2016-12-10 10:43:00

Bangladesh: Study reveals children being forced to work 64 hours a week

(Vatican Radio) A major study released on Wednesday suggests that children even as young as 12 years, working up to 13 hours a day, might be typical of Bangladesh’s poorest young people.

Earning less than £60 a week under conditions that are hostile even for adults, has become inevitable for the country’s teenagers, after the family’s financial problems force them out of school into a full-time job. This is true of 15% of children between 6 and 14 years of age of the poorest neighborhoods of Dhaka. The figure rises to 50% among those under 14.

The thousands of Bangladeshi children who live in the capital's slums are working illegally for an average of 64 hours a week, with many employed by the garment industry making clothing for top global brands, according to a report released by the Overseas Development Institute.

The survey of 2,700 slum households, carried out by the Institute, among the largest conducted in the south Asian country, found two-thirds of girls from slum areas who were working full-time were employed in Bangladesh’s $30bn (£24bn) clothes manufacturing industry, which is one of the world’s largest despite an extremely poor safety record.

The manager of one unnamed garment factory told researchers that, while he was aware children aged 11 and 14 should not be working, he did not regard their employment as illegal. He also admitted that many of his employees did not carry identification cards that would verify their age.

In Bangladesh, it is illegal for children under 14 to work. It is also illegal to ask anyone to do "hazardous work" for more than 42 hours a week.

There was no immediate comment from Bangladesh authorities or its powerful garment manufacturers, but union leaders said child labour in factories was rampant. The extent of child labour in Bangladesh’s textile industry was laid bare in July when a nine-year-old boy was brutally killed at one of the largest spinning factories. Police probing the case said they found a quarter of the workforce at the factory outside Dhaka were children.

International brands have been part of the push to eradicate child labour and improve safety standards in factories since the 2013 Rana Plaza collapse that killed 1,135 people.

But the chief executive of Save the Children, Kevin Watkins, who co-authored the report, said that – given the number of children working in the industry – it was “implausible to believe that there isn’t significant pollution of the value chains of large-scale, western companies”.

“Many of these girls are not in the biggest factories in the formal sector, but they’re certainly in the supply chains of those factories,” he said.

Components of textile manufacturing such as sewing buttons were sometimes contracted out by the large factories to smaller workshops, over which government scrutiny was likely to be poor or non-existent, Watkins said.

“There are very significant levels of child labour in products that end up in retail outlets in the UK and elsewhere.”

The study also found that more than 36% of boys and 34% of girls said they had experienced “extreme fatigue” on the job. It said that families were usually keen for their children to remain in school, but were unable to afford to live without the extra income, albeit meagre.

Children would like to go to school, another co-author of the report, Maria Quattri said in a statement, "but poverty was driving parents to find jobs for their children, even though they could see that it would jeopardize their long-term future."

Bangladesh's garment industry, the world's second largest after China, provides an economic lifeline for the impoverished country, accounting for some $25 billion in annual exports.

It also employs around 4 million workers, most of them women. Industry insiders say factories struggle to keep employees from moving to jobs elsewhere.

But child labor is not confined to Dhaka's slums. Crushing poverty leads children across Bangladesh to take jobs to help their families.

Out of an estimated 4.7 million child laborers nationwide, the vast majority live in rural areas, working on farms or in homes as domestic servants, according to government statistics and UNICEF.

(Source: ABC News; The Guardian; Fides Agency)

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