It was just another day for 13-year-old Khalilur Rahman as he zipped about Rhidoy Dyeing and Printing Press at Nilkhet’s Gausul Azam Super Market, running the machines and fitting the press with printing plates.
Although he has a nine-to-five job, not a day goes by when he does not have to work overtime.
“I work here from morning to night and sometimes up until midnight, like the elders here.” He continued that when there are a lot of orders, he also has to pull all-nighters.
Khalilur, who hails from Manikganj and is a year younger than the age allowed for child employment, is not an exception.
Md Limon Hossain, another child from Barisal, who was a student of class five of ‘130 no. sorkari Prathomik Biddaloy’, came to Nilkhet after his father died.
“Although I have a brother and a sister, I have to earn my own keep. I started with a salary of Tk3,000 and now I get Tk5,700.”
His job at AB Printing Press starts at 9am and ends at midnight. “And when there is a rush of orders, I have to work as long as I can stay awake.”
All the other children working around the presses in the market have nearly the same schedule, and pays ranging from Tk4,000 to 5,000, a third of what elder workers earn.
Md Selim, a 25-year-old working at one of the presses, points out that the low salary is why more and more children are being recruited to work at the presses, despite the legal bar.
“The children have to work more than us but can be paid a low salary. They also are more obedient, meaning they can be pressured into working extra hours.”
Although printing presses are on the list of hazardous workplaces, according to Bangladesh Factories Rules 1979, the Dhaka Tribune, during a visit to the market, found at least one child working in each of the presses.
Md Mohiuddin Miya, Vice President of Gausul Azam Printing and Business Association, initially avoided the Dhaka Tribune’s queries about why children were being employed by saying none of the workers are under the age of 16.
However, when shown the video clips and photographs of children working the presses, he tried to sidestep the queries by saying that he did not know of the law.
“The society had no knowledge of children being hired. We will try to follow the rules from now on.”
When looking for data on child labourers, the Dhaka Tribune found out that the government survey on them is run every ten years.
Kabir Uddin Ahmed, director of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistic’s Industrial Labour Wing and also the head of the project collecting information on the existing labour force, said, “We publish the report every 10 years. But we are trying to halve the time and get one out every five years.”
“We prioritise it according to the emphasis from our stakeholders. We collect data when they ask for it.”
According to the last report published two years back based on data collected up until 2013, roughly 3.45 million children were working as labourers. More than 1.28 million of them were employed in a hazardous profession.
UNICEF Bangladesh’s Child Protection Specialist Monira Hasan pointed out that although the government has formulated rules and laws to curb child labour, there is no effective monitoring system.
“The government conducts a survey every 10 years. It takes too long, and we can never know how many children are currently working, whether the number is on a rise or whether it is declining.”
She added that a lot has to be done in terms of gathering data on child labourers but that funding is an issue.
Syed Sultan Uddin Ahmmed, Executive Director of Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies (BILS), said that employers tend to appoint children because they have to be paid less.
He continued that children from mostly 10 areas in Bangladesh come to Dhaka to work, including Jamalpur, Gaibandha, Bhola, Faridpur, Lalmonirhat, Sherpur and Madaripur.
“It is not always because of poverty, but the lack of consciousness on part of the guardian. So the guardian also should be punished.”
Sultan continued that children need to be stopped before they head off to the cities. The government should build village-based schools and institutes and increase awareness among the guardians.