Restoring the dignity of Bangladesh’s children living in poverty

June 29, 2015 by

In Bangladesh, there has been significant improvement in primary and secondary education. But the fact remains that as many as four million children remain out of school each year, mainly due to challenges of accessibility and affordability or being compelled to choose between earning and education.

This is especially true for children from poor and marginalised communities. Such children need to provide social and economic support to their families from a very early age. They look after siblings, help with house chores, contribute to family occupations, and in many cases become substitutes for hired labour. In many countries such roles are traditionally considered as part of the sociocultural norms, even in middle income families. But the line is crossed when such work deprives a child of basic rights, education and recreation, causes physical or psychological risks, or brings indignity.

Quality education plays a critical role to decreasing child labour, but cannot address those already out of school – especially those who are engaged in work by now. About 23.3 per cent of Bangladesh’s workforce (57 million people) consists of child labour. A majority of these children are working in the informal sector due to limited skills, with about 10 per cent in hazardous jobs.

Recognising the importance of experience gained through the informal sector and the sector’s contribution to the economy, the National Skills Development Policy (NSDP) 2011 includes informal sector training within the scope of national skills development interventions. It promulgates that all types of training now have to be competency-based, that  standards for training in each trade or occupation has to be set considering industry and market requirements, and that assessment has to be done with the industry. Such Competency Based Training (CBT) is a pre-condition for increasing employability.

NGOs including BRAC have been playing an important role training out-of-school children and youth and providing them with opportunities for employment. In line with the NSDP, NGOs providing training for employment are now gradually introducing CBT.


STAR project participant Khadija learned how to repair motorcycles

BRAC’s skills training for advancing resources (STAR) project has been providing CBT since 2012 through apprenticeships in 11 trades. It  serves  14 to 18 year-old disadvantaged children, who have less than class 8 schooling and were engaged in the informal sector.

Around 6,000 children have been trained and 99 per cent are now employed, earning between BDT 8,000 to 15,000 (USD 100-189) per month on an average. Nearly 200 of these children have set up their own businesses, training and employing at least two more apprentices within a year. Fifty per cent of the graduates were female, and eight per cent had special-needs whom BRAC supported with equipment like hearing aids and wheelchairs, and provided artificial limbs. Fifty victims of the Rana Plaza collapse were also rehabilitated through this project. An additional 5,400 children will graduate by the end of 2015.

Besides contributing to their families, all of them have generated savings from their earnings, have ensured that their siblings go to school and have raised their voices if confronted with early marriage. Many have opted to resume their education after purchasing economic assets for their families. Some preferred to go back to school while continuing their work. Others have opted to take a break from work to complete their schooling.

Much of the indignity that poor and marginalised people face throughout life is due to limited choices due to their circumstances. Therefore education, also in the form of training, has to be such that it provides various opportunities in life and alternatives for making life-decisions. STAR has been able to provide underprivileged children and youth with options for better paid vocations and thus, a pathway to a decent future. Though it is not possible to give them back their childhood,  BRAC has been able to give them back their dignity.


Tahsinah Ahmed is the director of BRAC Skills Development Programme.