, the government has put in place some measures to lessen child labour, like raising the minimum working age and offering children training and education opportunities. The National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010 was aimed at addressing the deep-rooted issue of child labour by implementing a comprehensive strategy. The policy was a big step in the right direction towards solving the problem. Its main objectives are to enhance the legal system, provide access to education, and end dangerous kinds of child labour. The National Child Labour Elimination Action Plan (NPA) is another initiative that aims to operationalise the policy by providing strategies for intervention and clearly defined targets.

Socioeconomic conditions, poverty, limited access to education, and deeply ingrained cultural norms have normalised the idea of children contributing to family income through labour. These contextual factors necessitated a targeted and multifaceted approach to address child labour effectively. There have been numerous international organisations, governments, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working towards the goal of ending child labour for decades. Most Bangladeshi children have low-income parents who engage in a range of risky occupations. These kids’ physical and emotional health are in danger due to the nature of their jobs, and their basic rights to an education and a healthy upbringing are being infringed. It also has an impact on children’s physical and emotional well-being as well as their access to education.

Numerous reports, including those from local NGOs and the ILO, claim that child labour is still common in a number of industries, including manufacturing, household work, and agriculture. The inadequate monitoring and evaluation of the National Child Labour Elimination Policy has drawn criticism. The policy’s poor implementation, monitoring and evaluation have been attributed in large part to a lack of resources, a lack of enforcement, and low stakeholder awareness. The strategy received praise for its emphasis on social security and education, but it has not been enough to solve the underlying issues that lead to child labour in Bangladesh. Because of this, the government has been pushed to step up efforts, such as by tightening the enforcement of labour laws, expanding access to social services and education, and collaborating with civil society organisations.

It is important to note that while the government is dedicated to protecting children, only comprehensive action can have a beneficial effect on reducing or eliminating child labour at all societal levels. National action is, therefore, crucial. However, in order to behave in complete accordance with reality, all relevant factors such as the social, political, cultural, and economic conditions must be taken into account. In addition, a strong child sensitivity approach and the use of multiplier measures are required. Beside our social safety net programmes, it is also necessary to formulate new social policies to improve these conditions.

Lastly, poverty and child labour are inextricably linked, and as long as we ignore or do not recognise child labour as a structural reality of the economy, it will be difficult to eliminate child labour from the supply chain.

scroll to top