Barsha is the youngest in the family. Her mother is a domestic worker and her father works as a mason jumping from work to work if he is lucky enough to find someone who needs a home improvement job. Statistics call these “informal economy” and, in Bangladesh, almost nine in ten people work like this.
The whole family lives in Vagolpur, a labyrinth of stretchy alleys where corrugated-iron roof houses stick together and people build improvised bridges to cross the streets during the rainy season.
Barsha dreams to be a good teacher one day. Like thousands of children in the world, having good role models, like her hard-working mum and dad, motivates children to do their best. And this exactly what Barsha does despite the fact that she has to work to help her parents feed the six member family.
This was the reason Barsha started to work when she was 10 years old as a domestic worker helping her mother. “I didn’t like that. I was always dreaming to continue studying and become a teacher” she says. One year later, Barsha, aged 11, left the housemaid job and found a new job in an embroidery factory close to her house.
No rest. No free days. No holidays. Barsha worked up to 12 hours a day and got 15 euros per month until Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ partner in the area found her and seven more children in the informal garment factory. “I want to continue studying,'' she said in the very first meeting with the social workers.
The legal age of employment in Bangladesh is 14, although 12 and 13 year olds are permitted to do what's deemed "light work" for up to 42 hours per week.
Terre des Hommes Netherlands’ partners gradually convinced Barsha’s employer to let the girl go to school. “At first, the owner of the factory behaved badly with us. He didn’t even give us the salary we've agreed, not even any rest days”, told Barsha to the social workers. After several visits, the employer agreed to let Barsha and the rest of the children go to school. Little by little, he was convinced to let her work less and pay her better.
Now, Barsha is 13 years old and works from 9am to 2pm in the factory earning 47 euros per month. Once she’s done with the work she goes to school. Despite there has been a tremendous improvement in Barsha's life, neither Terre des Hommes nor its partners have finished working with her to end this situation.
We’re actively working to withdraw Barsha from the labour market by increasing her family income through microfinance support. In the meantime, she keeps her dream in mind: “without your support and love I would never have fulfill my dream to continue studying to become a good teacher” says Barsha.
We don’t know if Barsha will be a teacher one day, but we will strongly fight for her right to be so.
One in two children in Bangladesh are living below the poverty line and are deprived of education and vulnerable to abuse because of the persistence of child labour. Due to poverty and social norms, child labour is widely accepted as a livelihood and one in three working children never attend school.
At Terre des Hommes Netherlands we work so they don’t have to. Help us achieve this goal. Help us defeat child exploitation.
This article is appearing under a pseudonym and some of the identifying details have been altered.
International Labor Organisation. Informal economy in Bangladesh. “In Bangladesh, 87 per cent of the labour force is employed in the informal economy according to the 2010 Labour Force Survey.”