Bangladesh: From a child drug trade worker to a student and an activist for street children

Bangladesh: From a child drug trade worker to a student and an activist for street children
Bangladeshi boy in the street / Khan Nirob / Pexels / December 6th, 2020


Pauliina Majasaari

East Asia Researcher,

Global Human Rights Defence.


Suleiman, a five-year-old boy from Bangladesh worked as a waste collector to help earn money for his family.[i] However, the income for the job was very low and consequently he started working for the local drug business, by carrying, storing, and selling drugs, which offered much more income for Suleiman and his family.[ii] At the age of 14, he discovered a local non-governmental organisation, the Child Brigade, which changed his life for the better.[iii] He started a part time job as a helper to repair cars and he is now going to school for the first time in his life and is involved in the activities of the Child Brigade.[iv]


Bangladesh has a child population of more than 60 million, half of which are living in extreme poverty. This has repercussions for the lack of education of children.[v] Even though education is free in Bangladesh and it is compulsory for children from age six to ten, commonly boys from the poorest households also bear the weight of having to contribute income for the family, which leads to children not participating in school.[vi] Moreover, the drug peddlers in Bangladesh use and target children from the poorest families to work in the drug trade as they perceive children as safe and cheap workers.[vii] Therefore, the Child Brigade works towards bettering the rights of children through a child-centred approach, in which the children take initiative to better their status of life.[viii] The organisation focuses on street working children, by assisting and promoting the children’s development through a community of former street working children activists.[ix]  


In accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), article 28 ensures that primary education should be compulsory, available, and free to all children.[x] Additionally, article 32 of the CRC protects children from economic exploitation and work that may interfere with the right to education.[xi] However, it is important to acknowledge that some children cannot afford to not work, as receiving income is crucial for their survival, especially in countries where extreme poverty is present.[xii] Thereby the state of Bangladesh is acting in accordance with the obligations set within the CRC, by ensuring free and compulsory primary education to children.[xiii] Furthermore, in line with article 32 of the CRC, Bangladesh is actively working towards bringing children out of street work, especially in work related to drug trade, as it is very harmful to the health and development of a child.[xiv] Such actions include regular police raids in drug dens, however it has been expressed by the local police officers, that it is difficult for them to catch the children working in drug trade and thereby bring change for the children.[xv]


Even though Bangladesh is working towards protecting street children from economic exploitation, national and international human rights organisations are urging Bangladesh to take stronger legal measures to condemn those who use street children as drug carriers.[xvi] Additionally, Bangladesh is encouraged to promote the use of NGOs like the Child Brigade in order to lift children out of street work and provide the children with other options to create income for themselves and their families through a safe environment.[xvii]

[i] Bhandari Neha, ‘Rights in real life – How the UN CRC has improved the situation for children’ (Save the Children Sweden, 2009), 10 <> accessed March 19th 2024.

[ii] ibid.

[iii] ibid.

[iv] ibid.

[v] ‘Children of Bangladesh: Realizing Children’s Rights in Bangladesh’ (Humanium) <> accessed March 19th 2024.

[vi] ibid.

[vii] Raihan Sabuktagin, ‘Drug peddlers use children as ‘safe’ seller, carrier’ (The Daily Star, January 5th 2009) <> accessed March 19th 2024.

[viii] Sarah White, ‘Child Brigade: An Organization of Street Working Children in Bangladesh’ (Rejuvenate, July 2001) <> accessed March 19th 2024.

[ix] ibid.

[x] Convention on the Rights of the Child (adopted 20 November 1989, entered into force 2 September 1990) 1577 UNTS 3 (CRC).

[xi] ibid.

[xii] Bhandari Neha (n i).

[xiii] ibid.

[xiv] Raihan Sabuktagin (vii).

[xv] ibid.

[xvi]Ahmadul Hassan, ‘Bangladesh: International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking: 21 per cent street children are drug carriers’ (Prothom Alo, June 26th 2022)  <> accessed March 19th 2024.

[xvii] ibid.