Shedding light on child labour in educational institutions

Previously Published: The Daily Star

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Educational institutions are considered lighthouses that guide and nurture the youth of a nation. However, beneath the surface of these esteemed institutions, a dark reality exists – one that involves the exploitation of underage workers. As we observe World Day Against Child Labour, it is imperative that we shed light on this issue.

It is disheartening to find underprivileged children working menial jobs on university campuses across the country. While some may argue that these jobs provide economic support for families living below the poverty line, we must recognise the detrimental impact they have on the future prospects of the nation. The harsh reality is that these young individuals are trapped in a cycle of unending labour, with little respite in sight.

Children or teenagers can be found working in canteens, halls of residence, tea shops, and convenience stores in and around public university campuses. They carry food and drinks to the tables, clean the tables and chairs, clean toilets. These children are often subjected to physical and verbal abuse from general students, student leaders belonging to different political groups, and also from their employers. At private universities, too, child workers are seen cleaning the premises. Such a scenario is a clear deviation from the core purpose of educational institutions, which should prioritise fostering knowledge and empowering students, rather than burdening underprivileged children with laborious tasks.

Child labour is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh, a country where a significant number of children are compelled to bear the responsibility of their families. Economic hardships and financial constraints push them into the workforce at a young age. To break this vicious cycle, we need a comprehensive approach that tackles the root causes of child labour. One fundamental step is to address the issues of poverty and inequality that force families to rely on the labour of their children. Government initiatives, in collaboration with non-governmental organisations and the private sector, should prioritise the creation of economic opportunities and social safety nets to support vulnerable families.

Awareness campaigns, building intent and promoting a thirst for knowledge among children working in educational institutions will be the cornerstone of all solutions. Only then can these children with no secure future be transformed into educated and skilled human resources, making them capable of getting involved in the mainstream development of our country.

I urge those in power to facilitate education for these children working at their universities or colleges under the national curriculum. And if that cannot be managed, at least facilitate “non-formal” learning. Meanwhile, robust and strictly enforced policies must be put in place to ensure that children working within educational institutions are not exploited but rather provided with the opportunity to receive an education.

To achieve this, all relevant stakeholders, including institutional authorities, trustees, vice-chancellors, the Association of Universities of Bangladesh (AUB), the Association of Private Universities (APUB), NGOs, and the Ministry of Education, must come together and align their objectives. By working in a collaborative manner, they can develop comprehensive programmes and initiatives to address the root causes of child labour in institutions and provide alternative pathways to their education.

Engaging students of respective institutions can be another vital component to the solution. Student-led initiatives and campaigns can be organised to actively support the education of underprivileged children working at their educational institutions. These initiatives can include mentoring programmes or fundraising activities to cover educational expenses.

By addressing the root causes of child labour in educational institutions, implementing robust policies, and promoting educational opportunities, we can ensure that education truly becomes the guiding light for all children, illuminating their path and of the nation towards a better tomorrow.

Mehedi Hasan Marof is a journalism student at University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh (ULAB) and research assistant at the Center for Sustainable Development (CSD). His twitter handle is @mehedimarof

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