Although the world has covenanted to eradicate child labour of all forms by 2025 through Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), recent projections by ILO forewarn us that the concurrent pace of mitigating child labour will still leave us with 121 million children in child labour in 2025 of which 52 million would be doing hazardous work.
School closure owing to Covid-19 hindered this inadequate pace significantly as households are resorting to child labour, especially in low-income countries, to attenuate the income loss due to the government measures to curb the virus.
Evidence, confirming the hypothesis that child labour has been escalating in the pandemic period because of school closure, is mounting gradually.
The developing countries, which are already lagging in their targets to diminish child labour, have been hit the most in the pandemic; and Bangladesh, with more than 3.4 million children in child labour prior to the pandemic, is no exception.
Bangladesh has made commendable progress in shrinking child labour in the past. Nevertheless, 3.4 million children aged between 5-17 are still actively contributing to the economy and 1.2 million of these children are participating in hazardous jobs, mostly in the manufacturing sector.
According to the Child Labor Survey in 2013, only 29 percent of the children in the workforce are attending school and for the children working in hazardous work, the number is only 19 percent. These statistics and prior research explicitly indicate that education is a strong tool to combat child labour.
However, school closure and online classes (which most of the children in a low-income family cannot attend owing to scarce accessibility of internet and smartphones) served to invalidate the effect of education on child labour, facilitating child labour to grow, reversing all the attempts of past few decades.
Moreover, a legion of people in the informal sector lost their jobs, which forced them to send their children to work. The decision of sending their children to work would have been a bit more difficult if they were attending schools.
Bangladesh has been emphasising the education sector for the past few decades, investing gigantic amounts hoping for a long-term return. For instance, the Government of Bangladesh promulgated mandatory primary education, incentivised students and parents with stipends, food, and many more.
Though these policies succeeded to increase the primary enrolment, the school drop-out rate remains significantly high. Statistics show that the country has a primary enrolment rate of 97% percent, thanks to the initiatives taken by the government, but the drop-out rate is 17.9% at the primary level and 36% at the secondary level.
We have to find the reasons behind this high-drop out rate to be able to keep the promise of abolishing child labour by 2025.
One of the major reasons behind this high drop-out rate is the unappealing teaching methods employed in the schools of the country.
According to a survey conducted in the slum areas in Dhaka city, 41% of drop-out children claimed either they do not want to go to school or they think they are academically poor. Studies have found that the quality of education can reduce the drop-out rate by attracting students towards education.
High engagement of students in the class lesson has the potential to attract the children towards schools, which can contribute to bringing down school drop-out rates.
Unfortunately, the huge investment we made in the past decades did not contribute to increasing the interest of the children in education. While incentives like school feeding programs or stipends brought the children to the school, they were not enough to keep them at the school for a long time.
By the time they are capable of earning more money than the school renders, they leave the school to work in a factory or somewhere else. To keep the children in the school, we have to add programs which can interest children in their education, which can push them to go to school, which can make their dreams bigger, and which can assure their parents that the schooling will pay off in the long-run.
How do we do that?
First, we need to shift towards a more interactive classroom where the teacher will pay attention to every student in the class individually. More practical and evidence-based teaching methodologies should be adopted in the classroom and the teachers should be trained to be able to implement those methodologies.
Classrooms should also have an environment where the students get appreciated regularly, which can increase their enthusiasm and confidence.
Secondly, there should be enough incentives for the parents as well so that they do not force their students to work instead of going to school. Awareness-building programs highlighting the long-term goals of schooling can facilitate parents in understanding the importance of education.
I understand that implementing these ideas can be difficult and time-consuming. However, we need to start immediately to be able to honour the commitment we made to the children of the world.
Hasan Ahamed is a Research Associate at BRAC James P. Grant School of Public Health.