Despite the law prohibiting the employment of children, many brick kiln owners across Cumilla's Chauddagram upazila employ minors to do hazardous work. Investigative reporting by this newspaper has found that there are many minors working for the 350 or so brick kilns that operate in Cumilla district. In fact, that is a practice in most of the brick kilns in Bangladesh. The work itself is extremely dangerous and there are often casualties as there is little by way of workers' safety in the industry. On January 25, we reported the death of 13 workers when a coal-laden truck flipped over on to a makeshift shed at a brick kiln in Cumilla. Nine of the 13 victims were schoolboys from Niphamari. Children like them work part time at brick kilns to support their families and pay for their education.
While the authorities assure us that steps are being taken to strengthen monitoring around brick kilns so that no underage worker is employed, one must contend with the fact that the socio-economic situation of the families that send their children to work in brick kilns is poor. Poverty drives families to force their children to find work. That said, the local administration has a duty to enforce the law on child labour. Raising awareness among brick kiln owners is simply one side of the coin. It's up to the local administration to do their part in making it very expensive for brick kiln owners to flout the law. Similarly, it is up to the authorities to address the issue of finding new avenues of income-generating activities for those living in poverty so that they are not compelled to engage their children in hazardous work to support their families.