Hope for Child Laborers

by Mark Nonkes on July 2, 2015

The sewing machine needle hums as Bithi’s fingers fly, and she stitches together piles of cloth at record speed.

“Sixty pockets an hour,” the 15-year-old explains.

Under harsh lights, the girl hunches over her machine. She is crowded inside a second-story room with 20 other female workers.

Bithi is one of the thousands of Bangladeshi children piecing together designer jeans that she’ll never be able to afford.

The Affects of Poverty
Abject poverty and a sick father forced Bithi’s family to send the two oldest daughters to the garment factories to sew designer clothes that will be sold in shops in Canada, the United States, and other high-income countries.

“The first day I felt bad;  I thought it wasn’t good. I was too small. I was surrounded by other older people. That first day, I cried,” she remembers.

That was three years ago, when Bithi was 12. Now, it’s routine — no more tears are spilled. Every day, Bithi helps create a minimum of 480 pairs of pants and earns 83.3 taka, the equivalent of US$1.07.

Bithi says she feels grateful for the work. Her factory is a good one, she says firmly.

Her boss, 24-year-old Muhammad Shoel Rana, says Bithi is a good worker, and he quickly promoted her from factory helper to machine operator.

“Young people normally are faster. They have good work speed,” he says.

His shop is small — sub-contracting jobs from other larger garment factories. Here, as in many workshops, government policies about child labor go unheeded.

“The wages we’re giving from this factory is not enough; even me, in charge, I feel that,” Muhammad admits.

Still, for Bithi, it’s okay. She says the job has no problems, no fires, a nice boss. When she was injured on the job, a misplaced finger leading to the needle stabbing her and blood spurting around her sewing machine, she was able to take the rest of the day off to heal.

According to her mother, 39-year-old Feroza, Bithi’s future is an arranged marriage. Feroza already has a man in mind — Bithi’s work supervisor — a man eight years older, who comes from a well-off family. He's expressed interest, she says.

Feroza is unapologetic about starting her two oldest daughters in garment factories before they were even teenagers.

“There was no food, not even rice. I cry when I remember those days. I thought it’s better for us to die than not to have food,” Feroza says, seated inside the one-room home where all eight family members sleep.

Feroza’s husband was bedridden then; he couldn’t work. The family was in crisis.

For a year and a half, Feroza juggled domestic work, raised the six children, and ran a bag-making business. Still, she couldn’t make enough to support them. She had to beg and borrow food from family members and neighbors. There were the nights when the children cried from hunger — dishes empty.

Feroza couldn’t keep it up. She knew charity was running out.

So she did what her parents did to her when they arrived in Dhaka decades ago. She sent her oldest daughter, Doli, to work in a garment factory at 12.

“Before I started dreaming about the future, I started working,” says Doli, now 19.

When Bithi was 12, she too was sent to work in a factory.

"As a mother, I feel sad, but I still have to be realistic," Feroza says.

When Bithi sees other girls her age in their blue-and-white-checked school uniforms, she feels “painful — my heart breaks,” she says. She once had a dream for the future — to be a doctor — but she’s given up on that dream.

World Vision Offering Hope
She says she used to attend a World Vision nonformal primary education program after work. It was the highlight of her day. But some time back, she lost hope.

“There are lots of children who want to come back from child labor, but they don’t have any hope," says World Vision child protection officer Lima Hanna Daring."They didn’t get a primary education, they can’t get into secondary school, and their family relies on the income.”

Under Lima’s leadership, World Vision is beginning a new three-year project in Dhaka that will provide child workers ages 6 to 14 with informal education as a pathway to returning to regular school. For children ages 15 to 18, like Bithi, the program will help them to develop new job skills so they can have a better income and working conditions.

Mobilize your church to end the exploitation of children in Bangladesh.  Find out more here.

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