Child labour in Bangladesh and how you can help


Child labour is a visible part of everyday life in Bangladesh. Children often work in jobs that are hidden from view, such as domestic work, which makes monitoring and regulation difficult. According to UNICEF Bangladesh has a workforce of 7.4 million children aged between 5 and 14. On average, children work 28 hours a week and earn 222 taka (3.3 USD) a week, a pathetic wage hardly commensurate to the labour they put in.

Visiting a cigarette factory, I witnessed girls as young as five rolling cigarettes for the local market. Other examples of child labour include welding, working in brick factories and in auto workshops. Working from an early age impedes the children’s physical growth and intellectual and psychological development, which then also has negative effects on their long-term health and earning potential.

Children are mostly vulnerable on account of physical immaturity and the exposure to unsafe workplaces. Nearly all child labourers (something like 90% of them) are affected by physical pain during working hours or afterwards. What makes the situation worse is that most of the child labourers get no professionally recognised treatment of their health problems.

Bangladesh’ 421,000 child domestic workers (three-quarters are girls) face particular vulnerabilities because they work behind closed doors. Almost all child domestic workers work seven days a week and almost all of them sleep at their employer’s home, meaning that they are completely dependent on their employers and often have restrictions on their mobility and freedom.

Over half report some kind of abuse during their work, such as scolding or slapping. Levels of exploitation are also extremely high, as indicated by the fact that more than half receive no wage at all. Instead, they receive benefits such as accommodation, food and clothing – further reinforcing their dependency on their employer.

Hundreds of thousands of Bangladeshi children work in hazardous jobs. These are jobs that have been identified by the ILO to expose children to hazards including: physical, psychological or sexual abuse; excessive work hours; an unhealthy environment. For instance, 3,400 children work in brick/stone breaking for the construction industry. Working children often live away from their families in situations where they are exposed to violence, abuse and economic exploitation.

Their vulnerable situation puts them at risk of trafficking as they seek a better life for themselves. A rapid assessment survey of commercially sexually exploited children showed that half worked in other sectors before being lured into sex work. Additionally, more than half had been forced or trafficked into the industry, enticed by false promises of jobs or marriage. The life of a child sex worker is one of violence, exploitation and physical and psychological health problems. The majority of child sex workers are depressed and three-quarters of them had been ill in the three months before the rapid assessment survey took place, many with sexually transmitted diseases. In the 3-12 months prior to the survey, one-quarter of the children were beaten, and another quarter were raped.

It makes for harrowing reading, but there are ways in which you can help:

Floating Education & Health Centre of Bangladesh
During the monsoon season (June to October), children cannot attend school and communities cannot access healthcare facilities because their villages are completely cut off from mainland services by flooding.

£5 could buy a child their school uniform
£20 could pay for a teacher’s salary for a week

Child Labour Elimination Project: the Shoe Factories, Bhairab
In Bhairab, over 3200 children work long hours in small shoe factories which are often one room of an employer’s house: cramped, dark and poorly ventilated. Children, who also sleep in the factories, frequently suffer from injuries and the effects of glue inhalation and many suffer physical and sexual abuse from their employers.

£10 could pay for 5 children previously in child labour to have a health check-up and to receive medical treatment
£30 could pay the running costs for one education centre (for 75 former child labourers) for one month

Child Labour Elimination Project: the Fish Drying Factories, Cox’s Bazar
In Cox’s Bazar there are around 6500 children working in fish drying factories where they suffer severe injuries and illnesses as a result of chemicals, pesticides and sharp tools.

£12 could pay for a former child labourer’s text books and educational materials
£50 could train the parent of a child labourer with the skills to start their own business so that they do not need to send their child to work

I’ve found travelling around Bangladesh challenging, both emotionally and physically, but always rewarding. The people I’ve met have been unfailingly resilient, kind and warm-hearted, welcoming me into their homes, sharing with me the stories of their lives and their hopes for the future. My hope now is that my words will encourage others to donate and help make a difference.

Christopher Garnett

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MDGs 2015: Where do we stand?


The historic commitment made by world leaders in 2000 spoke of sparing “no effort to free our fellow men, women and children from misery, abject and dehumanising poverty”. It resulted in a stimulating framework of eight goals, to be achieved by a wide range of practical measures aimed at enabling populations across the globe to improve their lives in the present and the future. Three months before reaching the Millennium Development Goals’ deadline, the time has come to take a good look at the progress we have made. Where do we stand in achieving these goals, what are the lessons we have learned and are we able to continue what’s been started?

According to the Report of the Secretary General in 2013 on the Millennium Development Goals, we have reached the target of poverty reduction five years ahead of schedule. In developing regions, the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day decreased from 47 per cent in 1990 to 22 per cent in 2010. However, gender inequalities persist, in employment for example with a gap of 24.8 per cent in 2012, but also in terms of access to health services and coverage. Most observers agree to recognise that, although modest, the MDGs have as a whole not been reached, especially when it comes to neonatal health.

Almost 1000 women die every day from complications related to their pregnancy or childbirth and a large majority of these deaths take place in ‘Southern countries’ and particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. In Malawi, Chad and Central African Republic, more than 100 pregnancies result in the death of the mother. The risk is a hundred times higher than in France, for instance. Yet, the causes of these deaths are well known: the lack of infrastructure, the failure of medicine supply circuits and the shortage of qualified nursing staff.

According to many organisations, researchers and NGOs, both in the North and the South, the commitments made by States are still too timid to stop this vicious circle and sustainably put an end to maternal and infant mortality in developing countries. Should we blame a lack of ambition or simply the absence of a long-term vision? Some organisations, such as Oxfam, have been advocating for years in favour of an health cover system that would allow women to be taken care of during their pregnancy and deliver in a health centre. This is basic care they are often denied de facto, due to the lack of financial means (or simply access to those means).

What we need are practical and bold measures to tackle these causes, not only the elimination of direct payments by patients and investment in emergency obstetric care but also in health infrastructure in rural areas and in reproductive health education and awareness, products and medication.

In general, the partial failure of the MDGs highlights the ineffectiveness of vague and unbinding cooperation frameworks (an adage which applies both to international development, ecology and environmental protection). What we need is an action plan including objectives that are clearer and more concrete. This would include promoting better working conditions in the public sector (including better pay and access to training), recommending that 25% of public health aid is used for health workers in direct contact with patients, a reaffirmation of the importance of free healthcare for women and children and the commitment to financially and technically support countries which have abolished direct payments of care.

Without this, we take the risk of being equally disappointed when 2030 comes.

Juliette Brouwer


How to get that all-important annual report right


September, since childhood the epitome of a new year and a fresh start, is now for me assessment month. As part of my freelance work for a major British funding organisation, I have just completed twelve organisational and financial assessments. To the uninitiated, that might not sound much, but in fact that entailed reading twelve different annual reports, spot checking figures, figuring out ratios of unrestricted and restricted income and seeking to establish how viable these organisations might be for the next three to five years. It is work so fiddly that few people volunteer to do it, and it pays very little money. But every little counts!

Embedded deep in assessment processes, I spend my time evaluating, reviewing and summarising the work of more than fifteen different British and European NGOs, some tiny, one or two, huge. What it gives me, though, is a brilliant insight into the very engine room of NGOs. It also highlights the differences between a really sparkling, inviting annual report, and a dull recital of the activities and challenges faced. The annual report takes up too much energy for too many CEOs of smaller charities, and in some cases you can almost feel the struggle to complete the text and cover all the bases.

Yet, the annual report is the single most important document any NGO produces, the one which goes out to all potential funders. One which I have just read was accidently left in Word format and the text had jumped erratically all over the place, – not a good look to send a potential grant maker. Another, producing a dry legal copy for use in ascertaining the financial health of the organisation, referred readers to an online version with the promise of lots of pictures, even a video, singing and dancing.

This leads me to a few words of advice for those of you embarking on your own annual report. Here’s my twelve point plan:

1. Plan to get them written well in advance of your deadline, especially if you are looking for case studies or editorial contribution from partners.
2. Block off necessary writing and editing time in your year plan, and stick to it.
3. Start sourcing brilliant pictures, with necessary permissions, especially for the front page.
4. An online version could well include a video, children recording their own activities and achievements, for example. Grass roots reporting has a huge impact.
5. Think hard who your target audience is and consider writing more than one version if necessary.
6. See the whole process as opening a window on your world. Celebrate your successes and those of your partners.
7. If you lack journalistic brilliance, consider outsourcing the writing up of the text for your annual report. It will be money very well spent.
8. Check that your figures actually do add up. You would be astonished how often they don’t.
9. Send your finance books off to the auditors in very good time. Set that date in the diary as soon as possible, especially if they will be visiting your organisation.
10. Pass the proofs round at least three people to check for errors, and have a “FOG index” overview. This useful tool can be found online. It checks written work for too long words, tediousness and incomprehension. Incomprehension would be one word it would hate!
11. When complete, save the report as a PDF file.
12. When printing annual reports, do be aware of the problems older people have reading text which is: a) very small and b) very pale or against a busy background.

Remember there are people out there who, like me, will make major decisions based on your annual reports. We are human too. Keep us informed and excited by your work.
Good luck!

Susanne Garnett
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