As the families of the deceased in the Narayanganj's Shezan Juice factory fire searched for their loved ones in agony, another devastating fact became clearer – many of the victims were just children.
On Saturday, Md Selim was waiting in front of the morgue of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) with the picture of his 14-year-old daughter. He had submitted samples of his DNA in the hospital as he could not find his daughter at the fire site.
Selim said his daughter had been working in the factory for the last three years for Tk5600 per month.
Rozina Begum had come to search for her brother's daughter Moni Akter, 12. She said Moni had started to work in the factory a month ago.
Sheema Akter was waiting in front of the DMCH morgue with others for her daughter Shanta Moni, 14. Sheema said that Shanta joined the factory just this month.
"I did not want her to work here but as schools were closed, she wanted to utilise the time by working," Sheema said.
After speaking to some 30 family members of the victims, it was clear that the factory employed children liberally and paid them Tk5000 on average.
Liza, Shamima, and Tania were in front of the fire site on Saturday. They were all working at the tetra pack manufacturing building of the factory on the day of the accident where, fortunately, the fire did not reach. Each of them earned Tk5300 a month.
Liza, who is 15 now, said she joined the factory two years ago. Shamima, 16, had been working in the factory for the past nine months. And Tania, the older of them all, is just 18. She said she joined the factory at the age of 14.
"We joined work to support our families. Most of our co-workers were children," said Liza.
She added that she heard the company had to go through trouble often due to appointing children.
Smrity, 13, was loitering around the factory. She said she had been working at the factory for the past seven months. Most of her co-workers were children too.
To know how a factory could employ so many children, KM Abdus Salam, secretary, Ministry of Labour and Employment was contacted. He said that ministry officials visited the factory many times over the years.
But Salam said that he is not aware of what the officials reported about the factory.
According to the National Labor Act-2006, which was amended in 2018, to employ someone in the country, they need to be at least 14 years.
Syeda Munira Sultana, national programme coordinator, International Labor Organization (ILO), said, "If someone is 14 years old, they can be employed by the law of Bangladesh. But many companies and individuals hire children much younger than that age."