Bangladesh takes major step towards eliminating child labour

Bangladesh has taken a major step in its battle to eliminate child labour with the ratification of the International Labour Organization's Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138).

The ratification instruments were submitted by State Minster of Labour and Employment, Begum Monnujan Sufian MP at ILO headquarters in Geneva on 22nd March 2022.

H.E. Mr. Anisul Huq, Minister of Law and Justice Parliamentary Affairs, H.E. Mr. Md. Mustafizur Rahman, Ambassador and Permanent Representative and Mr. Md. Ehsan-E-Elahi, Secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment were present at the occasion.

In January 2022, Bangladesh also ratified Protocol of 2014 to the Forced Labour Convention (the Protocol No. 29), reinforcing its international commitment to the prevention and elimination of forced labour, including trafficking in persons.

With this ratification, Bangladesh has now ratified all eight of ILO's 'Fundamental Conventions' covering social and labour issues that are considered fundamental to rights at work.

Convention No. 138 requires Bangladesh to set a minimum age under which no one shall be admitted to employment or work in any occupation, allowing to establish exceptions only for children in light work and artistic performances.

Speaking at the ceremony, ILO Director-General Guy Ryder welcomed the commitment of Bangladesh to create a child-labour free society. "Today, with the ratification of ILO Convention No. 138, Bangladesh reaffirms its strong commitment to eradicating child labour in the country, and yet again demonstrates that it is steadfast in its efforts aimed at achieving this goal," he said.

State Minster of Labour and Employment, Begum Monnujan Sufian MP said, "The ratification of the Minimum Age Convention demonstrates the Government of Bangladesh's goal to eliminate all forms of child labour by 2025."

According to ILO estimates released in 2020, the number of children in child labour has risen to 160 million worldwide. The child labour survey carried out by the Government of Bangladesh in collaboration with ILO in 2015 found that 1.7 million children work as child labourers in Bangladesh. A new survey report is expected to be published in mid-2022.

ILO Convention No. 138 sets the minimum age to enter the workforce at 15 years of age. It also gives countries the opportunity to establish, in consultation with organisations of workers and employers, the minimum age at 14, which Bangladesh has elected to do, reaffirming the age limit enshrined in current Bangladeshi legislation.

Following the ratification, Bangladesh will need to ensure in law and in practice that the minimum age of entry into work or employment in selected sectors, both in formal and informal economy, is not below 14 years of age. This includes mining and quarrying; manufacturing; construction; electricity, gas, and water; sanitary services; transport, storage and communication; and plantations and other agricultural undertakings mainly producing for commercial purposes but excluding family and small-scale holdings producing for local consumption and not regularly employing hired workers.

Other significant changes include the need to align the age of compulsory school education with that of entry into the workforce. In Bangladesh, free and compulsory education is currently mandatory until grade 5. This change would be in line with National Education Policy which recommends free and compulsory education up to grade 8.

ILO Country Director in Bangladesh, Tuomo Poutiainen said,

"This ratification is a milestone for Bangladesh as it seeks to eliminate all forms of child labour. ILO will continue to work closely with the government, employers and workers of Bangladesh to ensure a brighter future for all its children."

President of Bangladesh Employers' Federation (BEF), Ardashir Kabir welcomed the ratification. He said,

"As a society, it is our moral obligation to ensure children don't toil at work but receive quality education and training which prepares them for a brighter future. Ratification of the Minimum Age Convention will greatly support this goal and I am confident that all employers will play their role in freeing Bangladesh of child labour."

Chairperson of the National Coordination Committee for Workers' Education (NCCWE), Mesbah Uddin Ahmed and Member Secretary, Chowdhury Ashiqul Alam highlighted the challenges that lay ahead.

"The trade union movement has long advocated for the ratification of the Minimum Age convention and we are extremely happy to see this day arrive. However, much remains to be done. Awareness raising, advocacy, better inspections and more effective enforcement are all needed to make Bangladesh child labour free."

In 2001, Bangladesh signed the ILO's Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999 (No. 182) which calls for the prohibition and elimination of all worst forms of child labour, including slavery, forced labour, trafficking and hazardous work, both in law and in practice. Accordingly, the country prohibits hazardous work for children below 18.

With support from development partners, the ILO has been working to eliminate child labour in Bangladesh since 1994. In close collaboration with the government, employers and workers organizations a wide range of activities have taken place to free thousands of children from exploitation and the hazards of child labour as well as to ensure a healthy and decent life for the future generation.

The Minimum Age Convention will enter into force in Bangladesh 12 months after the registration of its ratification. This ratification is a part of the Government of Bangladesh's commitment under the National Action Plan (NAP) on the Labour Sector of Bangladesh (2021-2026).

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