Bangladesh Labour Welfare Foundation (BLF) & Capacity Building Service Group (CBSG) conducted this baseline study on child labour in the Keraniganj Apparel Hub. The general objective of this study is to explore the prevalence and nature of child labour and household socioeconomic status in the Keraniganj Apparel Hub. Keraniganj Apparel Hub was chosen because it is where most – around 70% – of the domestically sold apparel is manufactured.
The survey was carried out on a sample of 402 children working in the apparel sector in Keraniganj. Key informant interviews and FGDs were carried out with relevant stakeholders using a checklist / guideline. In addition, case studies were also performed on critical issues.
The great majority (83.47%) of the children in our study are between 14 and 17 years of age. Surprisingly, a number (16.53%) of working children are under 14 years of age in this sector. A considerable proportion of child labourers are boys: 80.51%. An overwhelmingly majority (87.3%) of child labourers' parents are both at home. A number of child labourers (12%) come from single-parent homes; one child out of ten are from single-mother homes. Only a few of the ones we interviewed are orphans: 0.7%. The overwhelming majority of the children (90.3%) have attended school at some point; about one-fifth have completed third year, while one-fourth of them have completed fifth year. Only 16.6% have progressed beyond primary level (years 1 to 5). Financial insolvency is the major reason for dropping out of school (56%), followed by lack of interest in continuing education (38%). In general, they do not attend school: only a few of them (1.9%) are enrolled in formal /informal schools, attending on an irregular basis. Findings indicate that child labourers migrate from rural areas, with the majority (36.3%) of them coming from central Dhaka, followed by southern districts (30.8%).
Poverty is the primary driver (66.4%) compelling children to work in this sector. Other key factors are a desire to develop tailoring skills and to become self-reliant. The majority (66.2%) of children joined the sector through family members and relatives followed by neighbours and friends, accounting for 24.4% and 3.5%, respectively. Child labourers in the Keraniganj Apparel Hub have two types of contractual agreements: one is for an apprenticeship with the instructor who is employed there as operator or cutting master; the other is as helper hired on a monthly basis by the owner of the factory or sales centre. Generally, the apprenticeship is for two years. The contractual agreement is solely verbal.
Child labourers have no knowledge of labour laws that are in place to protect them. We found that over nine out of ten do not know about the minimum legal working age. Most of them have no idea about maximum legal working hours or are aware that there is a maximum number of hours that they are legally allowed to be asked to work in a day (86.1%). We found that child labourers rarely seek any support from any government or non-government organizations. None of the child labourers whom we spoke in Keraniganj Apparel Hub had ever heard of trade unions or their role at the workplace.
The Bangladesh government is committed to eliminate child labour and has adopted several policies and programs to this end. The 2010 National Child Labour Elimination Policy (NCLEP) aims to eliminate every sort of hazardous work for children as well as the worst forms of child labour, and have devised a plan of action. Several hazardous aspects of Keraniganj Apparel Hub that need to be improved have been identified. Despite laws and policies, child labour remains a major challenge in Bangladesh due to lack of proper implementation of these policies and laws.
The main challenge is that the Keraniganj Apparel Hub is still not recognized as being part of the industry and as a result government regulators do not pay enough close attention to existing laws being enforced. Other challenges that the study has identified included: parents are severely burnt out from poverty, therefore often sending their child out to earn for the family; parents and child labourers consider the work to be training rather than a job; the majority of child labourers and operators are attached to one another through kinship ties that makes the work informal in nature; inadequate motivation among owners and fellow adult workers to put an end to child labour, because this generates additional profits for both; inadequate organized support or absence of trade unions to protect child labourers.
The aim of this study is to generate more information and evidence on the situation of child labour in the Keraniganj Apparel Hub with a view to better designing plans and activities for improving labour standards of workers in general, and working children in particular.