They observe that the problem lies in not having an adequate number of schools, educational institutions and other infrastructure in the area
Working parents in the industrial belt of Savar-Ashulia are concerned of their children’s future as there is a lack of adequate educational institutions, child welfare centers and development facilities.
According to reports, tens of thousands of the working age population have migrated to the upazila from different parts of the country in search of work and livelihood.
On a visit to Hemayetpur, Savar and Ashulia areas, this reporter learned from parents of a number of children that they are concerned about their off spring's safety and security compounded by inadequate education facilities.
According to the Savar upazila website, total population in the upazila is 14,42,885.
However, development officials and NGO workers deferred the official population figure, saying that the number only represents the people who have been working in the Savar constituency on a permanent basis.
But people who migrated to Savar for work are not in the voter-list of the area and were not included in the official population figure.
Development partners claim that the Savar upazila population figure stands at six million, including migrant workers. Around 40% of them are children, leaving the number of children deemed age-appropriate for elementary and secondary schools at more than 1.5 million.
They observe that the problem lies in not having an adequate number of schools, educational institutions and other infrastructure in the area.
Moreover, safety and security issues of the children of working parents have become yet another concern. Young age pupils generally lack maturity, are vulnerable to social ills, and susceptible to social pressure.
According to the upazila website, there are 359 educational institutions for children under or equivalent to grade 12. Of them, 128 are primary schools, and 46 are secondary and higher secondary schools.
Besides, there are 16 Ebtedayee Madrasas, including four government approved madrasas for children.
These educational facilities could enroll only 50 to 60 thousand students at most, sources said.
Against this backdrop, a considerable number of playgroup and kindergarten schools sprang in Savar and the neighboring vicinity.
Tahmina Akhter, owner and also a teacher of a kindergarten school in Amin Bazar, said the quality of education, less time spent in the schools, and most importantly, apparent distrust in government run primary schools encourage working parents to send their children to privately owned and operated kindergartens.
Higher education expensive
Priyota Khondekar, project coordinator at the Village Education Resource Centre (VERC) said a vast majority of men and women who migrated to this upazila in search of work and employment could not afford higher education expenses for their children.
As a result, a large number of children of working-parents have become school drop-outs and joined the workforce. She said economic pressures on poor working parents adversely affect children’s development through their mediating effects on parental mental health, caregiver relationships, and parenting practices.
Rokeya Haque, president of Child Protection Monitoring Committee (CPMC) and Savar upazila vice-chairman, said that the labor-intensive manufacturing plants are growing at a higher rate in Savar, correspondingly, slums with low-income people and densely populated neighborhoods are increasing without much needed social-safety services and infrastructures.
As a result, safety and security has become one of the major concerns for children of working parents.
VERC's Project Coordinator Priyota Khondekar said in their 20 non-formal schools in Savar for children involved in child-labor, most of the students are child domestic workers.
She said a large number of students are also involved in garbage disposal, restaurant and transport sector works. The worst thing is that, that there is no data available about how many children are engaged in child labor in the area, she added.
Citing a data produced in 2013, she said they have observed that at least 22% of the working children in the upazila were forced into child labor. The number has definitely increased over time making it more alarming despite efforts from child rights advocates as more and more families have migrated to Savar in last six years.
Many engage in unsafe child labour
Talking to Savar upazila administration, it was learned that some 12,301 children in the area are engaged in unsafe child labor, and most of the children (2326) are employed in automobile repair workshops following the second most in transport sector (2,223).
In stark contrast to the official figure, child rights activists, however, said the number would be several times higher. And the number of children involved in hazardous work is more than several hundred thousand.
Bangladesh Shishu Odhikar Forum (BSAF) Director Abdus Sahid Mahmood said a typical poverty-stricken migrant family moves to business districts and start living in such places where they could find people of their native homes.
Nonetheless, these working parents could find very little to provide for their children.
With such little resources available for a child's upbringing and education, working parents are often compelled to leave their children under the neighbors' watch and supervision.
While talking to Dhaka Tribune Kazi Riazul Haque, former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, said: “We have not heard of any projects being designed and implemented precisely to protect vulnerable children in places where the job opportunities are growing while more and more families are making their moves to manufacturing hubs.
The government and NGOs should work in a coordinated manner to protect the children of working parents with a measurable plan. So that, every child, being identified as vulnerable to social-ills could be reached out, and no child is left behind, he added.
Social service programs must be launched in an effort to help working parents, families, groups and communities and thus enhancing their individual and collective well-being, and to promote equity and opportunity in labor-intensive industrial areas.