Children of poverty: The factory workers as young as FIVE who toil in Bangladeshi recycling plant every day
- Compelling photographs show dust-strewn children in recycling plants and making coloured balloons in Dhaka
- Minimum working age in Bangladesh is 14, but 93% of child labourers work in small workshops and slip under radar
- Last week the city marked the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse which killed 1,135
- Disaster prompted a surge in factory unions and inspections, but many still work in dangerous conditions
Caked in dust and wading through recycled plastic, these are just some of the thousands of children who work illegally in Bangladesh.
More than a million children are involved in dangerous work in the country – despite the minimum working age being 14, according to the International Labour Organisation.
These compelling photographs were taken in the capital, Dhaka, a city where one year ago a garment factory collapsed killing more than 1,100 people.
Stolen youth: A Bangladeshi child laborer works with his mother as they sift through empty bottles at a recycling center in Dhaka. The minimum working age is 14
Playground: Like in a ball pit in Western countries, a toddler looks at home atop empty bottles at the recycling plant while parents and siblings sift through the waste
Youth: At 10 years old, Momen (pictured) is too young to be working at this balloon factory in Dhaka but is like many youngsters employed in small workshops
Moulds: The balloon factory is not the most hazardous line of work. Some children work in farming, spreading dangerous chemicals without adequate protection
They show children working with their parents in a recycling plant and a balloon factory – hunched over moulds, spraying coloured paint and filling bags with plastic bottles.
Despite a wave of new support for factory unions in the wake of the collapse of the eight-storey Rana Plaza building last April, which killed 1,135 on the outskirts of Dhaka, many people still work in dangerous conditions.
In the ready-made garment sector alone, some $24million has been put towards new safety measures by the UK, U.S., Netherlands and Canada. There are already 392 more government inspectors than this time last year.
But many child labourers in the country slip under the radar, according to observers.
One group, the International Labour Organisation, says at least 7.4million children aged 5 to 17 are involved in economic activities. Of those, 1.3million are involved in hazardous work.
The minimum employment age is 14, but 93 per cent of child labourers work in small factories and workshops which allow their employers – or parents – to slip them under a radar, according to Unicef.
Hard at work: A 12-year-old boy in the balloon factory. Some 1.3million children aged five to 17 do hazardous work, according to the International Labour Organisation
Cottage industry: Old and young workers exist side-by-side, often in improvised conditions. The minimum wage is around $66 a month, but children earn less
Family: Bangladeshi boys and a woman working in a balloon factory at Kamrangir Char, Dhaka. The city was home to the Rana Plaza building, which collapsed killing 1,100
Injuries: With constant heavy lifting and bending down, many children suffer repetitive strain injuries or back pains before they have reached adulthood
Poverty often forces families to send children to work in jobs like brick-chipping, construction and waste-picking.
Even though the minimum wage is around $66 a month children are paid less than adults, with many working up to twelve hours a day – often preventing them from attending school.
In Dhaka alone, an informal survey found 4,000 children working in more than 1,000 types of dangerous workshops or factories.
A Unicef statement said: ‘Long hours, low or no wages, poor food, isolation and hazards in the working environment can severely affect children’s physical and mental health.
‘Child labourers are also vulnerable to other abuses such as racial discrimination, mistreatment and sexual abuse.
‘Some work, such as domestic labour, is commonly regarded as an acceptable employment option for children, even though it too poses considerable risks.’
Some children work on farms, where they use dangerous tools, carry heavy loads and spread harmful chemical pesticides.
Young: Ripon, a nine-year-old Bangladeshi boy, works in a balloon factory at Kamrangir Char, Dhaka. Some children drop out of school and work long hours instead
Paint: A boy dyes balloons on different sets of moulds in the factory. Such small industries can be vastly different from the huge garment factories making headlines
The world outside: Light can be seen streaming in through gaps in the brickwork of the workshop as a young worker dips balloons in pink and purple paint
In a country with little medical care, they can end up with back injuries, infections and repetitive strain injuries before they have reached adulthood.
Many girls, meanwhile, work long hours as domestic servants and are subject to discrimination, harassment and sexual abuse, according to the U.S. government.
Most of the dead were adults last April when the Rana Plaza building crumbled to the ground, in what became the deadliest accidental building collapse in modern history.
But not all were. Last week, as relatives of the dead gathered in their memory, Aanna Khatun revealed she was just 13 when she was rescued from the building.
Surrounded by dead colleagues, she survived trapped in an air pocket between blocks of collapsed concrete.
Sibling love: This young boy beamed a broad smile despite having to help sift through the bottles left at one of Dhaka’s recycling plants
Unicef said: ‘Some work, such as domestic labour, is regarded as an acceptable employment option for children, even though it too poses considerable risks’
All ages: Long hours, low wages and harsh working conditions are not limited to children. Adults often face the same hardship in order to make a living for themselves
The owner of the illegally constructed Rana Plaza building is behind bars, pending an investigation, but there has been no word on when he will be put on trial. The owners of the five factories operating inside the building also have been detained.
But problems remain. Observers claim the international companies which used clothes made in Rana Plaza are not contributing enough to the trust fund for survivors and victims’ families.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said: ‘One year after Rana Plaza collapsed, far too many victims and their families are at serious risk of destitution.’