We want to continue schooling
Children rescued from tobacco factories demand at Daulatpur
Amanur Aman, Kushtia
It was a unique event when over 1000 children, rescued from hazardous tobacco factory jobs and enrolled in schools, brought out a procession and stood hand in hand with banners and fastoons, appealing for continuation of their free education and saving thousands more like them.
They also held a rally at Daulatpur, the largest tobacco and Bidi producing area in the country, where they appealed to the government and others concerned to free children from risky work and ensure their rights.
Banners and fastoons reading slogans like “We want education”, “No more child labour” drew attention and sympathy of all quarters including big stake holders in the tobacco industry.
Alongside, a workshop on saving children from tobacco industry, organised by a local NGO– SETU– and Bangladesh Trade Union Kendra evoked good response from some of the Bidi factory owners.
” I have greatly reduced child labourers in my factory and will replace the few still there”, said Nasiruddin Biswas, owner of Nasir Bidi Factory while talking to this correspondent yesterday.
Sunil Kumar, owner of Sonali Bidi Factory, said “I will gradually eliminate child labour from my factory. It can not be done abruptly”.
At the workshop, speakers including ‘card holders’ (those who supply child labour for Bidi processing) from different tobacco factories promised they will no more use children to produce and process Bidi and tobacco.
The workshop titled ‘To Eliminate Child Labour: Role of Cardholders in Bidi Factory’ was organised by BTUK.
The SETU and BTUK are working to eliminate child labour from tobacco factories with assistance from ILO (International Labour Organisation) and the United States Department of Labour (USDOL).
The ILO programme in Bangladesh under an IPEC (International Programme to Eliminate Child Labour) project is part of its activities in Third World countries to get children out of five ‘most risky jobs’ in tobacco industry, match factor, tannery, construction work and working as domestic help.
According to survey made by SETU and BTUK, at least 5,000 children were working in eight big tobacco factories in Kushtia in 2001.
The ILO programme implemented by SETU and BTUK was launched in December 2001.
Meantime, SETU took out 1459 children from Bidi factories and 896 of them have been enrolled at schools after orientation at pre-school centers run by it. It runs 28 pre-school centers in the district.
The rest aged between 13-17 were provided with income generating activities including tailoring, paper bag making, nursery raising, electrical work and other technical jobs after short training.
The SETU also singed an agreement with the owner of Mansur Bidi Factory, a big tobacco factory, on May 9 last year that he will not employ children any more.
The NGO also have taken initiatives to bring poor parents of the children under income generating programmes so that they are not forced to send their children to tobacco factories.
It has also formed 53 ‘mother groups’ with the children’s mothers to create awareness among them not to send their children to tobacco factories.
“About Tk 29 lakh has been disbursed among 497 poor parents and we have attained success in bringing their children out of tobacco factories,” SETU Executive Director MA Kader told this correspondent.
Now 3000 children are still working at eight tobacco factories.
But the 30-month ILO project, extended for six months earlier, concludes in March this year.
People of all classes this correspondent talked to have expressed their deep concern and said children will go back to Bidi factories once the project is closed.
The project should continue for at least three more years to produce a sustainable result, they said.
BTUK coordinator Ahsanul Haq Nabab said, awareness has been created among the children and their parents. If the project is stopped, many of them will go back to their old hazards jobs, he said.
Chairman of Hogolbaria Union Parishad, Belal Hossain, expressed his deep concern that the ILO project would be closed.
“The ILO opened great opportunities for children in the area. They will go back to Bidi factories if the programme is closed”, he said.
Abdul Khaleq, 16, son Noor Hossain of Hosanbad village, who worked at a Bidi factory earlier, is now an electrician.
” I earn Tk 70 a day now, which is more than three times the amount I used to earn at Bidi factory”, he told this correspondent.
“Many like me have been benefited by the ILO project”, he said.