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Dhaka Tribune

When the literate help increase illiteracy

Public universities have a glaring child labour problem

Update : 27 Mar 2023, 03:02 AM

The rate of child labourers working in the dining halls, the adjoining hotels, and the shops of many public universities, such as Dhaka University, Jahangirnagar University, Chittagong University, Rajshahi University, Islamic University, and so on, has dramatically increased since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

A study conducted between 2003 to 2013, called “The National plan of action to eliminate child labour,” found that child labour aged 5-17 years dropped from 7.6 million to 3.5 million. However, recent research published by Educo Bangladesh found that child labour below 14 years of age had increased to 89% since the pandemic stared in 2019. 

Child labour in many universities is not outside the norm, but most are still blind to this severe issue.

Public universities, often seem to be concerned about many emergent issues -- such as anti-ragging, certain human rights violations, the celebration of important international and national holidays -- yet these educated and socially conscious people, such as university teachers, authorities, officers in charge, and even students, appear to overlook the increased recruitment of child labour below 14 years of age in their own campus. 

What is the point of being vocal on so many human rights matters if we remain silent, even though there are labour laws established in Bangladesh?

It is worth mentioning that these child labourers are different from the usual child labourers who normally work in the garment sector, the leather industry, shoe manufacturing, poultry breeding houses as well as brick kilns. Most children working in campus areas are school dropouts at an early age. Among them are few who have never attended any type of school. Most child labourers have come to work in these places with a literacy level of class 2 or 3.

The question remains, how did they get the opportunity to work in a place like a university at such an early age?

Most child labourers working in canteens, dining rooms, and hotels adjacent to the halls, are brought there by the people who have been working in these places for so long. All of whom are adults, and also illiterate.

Child labour, which keeps children from going to school and pushes them to work instead, is nothing but a hindrance to the economic development of the country. 

These facilities unknowingly throw these children into a dark world from which it is difficult to escape. The child labourers, who are supposed to be in school with books and pens, are instead struggling to support their families by working dangerous and hazardous jobs. 

Working hours of teenagers and child labourers

According to Section 41 of the Bangladesh labour Act, 2006, “No juvenile shall be allowed to work in any institution or establishment for more than five hours a day and thirty hours a week. No work shall be allowed between 7pm and 7am.” 

In addition, according to section 2(63) of the Bangladesh labour Act, 2006, any person below 14 years of age is considered a child, and according to section 2(8), all persons below 18 years of age are considered juveniles. 

Yet, in the same campus, where the children of officials get up at 8am, child labourers of even younger ages have to get up earlier and concentrate on heavy work. 

Where is the child rights charter here? How are these students advocating for human rights after allowing child labour in their own universities? 

Rights of domestic law

Although laws were first enacted in 1974 to protect the rights of children in Bangladesh, some new provisions were later added in the name of “Child Act, 2013” to bring the law up to date -- as in Section (70-83) of Chapter IX, for particular crimes related to children. 

Lawmakers adopted policies to punish the ill treatment of children, such as cruelty towards children, intoxication while in charge of a child, the presence of children in illicit places, in the hopes of helping the children escape such situations.

Last year, on March 22, 2022, the Government of Bangladesh ratified the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 to the ILO, and became the 174th ILO member state of the Convention. As the Convention demands that states pursue a national policy to fix the age of children for employment, to pursue the absolute elimination of child labour, and also to raise the minimum age for admission to employment -- as a member of the organization (ILO), Bangladesh cannot allow adolescents to work anywhere if they are not over fourteen years old. 

Child labour not only puts children and their family at risk, but also nips their potential opportunities in the bud. 

For any child, institutional and practical education should be one of the basic human needs. But in the absence of a favourable environment, children often have to earn money by doing heavy work to meet another basic need like managing food. 

We must take immediate action to prevent this situation from escalating further at universities.

The students of public universities may start by asking why children work on their campus. Besides, students and the university authorities alike should take steps against the kitchen staff who earn money by making children work. The university authorities ought to also take initiatives so that these children can go back to school instead of working in the halls of the university campuses.

Our esteemed public universities have a duty towards serving the education of our nation's youth, to give them a chance for a better future, not to confine them to a dangerous and taxing life from early in their childhood.

Saurav Roy is a freelance contributor and a student of International Relations.

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