Child labor: Obscurity in the eye of law
Abdur Rahman: “Todays children are the future of tomorrow”; P.M. Sheikh Hasina. Every child bears our nation’s future. We all have attain our childhood and it is an habitual truth that everyone must take part of this infancy period. At this infancy period if a child gets proper care , education and proper guidance only then they can bring a better time for others . According to UNICEF , In Bangladesh there are 64 million child among 160 million people which is 40% of total population.[i] We all know that every person born with some rights and that are not different. But it is a matter of sorrow that in Bangladesh though all babies are born with same rights but they all don’t get the same rights and child labor is a big root for this. Among 64 million child, 4.8 million children are included in the child labor and 12.6% of children aged 5 to 14 in the work force.[ii]Maximum of them employed in rural area. About 83% of child labors are employed in rural area and 17% are employed in urban area.[iii]
Short History of Child Labor:
The history of child labor is very much attached with the modern life which indicates the change of time analogue to digital. Before the industrial revolution children often begin to actively participate in the activities such as child rearing, hunting, farming. But after the industrial revolution in Britain, there was a rapid increase in the industrial explosion of labor including child labor in the late 18th century. At that time the children of poor family were expected to contribute to their family income.[iv]For this reason child labor became famous in Britain and it was legal at that time.[v]
Reason Behind Child Labor and reality In Bangladesh
According to Lowa Labor Center, current causes of global child labor are poverty, limited access of education (Illiteracy), limited prohibition of child labor. [vi]And Bangladesh is not out of these reasons. According to Asia Development Bank (ADB) 21.8% people are living bellow the national poverty line.[vii] For this the manager of a family has to employed their small son or daughter in work for getting their necessary needs. Secondly, around 26% of adults in Bangladesh are still illiterate.[viii] Without education one can’t be aware of his or her rights and this is second cause for increasing the child labor. In third, though the Act prohibited the child labor in 2006, still in 2020 it is practicing by the local peoples and law enforcement authorities are silent in this case. Beside all this things child labor is also famous for the employers for another reason that is low cost of child wages are often low, the wages are as little 10%-20% of an adult male .[ix] The employers have to pay a big sum but in case of a child they are able to pay a low amount. For this bad intend people are using this as a facility.
Governments initiative to reduce the child labor:
Child labor is a common phenomenon in Bangladesh. The government of Bangladesh has taken many steps to reduce the number of child labor. Government has also enacted a code of law related to the labor, where the topic of child labor is included. According to this code of law, child labor is clearly prohibited. Beside, by this Act government of Bangladesh also adopted a policy named National Child Labor Elimination Policy (NCEP) 2010. Besides all of these Act and policy every year our government is investing a large amount of Budget in the development of Children. According to the Budget of 2019-2020 fiscal year about 1685 core 39 lakh taka invested in the development of Child.[x] But it is a matter of sorry for the proper guidance, for the gap of proper investigation of money and for the gap of law this initiatives got no result.
In Bangladesh there is a code of labor law which enacted in 2006. Before this code there were many laws for which it was a big problem to identify who was child and who was youth. According to section 2 (Lxiii) ‘child’ means a person who has not completed his fourteenth year of age. So this Act clearly define who is child. But in another law, the Children Act 2013 the definition of child is different. Section 4 of the Children Act 2013 says;
“Notwithstanding anything contain in any other law for the time being in force, all persons up to 18 years shall be regarded as children for the purpose of this Act”. So how is a child?
.After this question of validity of child labor comes toward. By section 34(1) this Act prohibited the child labor. It says; “No child shall be employed or permitted to work in any occupation or establishment”. It means in any case child labor is prohibited and illegal. But it is a matter of concern that this Act made child labor as legal in another section. Section- 44 says; “Notwithstanding anything contained in this chapter, a child who has completed twelve years of age, may be employed in such light work as not to endanger his health and development or interfere with his education”. So a question arise again, is child labor legal or illegal by the Labor Law 2006 ?
We all know labor employment is a one type of contract where one party agree to give labor in return of payment. If we take child labor as legal under section-44 it can’t become legal contract under Contract Act 1872. According to Section 11 of Contract Act 1872 a person who has not attain the age of majority is not competent to make a contract. Section 3 of Majority Act 1875 says; “to have attained his or her majority when he or she shall have completed his or her age of eighteen years and not before”. But by the labor Act age of child mentioned as 14. For which according to Contract Act 1875 child labor can’t be regarded as a legal contract.
Child labor is one kind of forcing labor at the age of 12 or 14 a person not become physically or mentally strong. Constitution of Bangladesh guaranteed all the fundamental rights for the people of Bangladesh and it prohibits all forms of forced labor under Article 34.
Bangladesh is also under some international obligations to protect the children from child labor. In 1990 Bangladesh has ratified on the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article 1 of the Convention discuss about the age of a Child. According to this Article a human being bellow the age of eighteen shall be regarded as a child. Article 32 of this convention gives protection from the child labor and directs the states party to ensure education for the child. This Article also directs the state party to provide a minimum age for admission to employment and provided for an appropriate regulation of the hours and conditions of employment.
For the purpose of decreasing the number of child labor some recommendations are;
- Revise the Labor Act 2006, with taking concern other Acts like Children Act 2013, Contract Act 1872, Majority Act 1875 because the only Labor Act 2006 is not clearly define the legality of Child labor.
- If child labor can’t be stopped right now then government should make a Gazette where the payment for child labor will be provided. Because the different survey on child labor proves that the payment of child labor is very poor where children don’t get the appropriate sum of their labor.
- Government should provide free education, health to whom, who are not able to pay for these. Besides, Government must ensure the education facility to the child labors by the employer.
- Government should revise the age of a Child taking consideration on others Act and International Conventions. Because the local laws are not able to make clear about the definition of Child. For example Labor Law indicates a Child bellow the age fourteen, in another law, Children Act it indicates the Child bellow the age eighteen which is a big gap of law.
Child labor can be regarded as a curse for a nation. Day by day we are developing but it is true that without solving this problem of child labor we will never be developed. So for this reason Government has to take necessary steps to stop the child labor.Besides this things every human being born with some equal rights. But the child who is engage in this child labor is not getting their rights. Not only the Government but also we should be aware of their rights and it is our duty to protect and ensure their rights. Here it is clear that our current Acts have some lacking by which it is impossible to protect the child from this curse. Government should take necessary steps to improve this lacking and need to be aware on the imposition by the proper authority.
[i] Children In Bangladesh, UNICEF
[iii]Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2006). Baseline Survey for Determining Hazardous Child Labour Sectors in Bangladesh 2005. Dhaka: Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. ISBN 978-9845086257.
[v]Factory Act 1847
[vi]Causes of Child Labor
[vii]Poverty Data: Bangladesh
[viii] The Daily Star; 7th September 2019
[ix] Child Labor and the Division of Labor in the Early English Cotton Mils byDouglas A. Galbi.
Center for the History and Economic College , Cambridge CB21st
Abdur Rahman: Student; Department of Land Management and Law, Jagannath University