Sayed Mofidul Babu
RANGPUR, Aug 25: Aklima Khatun, six years old tiny lass, is one of those children who begins life with tobacco instead of pencil or pen.
They forget to dream for a beautiful future in the very beginning of life, as all the buds of their dreams shed away before blooming.
Instead of reading book Aklima is engrossed in learning how to make bidi. She said her parents sent her to bidi factory as they wanted her to supplement family income. "I had a desire to go to school like others but my parents did not allow me to study" Aklima said.
There are thousands like Aklima in different bidi factories of Haragachh, Rangpur inhaling polluted air which causes deadly diseases.
Haragachh, about 10 km away from Rangpur city, is well-known for tobacco business and bidi factories. Every day millions of bidi sticks are being manufactured and dispatched to different districts by trucks and other transports. Government earns crores of taka every year from bidi business, sources in the industry said.
About 15,000 children are working in around 30 bidi factories in Haragachh in dark and unhealthy environment, according to sources. The age of the children working in bidi factories in the area ranges from four to 13 years, sources also said.
A child bidi worker can earn Tk 40 to Tk 50 a day, totalling Tk 1200-Tk 1500 per month.
The Section 4 of the Children Act 2013 classifies anyone up to the age of 18 as child. Though, according to the Labour Law 2006, minimum legal age for employment is 14 years.
The workers are unaware about their health related matters and environment of the working place. They do not use mask and hand gloves to protect themselves from diseases. They are exposed to tobacco dust and toxic chemicals, sources alleged.
A large number of bidi workers including children become easy prey to various chronic diseases like asthma, TB, jaundice, bronchitis, kidney infection and skin and eye disease due to tobacco dust floating on air, sources further alleged.
They can hardly afford good treatment and eventually die, said Zakir Hossain, a physician. As per law, the factory owner must employ a doctor for regular checkup of the workers. But it is never done. Asked about this, "Who will enforce this law?" Halim, a worker replied.
Nazir Hossain, owner of a bidi factory at Haragachh told The Financial Express as there is no alternative way to earn, most of the local people's condition is very miserable. So they are compelled to send their children to bidi factories to earn and support their impoverished families.
A number of bidi factory owners said if the government ensures gas and adequate electricity supply in the area, many investors might be able to setup different industries which will change the socio-economic condition of the poverty-stricken people in the region, they added.
Conscious people of the region urged the government to take adequate measures to stop child labour in bidi industry in order to save the children from health hazards and ensure a better life for them.
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