Tale of a child labourer

Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled | Published: August 10, 2018 21:32:16 | Updated: August 10, 2018 22:14:34

A 10-year-old child of an affluent family in Bangladesh normally wakes up, brushes his or her teeth, has breakfast and gets ready for school. But Ridoy Ahmed's mornings are different. He has to jump out of bed and rush for work before dawn. His life is not as smooth and comfortable.

His mother wakes him up from sleep just after the call for fazr prayer can be heard from the nearby mosque. On barefoot, Ridoy runs to the nearby fish market where he works as an assistant of day-labourers. The wholesale fish market is located at Launchghat area under Mirkadim municipality of Munshiganj.

Ridoy has no time to waste as the market starts early in the morning. During one such morning, he said to this writer, "If I'm late for few minutes, they (owners of a fish trading shop) don't allow me to work." He usually carries blocks of ice that are used to keep fishes fresh, wash the fishes and help senior day-labourers cut them. Ridoy said, "My earning depends on how much work I can do. Usually, I earn Taka 80 to 100 daily."

Ridoy represents numerous working boys of his age group and social segment in Bangladesh. The hardship he faces while working cannot be imagined by most children of his age from the middle and higher income groups of Bangladesh.     

Some of his difficult tasks include carrying large ice blocks on his head, moving large buckets of water in both hands to wash fishes and cutting the scaly and slipper fish with a knife.

On that day, he was continuously running from one corner of the kitchen market to the other. As time passed, Ridoy became tired, thirsty and hungry. But this did not seem to soften the heart of the fish trader who employs Ridoy. He urged him to move faster and finish the work quickly.

Around 9:00am when trading was almost coming an end, Ridoy finally had a few minutes to himself for rest. He sat on a bench and shared, "Today, I have earned Tk 100. This amount varies. If I do less work, they (trader) pay me less. I will take breakfast now with some of the money from here. I will give the rest to my mother."

Ridoy's mother is a beggar and his father collects waste from dustbins. He has a sister, who has been married off, and another younger brother. He said, "We live in a nearby slum."

As he does not go to school, he cannot read or write. He said, "Nobody ever taught me these. So, how can I learn alphabets and words?" He added, "I dream of studying by going to school, college and more. But who will pay for my studies? If I don't work, how will I survive along with other family members."

When asked about child labour, a trader at the market said that they do not want to employ children. But children like Ridoy and their parents insist that the traders employ them, even for low wages.  The trader claimed that most of these children are employed on humanitarian grounds. The mayor of Mirkadim municipality echoed the same lines. He however added that the municipality is taking an initiative to ensure education of street and working children. 

Such norms and economic realities for child labour are common in Bangladesh. Children are engaged in different types of works ranging from risky tasks for example, as helpers in the transport sector to really dangerous sectors like ship-breaking.

Child labour is often highly valued as many families rely on the income earned by their children for survival. Moreover, as child labour is cheaper and child workers are considered to be more compliant and obedient than adults, the employers often prefer to employ children. According to UNICEF, there are some 3.2 million child workers like Ridoy working in different sectors of the Bangladesh economy.

Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.


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