Child Labour & Girls/Women in Domestic Labour

Child Labour & Girls/Women in Domestic Labour

Squandering the nation’s human capital

Of the estimated 16 million children in Bangladesh aged 10 to 14, over 6.8 million are working children. Forty-one percent of this group is girls. Children are engaged in over 300 different types of work activities of which 49 are considered harmful to their physical and/or mental well-being. Intolerable forms of child labor, as categorized by the International Labor Organization (ILO), are domestic service, slavery or near slavery, hazardous occupations, and sexual exploitation. All of these forms are practiced in Bangladesh. Although the law prohibits labor by children, including forced or bonded labor, these practices widely occur. Enforcement of existing laws is inadequate. Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world with about 45 million “very poor” people, (as measured by the Cost of Basic Needs method). In 1996, 48 percent of the people of Bangladesh did not consume enough food to obtain their minimum caloric intake recommended for good health, and thus were below what is called the absolute poverty line in most countries. In 1997, 59.3 percent of children ages 6 to 59 months suffered from stunting, a long-term nutritional indicator of poverty. This grinding poverty has forced many families to put their children to work at a very young age.

Child labour and the worst forms of child labour, as defined by International labour Organization (ILO) Conventions, damage children’s health, threaten their education and lead to further exploitation and abuse. According to the ILO, the total number of economically active children between the ages of 5-17 years is 7.4 million (74% boys & 26% girls). Out of these, ILO further estimates that 3.18 million (77% boys & 23% girls) children are employed full-time in hazardous labour and 1.3 million children employed in the worst forms of labour. The total child population of this age group is 42,4 million children (54% boys & 46% girls). Thus the number of working children is 33.5 percent of this child population. Children were found engaged in almost all kinds of economic activities that the adults do. According to a recent ILO survey the children in the urban were involved in 301 types of economic activities. However, many more millions are uncounted and uncountable. They are everywhere but invisible – labouring behind walls of factories and within small factories, toiling as domestic aides within houses, out of sight in the agricultural fields etc.

Debate on child labour is polarized between those who disapprove of all child work and those who promote the child’s right to choose. AB’s own view is that child labour should be eliminated in the long-term. However, in the short to medium-term a balance must be found between the existing economic necessity of children, especially children, to work, and protecting their rights so that they can develop their full potential. Most parents would prefer not to send their children to work but millions face the choice of seeing their children work or starve. So whilst working towards the longer goal of eliminating child labour, the immediate goal is to ensure children’s right to work free from exploitation. Light work can be helpful to a child’s family, and help the child to develop skills and responsibility, without being harmful or depriving him or her of education. AB refers to child labour when it is talking about work that deprives a child of an education and the future choices that education brings. It is this labour, and particularly the most harmful forms of child labour, which needs to be eliminated, focusing particularly on bringing an end to the worst forms of child labour.

Child labourers endure physical and psychological maltreatment, under-payment, poverty and debt, isolation, and being treated as objects rather than people. They lose the chance to learn and play and so their emotional and social development is hindered. Between the ages of 5 and 14, girls are as likely as boys to be working; after that age the ratio of boys to girls increases. However, girls are particularly vulnerable to exploitation, particularly sexual exploitation, and face different problems to boys because of the low status given to them in many societies. The majority of domestic workers are girls. Domestic work is one of the most hidden forms of child labour, with girls at increased risk of sexual abuse and of being trafficked across borders.