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Dhaka Tribune

Meet Mostafa, a child labourer on the brink of exhaustion

Child labour is a major issue in the country

Update : 27 Apr 2023, 11:15 AM

Mohammad Mostafa Kamal is often too tired to walk home after a day of toil at his workplace. The 14-year-old works at a roadside eatery in Dhaka's Rayer Bazar area, often spending the entire day on his feet.

Mostafa works almost nine hours a day to make only Tk150. He mainly serves chotpoti and fuchka (two traditional and popular snacks) to customers, and also does the dishes sometimes.

Originally from Rangpur, he has been working at the eatery for the past few months. There is no real scope for him to stop working, as his income plays a major role in helping his family make ends meet.

Mostafa's father is a mason and mother a domestic help.  

“I was a third grader in a school at my village before I came to Dhaka in late December,” the teenager told Dhaka Tribune.

He misses the days at his village home, and rarely gets any chance to play in bustling Dhaka. Worryingly, the food stall in Rayer Bazar is not even his first job.

Mostofa previously worked in a different restaurant in Rayer Bazar on a daily wage of Tk200. He left the job as his employer was very stricter and would hardly consider any issues the boy faced.

Despite the odds against him, Mostafa remains optimistic about his future and education.

“I want to resume my education and become a good person when I grow up,” he said, admitting that studying alongside working regularly is quite difficult.

Child labour is still a major issue the country even though the government pledged to eliminate it from all sectors by 2025 in line with the National Plan of Action (NPA 2020-2025) and the Children Act 2013. Punishment for child labour under the Labour Law does not appear to be an effective deterrent.

There were 1.7 million child labourers in the country in 2013, Begum Monnujan Sufian, state minister for labour and employment, told the parliament in January while citing a national study.

A whopping 1.2 million of them were engaged in hazardous work, she added.

Meanwhile, a 2003 official estimate says the number of child labourers aged 5 to 17 was 3.4 million.

Poverty and illiteracy are largely blamed for the situation.

The scenario worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic, experts say.

Mostafa not only thinks of his parents and himself, but also of his grandparents living in Rangpur.

“I want to help them too,” said the teenager, whose future, like that of countless other child labourers, continues to hang in the balance.

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