In November 2016, then State Minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu declared that the government would eliminate child labour from 38 sectors categorized as hazardous by 2021, and from all sectors by 2025
Despite the government’s promise to eradicate hazardous child labour by 2021, the current scenario suggests that the target is unlikely to be achieved, right activists and child right protection experts said.
However, hazardous child labour may be stamped out by 2022, if the government takes immediate action with careful planning, they added.
In November 2016, then State Minister for Labour and Employment Mujibul Haque Chunnu declared that the government would eliminate child labour from 38 sectors categorized as hazardous by 2021, and from all sectors by 2025.
Following the announcement, the Labour and Employment Ministry undertook Tk285 crore project for the prevention and elimination of hazardous child labour in 2018. At the time, State Minister Chunnu said the government has plans to train 250,000 child labourers as skilled workers through technical and non-formal education.
Bangladesh is one of 22 countries who were the first signatories to the UN Child Rights Convention (UNCRC). Furthermore, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed between the Ministry of Labour and Employment and the International Labour Organization (ILO), to implement the International Program on Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC), in 1994.
Experts said there are a number of reasons why child labour is continuing in the country despite the presence of several laws and policies to address the issue. Meanwhile, the UNCRC Committee has expressed concern especially over children employed in welding, transportation, automobile workshops, tobacco factories, and battery recharging shops.
A Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey on child labour in 2015 said: “Bangladesh is yet to implement national policies and reform institutional structures and mechanisms that could promote, protect and uphold children’s rights.”
In addition to lax implementation of related laws and policies, child rights activists and experts said a recent reshuffle of high officials of the Labour Ministry and inactivity of national child welfare committees were also slowing down measures to address child labour.
After the Awami League government assumed office for the second consecutive term on December 30 last year, a number of high officials of the Ministry of Labour and Employment were either transferred or went into retirement. Even the inspector general of the Department of Inspection of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) was transferred after the December 30 election.
The Labour Ministry is currently being run by acting secretary KM Ali Azam, who was Dhaka divisional commissioner during the election.
“It is natural for an official to need some time to learn his new responsibilities if he is transferred from a different ministry,” Terre des Hommes Netherlands (TDH Netherlands) Country Director for Bangladesh Mahmudul Kabir said.
“The reshuffling of civil servants is very common, to ensure that they have experience dealing with multiple sectors. The problem is that when an official connected to a particular program or policy is transferred, that program inevitably slows down,” he added.
Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum (BSAF) Director Abdus Sahid Mahmood said the country currently has no National Plan of Action (NPA), as the previous one expired in 2016.
He also claimed the Child Labour Welfare Council, headed by former minister Chunnu, is not conducting its work properly or holding regular meetings.
“Whatever the reason is, the Tk285 crore project has been lying inactive since the minister’s departure. As the project is fully funded by the government, there should be no money crisis and children in employed in hazardous work would get the maximum benefit if it is implemented,” he added.
Regarding the lack of an NPA, TDH Netherlands Country Director for Bangladesh Mahmudul Kabir said: “The NPA that was taken for 2011-2016 was a good one. The government could extend it by making some amendments in short time.”
Sources said the ministerial committee, divisional and district committees, and some upazila committees to address child labour have been formed and the members of the committees have been trained, but their activities had subsequently relaxed.
Dhaka Tribune could not reach the labour minister, secretary and additional minister (child labour wing) for comment, as they are in Geneva to attend 108th Session of the International Labour Conference.
Save the Children Director (Child Rights Governance and Child Protection) Abdullah Al Mamun said needs to begin initiatives to provide vocational training to child labourers, including incentives for parents.
Kamal Hossain, project director of Odhikar Pathshala, said special allowances need to be given to the families of child labourers so that the children can leave work and continue their studies.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Kazi Reazul haque said monitoring child labour is a complex issue, and suggested the government form a Child Directorate to coordinate between government institutions and address child labour.