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The objective of daycare centres is to provide care to the children. These centres are supposed to ensure their physical and mental development, provide them with games and recreational facilities, balanced meals and primary health care. On paper, it is said that these daycare centres are kept clean and children are taught to develop clean habits, among other things. But reality is quite another matter.

The department of women’s affairs, under the ministry of women and children’s affairs, has been running daycare centres since 1991 for the financial empowerment of low and medium income working women. According to the ministry sources, there are a total of 119 daycare centres being run on funds from the revenue sector as well as under various projects. There are facilities for 2830 children in the 43 centres operating with funds from the revenue sector.

Up till December last year, the non-government organisation Phulki, funded by UNICEF, was running 40 daycare centres through the Shishu Academy. Of these, 15 centres have been handed over to tea garden owners. The rest have shut down.

Damp and dirty

The daycare centre at the secretariat began in 1997. Then prime minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated the centre at the two-storey Building. Admission fees and monthly fees are Tk 500. Children can stay at these centres from 8:30 in the morning till 5:30 on the afternoon on working days. They range from 6 months to 6 years in age. The centre can take in 50 children. It is difficult to get a vacancy for new admissions. Then again, many are hesitant to send their children here.

A woman official of the law ministry, speaking to Prothom Alo, contended that she had visited the daycare centre several times to get her two-and-a-half-year-old girl admitted, but then did not feel comfortable with the place. She said there were mosquitoes swarming the place during the day, the bed sheets were dirty and the place was damp. There were no facilities for children’s mental stimulation either.

The security guard Abdur Rahman, scolded the child sternly. When asked why he scolded he child, he replied, “You just spend one day here and you will know how it feels”

Concerned persons said, Tk 80 is allocated per day for the breakfast, lunch and afternoon snacks for each child. The department has drawn up a common list of food for all the children, regardless of age. In the morning they are given milk and semolina (suji) or milk and vermicelli (semai) or milk and bread. For lunch they are given rice and fish or rice and meat on three days, and one day rice and egg. Lentils (dal) and vegetable is included with lunch on these four days. On the fifth day they are given vegetable khichuri (dal, rice and vegetable cooked together). They are given lemons with their meal every day.

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One of the daycare centres set up under the department of women’s affairs is in Kushtia. Prothom Alo’s staff correspondent in Kushtia, Touhidi Hasan, on 12 January visited the children’s daycare centre there at a four-storey building in Mazampur. While he was talking to the security guard outside, a child was running around inside, noisily. The security guard Abdur Rahman, scolded the child sternly. When asked why he scolded he child, he replied, “You just spend one day here and you will know how it feels.”

The daycare centre in Kushtia began in 2004 and was placed under the revenue sector in 2011. The admission fee and monthly fee is Tk 100 each. Working mothers of the low and mid income group keep their children here. It has space for 50 children, but around 20 children are admitted here. It has toy horses for riding, swings and other playing equipment for the children. It had wooden beds for the children to nap. The old television works intermittently. There is no CCTV camera at the facility.

The centre’s staff say that the teacher appointed for this centre has long been in Dhaka on deputation. The health instructor’s post has been lying vacant too. Where there should be two guards and two cooks, there are only one each. There has been no cleaner from the beginning. There is only one ayah.

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Meena Rani Saha, who has been working at this centre for the past 15 years, said, “If I get the time, I teach the children and tell them stories.” She says that the authorities have been repeatedly apprised of the staff shortage.

It wasn’t possible to enter a daycare centre run by the women’s affairs directorate at Adabor in the capital city Dhaka. The persons working there said written permission would be needed for entry. No such written permission was required to enter the centres in the secretariat and Kushtia.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Aleya Sultana, the daycare officer at a daycare centre in Dhanmondi, Dhaka, said when there were children at the daycare centre before the outbreak of coronavirus, they were bathed every day. The bed sheets would be changed once a week. Toys and meals for the children were provided according to their age. She said, various initiatives had been taken up at this 4000 sq ft centre particularly for the mental growth of the children.

The survey report recommended that the children not be given processed fruit juice bought from the market, that CCTVs be set up immediately at the centres, that proper staff management be ensured, cash allocations be made for the centres, the staff be trained and more. None of the recommendations have been implemented

This centre is run under a project. The concerned persons claim that the centres run under projects are in a better shape than those under the revenue sector. However, children are no longer being kept at these centres since the outbreak of the pandemic. Other programmes are being conducted.

Then again, there are complaints that once the project term ends, the daycare centres are in shambles.

In 2018, the fourth class employees of 11 centres which had been set up under projects of the women’s affairs department, went on strike as they had not received salaries after the project ended. These 11 centres are now among the 42 run under the revenue sector. Food and other costs for these centres come from the revenue sector. But the posts of daycare officers, teachers and health instructors have not been placed under the revenue sector as yet.

The daycare officer of a centre, on condition of anonymity, told Prothom Alo, they have not been paid wages for the past seven months. Earlier, they had been owed two years’ unpaid wages. The officer said that it was still uncertain whether their jobs would be made permanent. They aren’t even getting their wages. They are under mental duress.

Survey indicates dissatisfaction

A survey carried out by the planning commission’s Implementation, Monitoring and Evaluation Department (IMED) in 2018 revealed whether or not the mothers were satisfied with the services provided at the children’s daycare centres. The survey was conducted to assess how far the objective was reached of the 11 centres set up under the women’s affairs department project, ‘Daycare centre programme for the children of lower and middle class working mothers’.

The survey report said that of the 220 working women availing the services at the time and 55 women who had previously availed the services, 56 per cent of the respondents were dissatisfied with the quality of education and 55 per cent were dissatisfied with the healthcare. The children said they were unhappy being restricted to a room, being beaten up by older children, the television being out of order and being hit by the staff and teachers at the centres. Most of the children in the 11 centres had poor pre-school learning.

The survey report recommended that the children not be given processed fruit juice bought from the market, that CCTVs be set up immediately at the centres, that proper staff management be ensured, cash allocations be made for the centres, the staff be trained and more. None of the recommendations have been implemented.

Director general of the department of women’s affairs, Farida Parvin, told Prothom Alo that the government has drawn up a law regarding daycare centres. The clauses of the law would be finalised within the coming month. With these regulations in hand, it would be easier to evaluate the state of the centres. She said, the government also wants the best for the centres and the children at the centres.

The government, incidentally, enacted the daycare centre act in 2021.

Private centres charge exorbitantly

Several daycare centres in the private sector have cropped up in the capital city. However, the costs at these centres are exorbitant. A mid-level daycare centre charges anything between Tk 10,000 to Tk 15,000 for admission and a Tk 8,000 to Tk 10,000 monthly charge. Working mothers have no choice but to admit their children there.

With no good quality daycare centre around, mothers are in a fix. For example, when BCS admin cadre officer Bibi Karimunnessa would work at the Economic Relations Division (ERD) in Dhaka, she would keep her two children at the planning commission’s daycare centre run by the department of women’s affairs. She was then transferred to Chattogram, but there were no daycare facilities there. Now she had been transferred again, this time to Khulna.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, Bibi Karimunnessa said, the government must look into increasing the number of such daycare centres and also improve the environment of these centres.

Negative experience can stunt development

Abdullah Al Mamun, child protection and child rights governance director of Save the Children Bangladesh, told Prothom Alo that the first six years of a child is vital. At this age a child is prepared for primary education, develops physically and mentally, picks up communication skills, recognises people and also learns to make decisions. A service provider providing such care for children must be skilled in this regard. He said negative experiences at this age can stunt the child’s mental development. In providing care, children with special needs, poor children, backward children, that is, all kinds of children, must be kept in mind.

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir

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