On International Youth Day, Islamic Relief applauds the contribution of young people to efforts to end child labour in Bangladesh – and reflects on why their voices must continue to be heard.

In Bangladesh, about 7.4 million children work to help support themselves and their families. Many of the jobs they do – such as battery recharging, welding, and domestic work – jeopardise their health and wellbeing.

Sumaiya used to make plastic bags.  Now she is studying and wants to be a teacher.

Sumaiya used to make plastic bags. Now she is studying and wants to be a teacher.

“Child labour is seen as inevitable for some families in this country,” explained Dr Saydul Alom, Head of Health, Education and Child Welfare, Islamic Relief Bangladesh. “Children are working because their parents are poor. They are encouraged to work to support the family’s income.”

Since Islamic Relief launched its project to eliminate hazardous child labour in 2013, many children and young people have seized the opportunities on offer to escape the world of work. Poor families receive financial assistance so their children can go to school rather than toil for a paycheck. We offer formal or informal education, or even vocational training that empowers the young people to pursue brighter futures. Our scheme is backed by the Bangladesh Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MoWCA), and supported by a range of government departments.

“When I was employed in the factory I had to work from dawn to dusk,” said Rakib, 14, who lives in Dhaka. “I used to cut threads from clothes. Sometimes I had to work for the whole night but my employer paid me only tk 1500 (about GB £12.30) a month. I didn’t have any leisure time or weekend, because I had to work for 30 days in a month.

“After support from Islamic Relief I can now go to school, I can play games and get enough time to sleep. I want to concentrate on my studies and my aim in life is to become an engineer.”

Civic engagement with young people

Jewel was working in the dockyards

Jewel no longer has to work in the dockyards.

Children and young people have been pivotal in our extensive advocacy – particularly grassroots campaigning designed to raise community awareness needed to end the practice. Importantly, they have also been at the forefront of efforts to influence those with the power to create change. Events organised by Islamic Relief and its partners have brought together policy-makers and government officials to listen to young working people, who pushed them to take significant steps forward toward a safe and protective working environment for children.

Whilst there remains much to do, several key successes have been achieved so far. An action plan has been drawn up to eliminate hazardous child labour altogether. Now, before trade licenses are renewed, Bangladeshi authorities must be satisfied that there is no child labour involved in the business. Formal and informal industries have been warned to stop using child labour, and the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) is now on board with efforts to stop the practice.

Islamic Relief continues to push for a social safety net programme that assists extremely poor families, so they no longer need to send their children out to work. We also want to see an action plan that upholds the rights of children and young people.