Children are the most vulnerable part of our society. And because of their vulnerability child rights needs to be protected. Being on the trajectory of graduating from the LDCs (Least Developed Country) as per the projection of the 2021 the United Nations Committee for Development Policy, Bangladesh is yet to achieve complete eradication of child labor from all sectors of our society. When it comes to complying with international standards of Child rights protection Bangladesh has ratified UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child) 1990 and also is an active member of the 33 major ILO conventions (International Labour Organization) including ILO's Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) and recently in 2022 ratified ILO’s C138- Minimum Age Convention 1973 which relates to the minimum age for employment in labor sector as well as P029- Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention 1930. Ratification of the international standards of child protection indicates that it is incumbent on Bangladesh to fully eradicate child labors from Bangladesh or to reduce it to significant level. But our government is facing some socio-economic challenges towards this initiative.
When it comes to Bangladesh’s commitment towards SDG (Sustainable Development Goal) and its subsequent task of mitigation of all forms of child labor, “SDG 8” and “SDG 16” in this regard are most relevant. “SDG 8” culminates sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all. This goal also indicates assurance of child rights and mitigation of worst forms of child labors and “SDG 16” which confers Peace, Justice and Strong institution. This particular SDG Goal indicates assurance of Justice and adherence to minimum standards of human rights. According to the SDR (Sustainable Development Report) 2022 projection Bangladesh needs to meet target 8.7 by taking stringent measures to ameliorate forced labour, ending of modern day slavery, human trafficking and secure prohibition and most notably elimination of worst forms of child labor by year 2025. But confining our attention towards the said report’s “SDG 16” compliance it is alarming that SDR is projecting significant challenges of Bangladesh towards reducing the involvement of children in child labour.
In order to deal with the extensive rise in Child labour Bangladesh has taken legislative and policy driven initiatives. To comply with CRC framework of child protection Bangladesh has promulgated “Children Act 2013”. This act identified every person as an “adolescent” child who are below 18 years. Although this act don’t contain any specific provisions for mitigating child labour but proscribed serious penalties for perpetrators of illegal child exploitation. On the other hand in order to adhere with the international standard of labour law , Bangladesh has it’s own uniform “Labour Act 2006” which has undergone significant changes recently and has limited child recruitment minimum limit to be 14 years and for hazardous work the age limit is 18. The third chapter of the act specifically lay down fundamental rules towards recruitment of Child as labours. Most notably section 37 of the act prohibits child laboring without medical certificate and prohibited child recruitment in government ascertained hazardous sectors.
Under the auspices of this act the government has established seven Labour Courts and one Labour Appellate Tribunal within Bangladesh. When it comes to prosecuting violators of the said act , different ranges of penalty are imposed but unfortunately under section 284 of the said act the penalty for unlawfully employing child is up to 5,000 taka fine only. So such small amount of fine for unlawfully recruiting child doesn’t practically deter the scrupulous employers of informal small industries from employing child for doing hazardous jobs. Such labour cases pending before the labour courts are delayed which practically discourage the plaintiff from pursuing redress. However the Penal Code 1860 of Bangladesh proscribes stringent penalty for prohibition of forced labour. Other law enforcement agencies responsible for enforcement of child labour law are Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments (DIFE) which pertains to prohibition of Child Labour through DIFE hotline “16357” through such inspection aided abatement of 5,088 child labours in more than 23 districts , moreover “Bangladesh Police” monitoring and investigation cells constantly monitors children safety recently in 2021 Bangladesh Police filed criminal complaint against 8 factory management and owners for abusing child workers and finally “Child Protection Networks” comprising NGOs and Governmental initiatives for responding child labour, referral to law enforcement agencies and monitoring intervention in local District and sub-district level.
Lastly the FPSP (Fundamental Principles of State Policy) and Fundamental Rights enshrined in our constitution also prohibits forced labour of any kind which also include child labour and resort to legal remedy through writ petition is given by judicial review through Supreme Court’s exclusive power judicial review.
In order to dissuade excessive child labour, Ministry of Labour and Employment of Bangladesh has drafted “National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010”. The fundamental objective of this Policy is a systematic rehabilitation and withdrawal of child from all forms of Child labour including hazardous works and reintegrating them into the society through educational, monetary incentives and widespread awareness especially emphasizing on impoverished children residing in divisional and upazila level.
The most ambitious commitment of this policy is to establish “Child Labour Unit” and “National Child Labour Welfare Council” in the National and policy making level under the leadership of Labour wing of the Ministry of Labour and Employment which will supervise and oversee and would render advice to the Government for the effective co-ordination of the activities articulated in the said policy. Moreover Government of Bangladesh has also adopted “National Plan of Action (NPA) to Eliminate Child Labour (2020-2025) for prompt eradication of all forms of child labour. Finally NGO’s such as BRAC and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) has collaborated with ILO to facilitate garment worker children and rehabilitate them through education and vocational training.
Bangladesh is by far doing a commendable job in terms of eradicating child labour. But there are some shortcomings which requires further attention. The existing legislation and policies pertaining to child labour only targets formal industrial and commercial sector but child recruitment in informal sectors are still unattended. Mostly domestic, agricultural small industries and services constantly hire children below 15 years in exchange of small wages which is sometimes less than 10 USD a month. So government should focus child labour eradication in informal sectors where most child exploitation are concurrently happening. Another issue is lack of adequate labour courts. Delay in disposal of labour complaints and petitions are common phenomenon so in order to ensure prompt justice to labour rights victim which includes children as well, the current number of labour courts should be extended.
Finally the existing initiatives adopted by the government needs full implementation through co-ordination with NGOs, local and national level. Still now around 13.4% of the total population according to National Child Labour Survey are being exploited through the vicious cycle of child labour, so to safeguard these vulnerable children it is time for the government of Bangladesh to take spontaneous steps for enforcement of child labour prevention policies and ensure safe and sound future for all children of Sonar Bangla.
Samiur Rahman completed LL.M and LL.B (Hons) from