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Bangladesh child labour remains social norm

Eleven-year-old Shubbo from Bangladesh makes less than a dollar per day, a solid contribution to his family’s income.
Last modified: 4 Aug 2012 22:50

I met Shubbo for the first time when he was nine years old, welding car parts in a dirty workshop in Dhaka.

The fact that he was so young and skinny, carrying parts that weighed more than he did, didn't shock anyone. In fact, the bosses were happy to sip tea whilst Shubbo carried out the most demanding tasks.

Two years on nothing has changed. Except that Bangladesh is a wealthier country, and the economy is booming.

When I went to back to the workshop to looking for Shubbo, I was expecting him to have moved on to a better job, or maybe even to be in school. I was wrong.

Shubbo's situation had not changed or improved whatsoever. In his flip-flops with no gloves or mask, he welds away engine parts in the same dirty noisy workshop.

True expert

In the book Outliers, the author Malcolm Gladwell says to become a true expert in your field and experience success you must spend 10,000 hours perfecting your skill.

Working 16 hour shifts, 7 days a week, at age 11, Shubbo will soon have completed his 10,000 hours.

By the time he is a teenager, he will most certainly be an expert at what he does, but will he reap any benefits from this expertise; will he experience success?

He earns $18 a month - half the minimum wage for an adult. Meager as it is, it still represents a solid contribution to his family's income, and one they can't go without.

When I asked his boss why he is paying the children who work for him half the adult wage despite the fact that they often do more work than adults, he simply replied, "because I can".

Technically illegal

Child labour is technically illegal but extremely widespread. Driven by poverty, it is often parents who are forced to push their children into work at an early age.

Shubbo's mother doesn't work; she says she is too busy with the care of the home and other young children. His father drives a cycle rickshaw, and Shubbo's wage helps put food on the table.

On the whole, Bangladeshis are unmoved by children working; whether rich or poor, child labour is a social norm to such an extent that it is invisible.

On countless occasions I have seen a child serve another child and no one seems to notice the bizarre nature of the interaction; a peanut vendor and his customer or a young maid and the child that she must clean up after.

Mannerisms of adults

These working children are treated just as adults, and in turn, they themselves behave and have taken on all the mannerisms of adults.

I have been to countless aid seminars where wealthy Bangladeshis and foreigners celebrate the plight to emancipate children. But how many of them employ children? Or get their car fixed by children working like Shubbo.

I can tell you; it is much more than you would think.

According UNICEF an estimated 215 million children in the world are working, half of them in hazardous jobs. They live in the third world, in countries like Bangladesh.