Ending child labor needs decisive interventions | Inquirer Opinion

Ending child labor needs decisive interventions

Dhaka—Child labor, a global problem, is a narrower concept of working children. In terms of national and international laws, child labor is unlawful. The International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates that there are 160 million child laborers worldwide as of 2020—63 million girls and 97 million boys—most of whom are engaged in agriculture, followed by service and industrial sectors, as well as in domestic labor. The majority of them are from the Asia-Pacific region. Nevertheless, the number of children engaged in labor worldwide decreased by 85 million between 2000 and 2020, according to ILO.

Bangladesh has also significantly reduced child labor, but there is still work to be done to completely eradicate the practice. This progress has been facilitated by a number of international agreements that set out legal guidelines and frameworks for action, including the Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention (C182) and the ILO’s Minimum Age Convention (C138). Over the past 20 years, there has been a noticeable improvement in the rate of child labor reduction. The National Child Labour Survey 2022 finds that Bangladesh has 39.96 million children (51.79 percent boys and 48.21 percent girls) aged 5 to 17 years. Out of the entire child population, 3.54 million are working children. The report also highlights their involvement in various sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, construction, wholesale, retail, and transport. Some 60.8 percent of them are employees, and 99 percent of them are informally employed. Despite government initiatives, child labor is still a common practice, especially in the rural region of Bangladesh.

Socioeconomic conditions, poverty, limited access to education, and deeply ingrained cultural norms have normalized the idea of children contributing to family income through labor. These contextual factors necessitated a targeted and multifaceted approach to address child labor effectively. There have been numerous international organizations, governments, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) working toward the goal of ending child labor for decades. Most Bangladeshi children have low-income parents who engage in a range of risky occupations. These children’s physical and emotional health are in danger due to the nature of their jobs, and their basic rights to an education and a healthy upbringing are being infringed. It also has an impact on their physical and emotional well-being as well as their access to education.

Numerous reports, including those from local NGOs and the ILO, claim that child labor is still common in a number of industries, including manufacturing, household work, and agriculture. The inadequate monitoring and evaluation of the National Child Labour Elimination Policy has drawn criticism. The policy’s poor implementation, monitoring, and evaluation have been attributed in large part to a lack of resources, a lack of enforcement, and low stakeholder awareness. The strategy received praise for its emphasis on social security and education, but it has not been enough to solve the underlying issues that lead to child labor in Bangladesh. Because of this, the government has been pushed to step up efforts, such as by tightening the enforcement of labor laws, expanding access to social services and education, and collaborating with civil society organizations.


It is important to note that while the government is dedicated to protecting children, only comprehensive action can have a beneficial effect on reducing or eliminating child labor at all societal levels. National action is, therefore, crucial. However, in order to behave in complete accordance with reality, all relevant factors such as the social, political, cultural, and economic conditions must be taken into account. In addition, a strong child sensitivity approach and the use of multiplier measures are required. Besides our social safety net programs, it is also necessary to formulate new social policies to improve these conditions.

Lastly, poverty and child labor are inextricably linked, and as long as we ignore or do not recognize child labor as a structural reality of the economy, it will be difficult to eliminate child labor from the supply chain. The Daily Star/Asia News Network

(In the Philippines, per the Philippine Statistics Authority, the total population of children aged 5 to 17 years old was estimated at 31.71 million in 2022. Of this number, 1.48 million were working children, representing 4.7 percent of their population, an increase from 4.3 percent in 2021. The number of working children was higher among boys (868,000 or 58.7 percent) than girls (610,000 or 41.3 percent). In 2021, the government made moderate advancements in eliminating the worst forms of child labor including commercial sexual exploitation and performing dangerous tasks in agriculture and gold mining by launching an online hotline for reporting cases. But there remains a need for more personnel and political will to enforce existing laws.—Ed.)

Fataraz Zahan is an assistant professor at the Bangladesh Institute of Governance and Management.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer is a member of the Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 media titles in the region.

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