Young Hands, Heavy Burdens: Child Labor in Bangladesh

Exploring the hard truths and hopeful strides in Bangladesh's battle against child labor, highlighting the critical efforts needed to ensure a brighter, work-free childhood for all.

Young Hands, Heavy Burdens: Child Labor in Bangladesh
B&W Boy Looking out the Bus Window, by Kabiur Rahman Riyad, via Pexels, April 20, 2023


Shahad Ghannam

Legal Human Rights Researcher, 

Global Human Rights Defence

In Bangladesh, the enduring problem of child labor has been highlighted anew by the "National Child Labour Survey 2022", conducted by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, released on July 19th, 2023. This comprehensive survey discovered that of the country's nearly 40 million children aged five to 17, about 1.78 million are engaged in child labor, revealing a slight increase since the last survey in 2013. However, there has been a noticeable decrease in children involved in hazardous work owed to legislative measures taken by the government such as the Bangladesh National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010.  Nevertheless, the figures underscore the significant challenges still faced in protecting children's rights in Bangladesh.

The tragic fire at the Hashem Foods Ltd's six-story factory building in July 2021, which lacked smoke detectors, fire alarms, or emergency exits and equipped with a locked lattice gate on the fourth floor, led to the death of 52 workers, including 17 children between the ages of 10 to 15. Additionally, 36 workers sustained injuries. With most of the bodies found on the fourth floor, this incident, one of many in Bangladesh, starkly demonstrates the hazardous conditions under which children are employed and the urgent need for enhanced legal protections. Current laws, such as the Bangladesh Labour Act 2006, prohibit employment of children younger than 14 years old but define those above that age as adolescents and legalize their labor under certain conditions, a stance that contrasts with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Bangladesh is a signatory. 

Similarly, the personal narratives of child laborers, such as the 12-year-old boy working as a 'leguna helper', a type of local transport,  underscore the pervasive economic and social pressure forcing children into laborious roles. His 16-hour work schedule, with only two 20-minute breaks, provides him with a modest income to support his family following his father's passing. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these conditions, pushing many children out of school and into work to help their families survive. His story is similar to that of at least 20 other 'leguna helper' children on his exact route.

The Government of Bangladesh has endeavored to strengthen its labor inspectorate and to create specialized child labor-related courts to tackle the issue of child labor. It has particularly showcased a targeted approach as per the National Plan of Action on Elimination of Child Labour 2021-2025, a collaborative effort with numerous GO-NGO personnel and other key stakeholders that also includes plans to reintegrate children into schools and provide vocational training, aiming to address the root causes of child labor, such as poverty and lack of access to education. 

Despite various laws and policies aimed at tackling child labor, and specifically hazardous and worst forms of child labor, such as forced labor, sexual exploitation etc., enforcing these measures effectively remains a challenge. This is due to hurdles such as the prevalent informal nature of child labor work that disallow enforcement of the law, economic factors that lead to families relying on the child's informal income such as income inequality and injustice, and limited resources and corruption the country faces. 

Achieving significant progress requires strengthening legal enforcement, expanding educational opportunities, improving social protections, and ensuring rigorous monitoring. Through a united and sustained effort, Bangladesh can make significant strides toward creating an environment where every child can thrive, free from the burdens of labor. This commitment to action is not only crucial for the well-being of its children but is also a critical component of the global mission to eliminate child labor.

Sources and further readings:

[1] International Labour Organization, 'Child Labour in Bangladesh' (accessed 2 April 2024).

[2] Business & Human Rights Resource Centre, 'Bangladesh: Investigation concludes Hashem Foods factory fire a "murder caused by negligence"' (accessed 2 April 2024).

[3] Amnesty International, 'Document - Bangladesh: Further Information: Garment Workers Fired for Forming Union: ASA 13/7525/2023' (accessed 2 April 2024).

[4]Istiak, Ahmad, 'Childhood trapped in ‘leguna’' (6 May 2023) The Daily Star (accessed 2 April 2024).

[5] Ministry of Labour and Employment, 'National Plan of Action to Eliminate Child Labor (2021-2025)' (12 December 2021) 

[6] BDLex. (19 January 2024) 'Child Labor Laws: Bangladesh vs. International Standards', Weekly Legal Buzz, LinkedIn, (accessed 2 April 2024).

[7] Shahjahan, M., Ara, M., & Ayaz, M. (2016) 'Protecting Child Labor in Bangladesh under Domestic Laws', Open Access Library Journal, 3, pp. 1-10. doi: 10.4236/oalib.1102543.

[8]Alam, R. (2023) 'Lost childhood, wasted potential: We must put an end to child labour', The Daily Star, (accessed 2 April 2024).