I spent last week in Bangladesh, a country of 161 million people, many of whom live in the capital city of Dhaka. Many of those people, in fact 54 million of them, are kids under 15. And a high percentage of these children start to work by the age of 10 or 12 in order to help support their families.
Save the Children has been working in Bangladesh since 1972 and for much of that time, we have sought to improve the lives of working children. Given the staggering poverty in Bangladesh, including among children, it is often in families’ best interest for their children to work. Save the Children and our partners are focused on making conditions safer for working kids and on pushing for their right to a decent wage and continued access to education.
Just outside Dhaka, where I joined some Save the Children colleagues, we met about two dozen kids who are currently working in the city. They produced this compelling video that documents the conditions in which they work and live in Dhaka.
Children as young as 8 or 9 still work in dangerous conditions in Bangladesh every day, and some are coerced into illegal work that no child should be doing, like drug trafficking.
These children, despite the challenges they face, are remarkable. I was so impressed by their efforts to ensure that other kids are in meaningful and safe work and are paid fairly for their labor. One, a 15 year-old named Basha, particularly struck me. She spoke about how she had been trained in a Save the Children program to understand her rights as an employee and to get support so she could work and still continue her education. She is currently working in a small electronics assembly plant, making money that supports her education and that of her two siblings and she had been instrumental in changing practices there to ensure that children are paid fairly and not subject to unsafe conditions.
While Basha still has a tough life—these jobs are a far cry from a coveted summer job for teenagers here in the US—she is able to contribute to her family’s survival, work safely, and keep up with her education.
This is still far from true for millions of kids in Bangladesh. But with kids like Basha on the case, I left Dhaka convinced that far more children’s lives would be better down the road.
For more updates from Carolyn, follow her on Twitter at @CarolynSave.