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Forced by climate change

  • Published at 12:04 am March 6th, 2019
A constant battle MEHEDI HASAN

How climate change is driving child labour and child marriage in Bangladesh

We often talk about sea level rise, global warming, ocean acidification, etc when discussing the impacts of climate change. But the repercussions of global climate change in Bangladesh are not limited to only those, rather, it has a complex adverse impact on the socio-economic conditions of its people.

Bangladesh is one of the worst victims of global climate change.

Bangladesh has been ranked 9th in the Global Climate Risk Index 2019, according to Germanwatch. This country is also one of the most disaster-prone countries in the world due to its geographical location and global climate change.

Natural disasters -- flood, cyclone, drought, and other phenomenon give way to thousands of climate refugees every year, who often migrate to the big cities in search of livelihood. These displaced people usually end up living in the slums.

For the last couple of months, I have talked to many people living in the slums of Dhaka city -- about their objectives of migration to Dhaka. The majority of the people have been victims of floods, water salinity, tidal surges, and droughts.  

These climate refugees end up earning not more than Tk100 ($1.2) per day to provide for their families. The teenage girls are oftentimes married off to reduce the family expenditure and most importantly to avoid sexual harassments, social stigma, and to lower dowry. The amount of dowry is directly proportional to the girl’s age, the more the age, the more the amount of dowry. Teenage girls often fall victim to health problems, sexual harassments, and rape due to the lack of social security.  

Most of these migrated children drop out of school to support their parents financially. Education is expensive in Dhaka,  thus restricts low-income people from sending their children to school. Many of these children work in risky and hazardous environments.

A vast majority works as  garbage collectors. I have also seen young children working in tanneries, construction sites, brickfields and the list can go on. Small industries love to hire children because they are cheap, have delicate hands, and complain less than adults.

Sujon, a nine-year-old, told me that he used to work for the pipe industry -- eventually left the job after an injury to be a tokai. He also said that despite his willingness, he does not go to school because he has to support his crippled father.

At present, 59% of girls in Bangladesh are married before their 18th birthday and 22% are married before the age of 15.

According to UNICEF, Bangladesh has the fourth highest prevalence rate of child marriage in the world, and the second highest number of absolute child brides -- 4,451,000. Nearly 1.2 million children are trapped in child labour in Dhaka according to ILO. The numbers are predicted to be higher in the future. 

SM Abdullah Al Mamun, is a final year undergrad student in the Department of Environmental Management at Independent University, Bangladesh.