Bangladesh is the world’s second largest producer of clothes for high street fashion retailers. The garment industry is the single biggest factor in the growth of Bangladesh’s GDP, from USD 21.77 billion in 1986 to USD 221.42 billion by 2016 (World Bank). More than 80% of the country’s export market is ready made clothes for Europe and America. There are around 3.5 million people working in 5,000 factories and 85% of them are women.
The rapid growth of the garment industry has created many opportunities for women to work. However, with the majority of the factories located in and around the capital Dhaka, this has resulted in huge migration from rural areas to the city.
Many of the women who are moving to the city are single mothers. Once they have moved to the city, they no longer have the support of their family or the wider community. Most find themselves living in slums with poor housing and very limited access to proper sanitation, clean drinking water, healthcare or education. They and their children are often unsafe and prone to disease and illness. Working conditions at the factories are poor - hours are long, breaks are short and very few have any childcare facilities. Combine poor working conditions with wages as low as £35 a month and the result is women who can’t afford childcare or education fees.
Born in rural areas, many of their children do not have birth certificates so are not entitled to government support. Children as young as two are left alone at home for hours, or go out to work on the streets and rubbish dumps or as domestic workers. They are at risk of being abused or trafficked and are hurt in accidents.
Our local partner is Nagorik Uddyog, meaning Citizen’s Initiative. Since 1997, Nagorik Uddyog has been working to raise awareness of the rights of some of the most disadvantaged groups across Bangladesh. In 2006 they began working in the slum areas of Dhaka and have enabled women to demand better wages, develop their leadership skills, campaign against gender rights violations and access legal assistance, education and healthcare. Nagorik Uddyog asked ChildHope to help them build their expertise in working with children and young people. Our partnership began in 2009 with a focus on street working children and waste pickers. We began working together to support garment workers and their children in 2013.
We directly improve the lives of 200 children of garment workers who live in the Mirpur and Mohammadpur slums of Dhaka. We indirectly reach thousands more through work to promote the rights of children and women. Specifically we are:
We are running two day-care centres for 80 children aged two to five years. Children who attend receive early years education, meals and health check-ups. At least 30 children will be supported to move into primary school when they turn six.
We are running two drop-in centres for children aged six to 16 years who are working to supplement their mothers’ income. We are targeting those who are working in the most hazardous situations, such as on rubbish dumps. They are receiving basic literacy and numeracy education and life skills training, including child rights. At least 40 of those aged six to 13 years are moving out of work and into school.
We are undertaking a range of advocacy activities. This includes negotiating with employers of working children to allow them to attend the drop-in centres and securing birth certificates for unregistered children so they can become citizens of their own country.
We are also lobbying decision-makers, meeting with trade unions and factory owners and educating mothers about child and worker rights. The first two activities provide the immediate support that children need to break the cycle of poverty while the third is helping communities to protect and support children, and access the government services they are entitled to.
Our donor is TRAID, a charity that turns clothes waste into funds and resources to reduce the environmental and social impacts of our clothes. Since 2013 TRAID has contributed £325,203 of funding to our work with Bangladeshi garment workers. The current grant is worth £129,208 and runs from 2017-2019. This is an area of work we would like to scale up so if you are interested in partnering with us, please get in touch.
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