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Half of the bidi labourers are Children in Bangladesh

bidi labourers are Children in BangladeshThe Daily Orthoniti Protidin has been published a special report today on 1 May, 2014 based on the investigative work of Tobacco Industry Watch BD Team @ PROGGA on ‘Child Labour in Bidi Industries of  Bangladesh’. Since the story is published in Bangla, we have translated it below for international readers. Please browse the link to read original Bangla report:বাংলাদেশেরবিড়িশিল্পের/

Child labour in bidi industries has legally been banned in Bangladesh. Following the Section 32 of the UN Charter on Child Rights, the Government of Bangladesh has introduced a list of 38 hazardous jobs and banned children engagement with those tasks. Working at bidi and cigarette factory lies on the fourth position of the list. Besides, Bangladesh has ratified ILO Convention no 182 in 2001 that deals with the hazardous child labour. But still bidi factory owners are deploying children in different stages of hazardous tobacco processing and bidi production.

According to a study, there are 117 bidi factories in Bangladesh and about 65,000 workers are occupied with the factories.   They produce monthly and annually 405 and 4,865 crore sticks respectively. However, following the National Board of Revenue (NBR) research, there are 195 bidi factories in the country and 75,000 workers are engaged with the factories although the factory owners have long been publicizing fabricated information with their deployed lobbyists, researchers and front groups that there are around 2.5 million workers currently working in bidi factories. However, the so called researchers and lobbyists disagree to publish the exact number of child workers in the factories.

Research, media reports and investigations by Tobacco Industry Watch BD Team of PROGGA at bidi factories have found shocking scenarios. According to information, most of the children are aged from 4 -12 years old and are engaged into different stages of bidi production process. After discussions with Haragaach bidi labour leaders and bidi factory workers it has been found that there are 35 bidi factories in the district which is 30% of all the bidi factories in the country and the number of bidi workers in the factories is about 40,000. Among the 40,000 labours, half of them are children (50%), among the remaining 20,000, there are 12,000 female (30%) and 8,000 males (20%). Among the children, 15,000 regularly or irregularly attend school and the rest do not attend at all. According to the locals, the boys and girls who work in the bidi factories cannot cross the primary education boundary and majority of them drop out when they are at the fifth grade.

Similarly, discussions with bidi labourers and the journalists of Lalmonirhat reveals that there are nine bidi factories in the district, which is 7.7% of all the factories in the country and there are around 21,000 labourers engaged with the factories, and 70% (14,700) of them are children aging from 4 – 14 years. The validity of the information has been found through direct observations in some of the bidi factories of the region. Investigations have found that 60-70% is children in the factories, and the scenario is more alarming at domestic level as around 90 of the children are engaged with processing empty bidi shells or sticks.

Investigations have also found that usually children are engaged in the four stages of bidi production – (1) preparing empty bidi shells, (2) inserting chopped tobacco in to the shells, (3) closing the shell tops and (4) preparing bidi packets. Among the all tasks, bidi shell preparation is done in household level and the remaining are in the factories.

Usually children work in factories from 9am to 12am and make bidi shells from 4pm to 9pm at their residences. The bidi shells prepared at homes are taken to the factories to be inserted processed tobacco and packaging. Although the adults are responsible to prepare the packets, children are also found in participating in packaging. Payment for the children to prepare bidi shells is very poor. A child, if works at a factory from 4pm to 9pm, can make in average around 4,500 shells and they are paid only Tk 7.50 for per thousand shells. By the same way, a child from 8am to 12am can close on average around 5,000 shell tops and the wage is same for it –TK 7.50 for per thousand that means a child earns Tk 35 a day on average.

The locals said that the children cannot get out the bidi processing trap once they are involved and most of the children turn into tobacco users. Children also suffer from malnutrition as they work in the unhealthy environments for years, use tobacco and do not get balanced meals. They face different diseases in the very beginning of their lives.

Discussion with the child workers unveils that they suffer from frequent fevers and coughs are too common among them. They also suffer from headaches, abdominal problems, diarrhea, muscle pain etc. Besides, chronic bronchitis and asthma affected children are turning the worst sufferers for the unhealthy environment inside the bidi factories. A medical officer of Haragaach Government Hospital has acknowledging the issue said that half of the patients who come to the hospital suffer from asthma. The medical officer also said that most of the asthma patients work in the bidi factories. Most of the children and male patients are smoker.

The guardians of the children said that due to lack financial solvency they use the local pharmacies to get medication for their children in such cases.

In the past few decades, the wage of all types day laborers have increased significantly, but the wages of the bidi laborers have not been increased and even it might be reduced a bit in terms real wages. Therefore, to cope with the income disparity, the households are deploying their children to work at bidi factories.

Analysis of the daily wages of all the labourers in Bangladesh after the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) survey ‘Wage Rate of Working Poor in Bangladesh, 2009-10’ shows that the wages of the bidi and zarda workers is lowest than the any other sector in the country. The current wages scenario of child labourer working in the bidi factories is more terrible as they get only Tk 35 on average. The inhumane face of scanty wages to the children becomes clearer when the daily income distribution is calculated from the monthly average wage income. According to calculation it is only TK 14 a day.

Is this enough for a child to meet his daily needs? Tobacco companies are exploiting them for their poverty and unawareness, and entrapping the innocent kids with the death-traps.

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