The current child labour situation in Bangladesh shows no sign that the government’s target of eradicating hazardous child labour from the country will be met by 2021.
Experts say the government should take immediate action if it wants to meet its professed target of wiping out hazardous child labour from the country.
In 2012, the government identified 38 child labour-prone sectors. Of these sectors, the government claims that the readymade garment sector and shrimp industry are currently free of child labour.
According to a survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, as of 2015, the country had some 3.45 million active child labourers.
The report also said 1.2 million children were engaged in hazardous jobs.
In November 2016, State Minister for Labour and Employment Md Mujibul Haque Chunnu declared that the government would eliminate child labour from 38 risky sectors of the country within 2021 and from all sectors by 2025.
Rights activists say the government’s announcement of eradicating child labour came at a time when the country was positively motivated due to a decrease in the incidence of child labour.
However, they said the government needs to develop a comprehensive approach to meet the target of eradicating child labour from Bangladesh.
National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Chairman Kazi Reazul Hoque told the Dhaka Tribune: “Bangladesh has always enacted good child labour acts. The latest act [Children Act 2013] was enacted following the suggestions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The latest act conflicts with the Labour Law, but can be used as a good tool to eradicate child labour.”
Bangladesh’s Children Act identifies anyone under the age of 18 as children and the Labour Law 2006 does not permit any children under the age of 14 years to work.
The Labour Law also states that from 14 till 18 years of age, children can be authorized to do light and hazard-free jobs.
However, the NHRC chairman said the law contradicts the government’s plan of eradicating child labour as it allows children above the age of 14 years to work.
The government’s work has to reflect its plan of freeing the country from hazardous or any sort of child labour, the NHRC chairman said.
Kazi Reazul Hoque said: “It is very unfortunate that we could not formulate rules for
the Children Act even after enacting the law five years ago.
Talking about the absence of rules, he said: “Officials who are working with the matter do not have any guidelines.
“So, they do not know to what extent they would be able to implement the act. This is hampering our efforts to save the children from cruelty at the workplace.”
Additional Secretary (Development and Planning) of Children and Women Affairs Mahmuda Sharmin Benu said the Children Act 2013 was formulated by the Social Welfare Ministry.
She said they have not received the rules from the ministry even after five years.
Sharmin did not comment about the impact of the act on the child labour situation in Bangladesh as it is being formulated, and the social welfare and law ministries are still working on it.
Additional Secretary of Social Welfare Ministry Rupan Kanti Sheel said they sent the draft to the Law Ministry some two years back for vetting but it is yet to be finalized.
He said the process might be delayed as some amendments would be made in the existing law due to its contradictions with some provisions of other laws.
“As far as I am informed, the law has already been sent to the parliament,” he said.
Rupan, however, could not give a timeframe for the finalization of the rules.
Secretary of Law Ministry Jahirul Huq could not be reached over the phone for comment regarding the matter.
Director of Bangladesh Shishu Adhikar Forum (BSAF) Abdus Shahid Mahmood said:
“If there is a policy that states rules cannot be formulated before completing any amendment, then I have nothing to say.
“But otherwise, this is certainly the government’s failure as it was unable to formulate the rules even five years after enacting the law.”
He said: “Since the act is already being used in the court procedures, I see no reason why the formulation of the rules is being delayed in the name of amendment.”
He said: “While conducting the vetting procedure of any law, the Law Ministry has to find out if any of its provisions contradict the constitution or any other existing laws, and if any of the provisions have been stated unclearly.
“If that is the case, then how can it contradict an existing law, and the rules formulating procedure be delayed because of that?”
The BSAF director also raised questions regarding the efficiency of the vetting procedures.
Director Abdus Shahid Mahmood said: “The officers concerned are not carrying out their responsibilities correctly with the excuse of not having rules for the Children Act.”