Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of clothes for high street fashion retailers. The garment industry is the single biggest factor in the growth of Bangladesh’s GDP, from USD 21.77 billion in 1986 to USD 221.42 billion by 2016 (World Bank). More than 80% of the country’s export market is ready made clothes for Europe and America. There are around 3.5 million people working in 5000 factories and 85% of them are women.
The rapid growth of the garment industry has created many opportunities for women to work. However, with the majority of the factories located in and around the capital Dhaka, this has resulted in huge migration from rural areas to the city. Many of the women who are moving to the city are single mothers. Once they have moved to the city, they no longer have the support of their family or the wider community. Most find themselves living in slums with poor housing and very limited access to proper sanitation, clean drinking water, healthcare or education. They and their children are often unsafe and prone to disease and illness.
Working conditions at the factories are poor – hours are long, breaks are short and very few have any childcare facilities. Combine poor working conditions with wages as low as £35 a month and the result is women who can’t afford childcare or education fees. Born in rural areas, many of their children do not have birth certificates so are not entitled to government support. Children as young as two are left alone at home for hours, or go out to work on the streets and rubbish dumps or as domestic workers. They are at risk of being abused or trafficked and are hurt in accidents.
We directly improve the lives of 200 children of garment workers who live in the Mirpur and Mohammadpur slums of Dhaka. We indirectly reach thousands more through work to promote the rights of children and women. Specifically we are:
Our local partner is Nagorik Uddyog, meaning Citizen’s Initiative. Since 1997, Nagorik Uddyog has been working to raise awareness of the rights of some of the most disadvantaged groups across Bangladesh. In 2006 they began working in the slum areas of Dhaka and have enabled women to demand better wages, develop their leadership skills, campaign against gender rights violations and access legal assistance, education and healthcare. Nagorik Uddyog asked ChildHope to help them build their expertise in working with children and young people. Our partnership began in 2009 with a focus on street working children and waste pickers. We began working together to support garment workers and their children in 2013.
TRAID, a charity that turns clothes waste into funds and resources to reduce the environmental and social impacts of our clothes. Since 2013 TRAID has contributed £325,203 of funding to our work with Bangladeshi garment workers. The current grant is worth £129,208 and runs from 2017 – 2019. This is an area of work we would like to scale up so if you are interested in partnering with us, get in touch.
We are running two day-care centres for 80 children aged two to five years. Children who attend receive early years education, meals and health check-ups. At least 30 children will be supported to move into primary school when they turn six.
We are running two drop-in centres for children aged six to 16 years who are working to supplement their mothers’ income. We are targeting those who are working in the most hazardous situations, such as on rubbish dumps. They are receiving basic literacy and numeracy education and life skills training, including child rights. At least 40 of those aged six to 13 years are moving out of work and into school.
We are undertaking a range of advocacy activities. This includes negotiating with employers of working children to allow them to attend the drop-in centres and securing birth certificates for unregistered children so they can become citizens of their own country. We are also lobbying decision-makers, meeting with trade unions and factory owners and educating mothers about child and worker rights.
The first two activities provide the immediate support that children need to break the cycle of poverty while the third is helping communities to protect and support children, and access the government services they are entitled to.
The recent experiences of 14-year-old Sabina show what a fragile existence many Bangladeshi children endure. She was born and spent the first decade of her life in a village called Bhola. Her father was a successful farmer with his own land. She and her sister were enjoying school. But like many farmers who are experiencing the impact of climate change, one bad season meant Sabina’s father lost his crop and income for the entire year. With no financial safety net, soon he was relying on moneylenders but in time he lost his land to them.
The family left the village for Dhaka, following in the footsteps of many families before them. Sabina and her sister were enrolled in a government school and her father started working as a rickshaw puller. He was not able to cope with the stress and suffered a severe heart attack, making him weak and unable to work. Their mother became a domestic worker but could only earn a small amount so Sabina and her sister had to drop out of school and find work in the garment factories.
Sabina learned about Nagorik Uddyog’s drop-in centres from a colleague who was already registered. Because the centres work around the shift times of the garment workers, Sabina is able to attend the centre before her shifts start in the afternoon. She still needs to work but is hoping that one more year of factory work will mean she can save the money her father needs to open a small grocery shop. Her dream is to once again get enrolled in the school after her father starts earning. Until then the centre means she is keeping up her basic skills, practising her English and learning computer skills.
Sabina’s confidence and sense of humour have returned. “I don’t like to work but I love to study.” The drop-in centre means that when the time is right for her to return to school, she will have the skills and confidence she needs.Read more
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