The deadline for stopping risky child labour in the country is repeatedly delayed. Although the country has set a target of eliminating risky child labour by 2021, it was not possible. With this, the government has delayed a few times. Recently, it has been announced that risky child labour is to be stopped by 2025.

We have not yet been able to stop child labour or risky child labour. This is sad for us. Poverty, illiteracy, unawareness and weakness of law enforcement are pushing up child labour. Again, for the cheap labour of children, some dishonest people lure children into risky labour with various temptations. According to government estimates, 3.4 million children are employed in the country and 1.2 million children are engaged in hazardous labour. There is an urge to stop all forms of child labour by 2030 to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. But when you look around, you can see how many children are involved in risky work.

The government recently launched a survey on risky child labour. A survey was conducted 10 years ago. Between these two surveys, there were many successes in reducing child labour and at-risk child labour. However, the COVID-19 period had an adverse effect and the ratio of two types of child labour increased in society.

According to the National Child Labour Survey (CLS) conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), between 2003 and 2013, the number of child labourers in the age group of 5-18 years decreased from 7.6 million to 3.5 million. According to the survey, the number of children under the age of 14 engaged in labour was 3.2 million, which came down to 1.77 million in 2013. According to the 2013 survey, 95 per cent of child labour is employed in the informal sector. According to the 2016 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), 6.8 per cent of children aged 5-17 are engaged in child labour.

Studies have shown children's school attendance decreases due to their involvement in labour. A total of 63% of children employed in child labour do not go to school. Of these, 8.4 per cent never went to school. According to a survey conducted in 2013, a total of 1.28 million children are engaged in hazardous labour. In 2013 there were 9 out of 10 boys in risky labour and in 2018 there were 6 boys out of 10. Hazardous labour is defined as working between dust, smoke, noise or vibration and the use of hazardous equipment -- also working in flames, gas and heat or cold. In 2010, the government formulated a policy to eliminate child labour. The action plan was adopted in 2012 in light of that policy. In that action plan, the goal of eliminating child labour was set by 2016. But if the target is not met in 2016, the deadline is set for 2021. But this time too our goal was not achieved and is now in 2025.

It is very sad but true that child labour has not stopped in our country to date. Despite various laws, initiatives and arrangements, child labour seems to be on the rise. Thousands of children are working in various hotels-restaurants, factories, brickfields, garages, rickshaws, workshops. Child labour is on the rise due to economic hardship and the vicious cycle of poverty. In the pursuit of livelihood, tender-hearted children are faced with a difficult reality at the very beginning of their lives. But at the age when books, notebooks and pens are supposed to be in their hands, they pick up the tools of hard work. The number of extremely poor people is increasing due to the growing population. To provide a handful of food for the family and to change the economic situation, the young children have to join various risky occupations.

Child labour must be stopped by making proper use of the law for the physical and mental development of children. Children from extremely poor families are being deprived of universal education or compulsory primary education. Parents of these children send their children to work in search of food. Child labour is a chronic tool of social exploitation. Various organizations at home and abroad, including the government and UNICEF, are working uncompromisingly to prevent child labour. However, child labour, child abuse, exploitation, etc. cannot be prevented. If we want to bring a glimmer of light into the eyes of future proponents, we must first build and ensure a world that suits them. They need to be allowed to grow up in a conducive and conducive environment. The private sector, the law enforcement agencies or the government alone can't solve the problem of child labour. Only a concerted effort by professionals, civil society, policymakers and commercial organizations can bring the neglected children back to a favorable and conducive environment.

UNICEF says in a new report that the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed millions more children into child labour, which could increase child labour for the first time in 20 years. According to the report, ' COVID-19 and Child Labour: A Crisis, a Time of Action', child labour has declined by 94 million since 2000, but this achievement is now at risk.

In the meantime, working children may have to work longer hours or work in a worse environment, the report said. More and more of these children may be forced to engage in hazardous labour, which poses a serious threat to their health and safety.

Many will be forced to engage in child labour without any assistance due to the decline in family income due to the pandemic. Social security is essential in times of crisis, as it helps the most vulnerable. Comprehensive policies on education, social protection, justice, the labour market and international humanitarian and labour rights can make a big difference in addressing child labour concerns. As a result of COVID-19, poverty will increase and child labour will increase because families will try their best to survive. Some studies have shown that a 1 per cent increase in poverty in certain countries can increase child labour by at least 0.6 percent.

Due to labour, begging, child marriage, children may be lost forever from mainstream education. As the financial situation of the family deteriorates, a large number of these children may be involved in child labour

In times of crisis, many families choose child labour as a survival strategy. More and more children are being pushed into the workplace due to rising poverty, school closures and declining access to social services. As we want to see the world in a new light, we need to make sure that children and their families can find alternative ways to cope with similar shocks in the future. Better economic opportunities, including quality education and social security services, could positively regulate this change.

This timely report sheds light on the devastating effects of COVID-19 and provides evidence to the ILO, government, employers, trade unions and other stakeholders to find the best way to deal with the current crisis.

The COVID-19 epidemic has had a particularly negative impact on the lives, hopes and aspirations of the most vulnerable children. Over the past two years, school closures and declining family incomes have put many children at risk of being involved in labour and being sexually abused for commercial purposes.

Studies have shown that the longer children stay out of school, the less likely they are to return to school. We must now prioritize the education and protection of children and continue to do so throughout the pandemic.

Several measures have been recommended to address the increased risk of child labour. These include more integrated social security, easier access to credit for poor families, increased access to quality work for adults, the cancellation of school salaries, various measures to ensure children's return to school, labour inspection and law enforcement.

The Bangladesh government enacted the Bangladesh Labour Act in 2006, which was amended in 2013. Child labour under the age of 14 is prohibited under the Labour Act. According to labour law, children between the ages of 14 and 18 will be able to do non-hazardous work. 38 sectors have been declared as risky for children. Although the government claims that there are no child labourers in the formal sector, the main challenge is to get the children engaged in the informal sector out of labour.

Overall, due to labour, begging, child marriage, children may be lost forever from mainstream education. As the financial situation of the family deteriorates, a large number of these children may be involved in child labour.

Due to these reasons, our country may lag in the index of progress in education, achievement of Sustainable Development Goals may be delayed and efforts to establish child rights may be hampered in many ways. We need to look into this right now.

According to recent information published in various media issued by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, in the fourth phase of the risky child labour elimination project, children engaged in hazardous work will be given 6 months of non-formal education and 4 months of training to withdraw from child labour. These children will get a stipend of Tk 1000 per month. The stipend will be paid through the development of mobile banking. A total of 100,000 children will be withdrawn from hazardous child labour. All types of child labour will be withdrawn by 2030 as per the target of SDGs. This is a step towards our goal of a prosperous Bangladesh free of child labour by 2041.

* Hiren Pandit is a columnist and research fellow

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