Initiatives to tackle child labour in Bangladesh were the focus of a conference that Islamic Relief and partners held this month.

The Bangladesh government designed the National Plan of Action 2012-2016 to tackle the issue, and help implement the National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010.

Islamic Relief Bangladesh, with Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar (Child Rights) Forum and Tere des Homes Netherlands organised the conference to discuss ways to support the plan and help ensure the policy was widely implemented. It was attended by ministers and policy-makers, journalists and organisations working to end child labour.

Dr Mohammad Nazmuzzman Bhuian, from the University of Dhaka, presented the keynote paper at the event.

He said: “Both the national and international non-government development organisations are implementing a number of projects to eliminate child labour, but lack of coordination and cooperation is visible.

“The Child Labour Unit at the ministry [of labour and employment] is now defunct. No step has been taken to regulate child labour in the informal sector, so a legal reform is a must to implement the plan.”

Informal sector workers

Chief guest Mikail Shipar, secretary of the ministry, said: “We accept our faults in implementing the action. Child labour is a vast sector; we need to collaborate with the NGOs to eradicate it.

“More than 50 per cent of child labour in the country occurs in the informal sector, which is why it is not addressed. The informal sector is the part of an economy that does not pay taxes, and is not directed or monitored by any government entity.”

There are around 7.4 million children working in Bangladesh, in jobs such as mechanics, messengers, packers, welding, battery recharging, domestic workers and flower sellers. Many of the jobs can jeopardise children’s development and wellbeing. Around 90 per cent are working in the informal sector.

800childlabour2

Mainuddin Ahmed, acting head of health, education and child welfare at Islamic Relief Bangladesh, said: “It is hard to accept but child labour is seen as inevitable for some families in this country. Children are working because their parents are poor. They are encouraged to work to support the family’s income.”

Speaking at the conference, Dr Nazmuzzman Bhuian called for a renewed emphasis on child labour policies that focus on the informal sector.

“No step has yet been taken to regulate informal child labour. If the informal sector remains outside the ambit of the child labour regulatory framework, engagement of children in hazardous work can never be controlled.”

Islamic Relief currently helps child workers in Bangladesh, and sponsors more than 3,600 children who have lost one or both parents, so they can meet their basic needs and attend school.