Abject poverty forces children to work in bidi factories

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DHAKA, Aug 17, 2018 (BSS/UNICEF FEATURE) – Taking the burden of her five-
member family expenses on her tiny shoulder, 10-year Rokhsana works at a bidi
factory in Lalmonirhat leaving her out of education, a basic right of
children.

Living in Kalmatirpara of Lalmonirhat district, she has been preparing bidi
shells with her mother as a child labour since the age of five. Rokhsana
works five or six days a week.

The factory pays Tk 240 a day for preparation of 10,000 bidi. She could
lock around 1,000 bidi shells a day. Since her mother is a non-cardholder of
bidi factory and works on sub-contract from the card-holding workers,
Rokhsana can earn Tk 40 a day, totaling Tk 800 a month.

Rokhsana learned bidi shell making from her mother. Later, to enhance
household income she is utilising the skill. Although a student of class
four, she stopped going to school giving preference to earning.

She does not have enough time to spend for sports, a fundamental right to a
child. She has been passing her childhood in the same way for the last three
years.

As Rokhsana’s father is a landless day labourer, they have to be involved
in bidi making aiming to bear all the household expenses.

Like Rokhsana, many children have been working in bidi factories in Rangpur
region to support their families, which put their health at risk.

According to unofficial data, there are 35 bidi factories in Rangpur
district that accounts for around one third of the total in Bangladesh.
Around 40,000 labours are involved in bidi factories in Rangpur while grossly
half of them are children, and among the adult labours one third are female.

It is also revealed that there are nine factories in Lalmonirhat district
that employ around 21,000 labours, including around 15,000 children aged 4-14
years, which is around 70 percent of the labour force. The age of the
children working in bidi industry in Bangladesh ranges from 4 to 12 years.

The Section 4 of the Children Act 2013 classifies anyone up to the age of
18 as child. However, according to the Labour Law 2006, minimum legal age for
employment is 14 years.

A study recently published in an international journal of behavioral and
healthcare research says the number of actual child labour in bidi factories
in Bangladesh is inconclusive while around 50-70 percent of the labours are
children.

It reveals that the family, due to poverty, and tobacco industry for
financial benefit directly and indirectly are responsible for abundant child
labour in bidi factories. Long-term benefits from the children are likely if
only the children are raised and nurtured properly.

Progga, an advocacy organisation, conducted the study titled, ‘Short-term
(private) gains at the cost of long-term (public) benefits: child labour in
bidi factories of Bangladesh’ aimed at investigating child labour situation
in bidi factories in the northern part of Bangladesh.

The study shows that children are unaware of the health hazards while
working in bidi factories. Children suffer from malnutrition due to unhealthy
work environment, use of tobacco and lack of balanced meals.

It also unveils frequent fevers and coughs are common among children
working in bidi factories while chronic bronchitis and asthma among the
children are the worst forms of sufferings due to working inside bidi
factories.

The research says implementation of laws, measures to reduce demand and
supply of bidi, and awareness among families are required to reduce the
number of child labour in bidi industry.

ABM Zubair, a co-author of the study and executive director of PROGGA, said
child labour deprives children from their usual childhood activities.

Noting that international conventions strictly restrict children from
working in hazardous occupations like bidi production, he said, bidi factory
employment is considered one of the most serious 38 listed hazardous jobs in
Bangladesh.

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