Child domestic workers: Ensure growth and rights of children

Every child has the right to grow and realise their full potential.

According to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES), 2022 of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the national rate of child poverty is 18.7 per cent. That means, nearly one-fifth of the country’s population are poor, who cannot afford to fulfil the basic needs, including food, clothing, residence, medical care and education, of their children. As a result, many children are forced to work as domestic workers.

About 80 per cent of the permanent domestic helps are minor girl children, Bangladeshi Ovibashi Mohila Sramik Association (BOMSA), a platform of expatriate female labourers, informed a workshop on Wednesday. Nearly 95 per cent of them do not have any signed agreement with the household owners. Of the domestic workers, 95 per cent are oppressed while 21 per cent of them face physical abuse and 61 per cent are abused verbally.

Another survey conducted last year said 84 per cent of the domestic workers live below the poverty line. The government drew up a regulation in 2015 to ensure the safety and welfare of the domestic workers. We think this should transform into a law.

Working as a domestic help is most disgraceful for the children of Bangladesh. There is no accurate information on the number of children engaged in working as domestic help. However, those who work on child labour said there are around 7.5 million domestic workers in Bangladesh. The actual number would be more than this though. The child labour act stipulated that children below 15 years of age could be appointed in light works. But domestic work cannot be categorised as light work. Domestic workers do not have a work schedule either. They work all the time except for the sleeping time.

More worrying is that 71 per cent of girl children among the domestic workers in Dhaka city work only in return for food. The remaining 29 per cent of female children, who work as domestic workers, are paid Tk 500 to a maximum of Tk 2,000. Nutrition and health of these children are always overlooked. Many children are kept in very unhealthy conditions.

Though employing a 14-year-old child is prohibited in Bangladesh, sometimes children aged between 5 and 13 years are also employed for domestic work. These children do not get any opportunity to study and sometimes they face torture due to minor mistakes in work.

If we think about the future of children and want to make them worthy citizens, then the state should take responsibility for those who are in risky occupations including domestic work. There can be two options here. Providing financial support to the parents so that they can educate these children on their own responsibility.  Providing mid-day meals to school going children can be seen as an initial step. Secondly, rehabilitating these children by keeping them under government management.

The children must be freed from hazardous and undignified work like domestic help anyhow.