Spotlight on MUK, Bangladesh
September, 2005. Manab Unnayan Kendra (MUK), an NGO in Bangladesh, is working to end child labor in factories in the Thana Meherpur District. As an implementing partner of Winrock’s CIRCLE Project, MUK’s work focuses on providing non-formal education for child laborers, while at the same time motivating employers to stop hiring children to do harmful work. They have also been raising the awareness of parents and community members, about the hazards of child labor and about educational alternatives for working families. In MUK’s experience, effective progress cannot be made without mobilizing the local community. MUK has developed effective alliances with local elected bodies, administrators, employers, professional bodies, teachers in formal education institutions, trade unions, religious leaders, local sports clubs, community based organizations, and parents/guardians to create a successful and sustainable environment for its activities at the community level.

Since, employers are the persons who keep children on the job – and who often choose to hire children rather than adults because they can pay them less, as disadvantaged children struggle to bring money into their impoverished families or even to survive on their own – MUK has taken on the challenge of confronting and including employers into this CIRCLE project as key stakeholders. MUK is educating them about the real and long-lasting, negative impacts of hard labor on the physical, educational, and social development of children. To transform the project’s goals into action, MUK targeted 500 employers and factory owners who were employing children for hazardous work. They have adopted varied approaches to motivating the employers to change their behavior: these include publishing profiles of “role model” employers in local newspapers, exposing employers of children, training on child rights and education issues, showing documentaries on child labor, and involving employers as members of the project’s Management Committee. MUK staff combine formal sessions and frequent interpersonal dialogue with employers (where possible), to convince them of the harm of child labor and benefits of education.

The strategy has been quite successful, with more than 180 employers sending 270 children to school already. Seven of these employers are personally supporting the costs of education, food, and clothing for their child employees – MUK hopes to extend this model more widely throughout the region. An even more promising model are the 33 employers who have released about 45 child laborers from their employment and hired their parents instead.
 Photo
Photo: Child hauling heavy bricks
A case story of a particular brickfield in the region is very interesting – children here are doing work that is dangerous at every step. These boys and girls stoke fires and add fuel into ovens (without protective gear). They carry loads of hot and heavy bricks, often getting cut, burnt, and injured. Being small, children are used as assistants in between the rows of brick laying.

In one of brickfield at Khuksha, Amjhupi (Meherpur), 13-year-old Palash and Sujan had been working as assistants to Mr. Hafijur Rahman Hashem for the last two seasons due to extreme poverty of their families. The subsistence needs of their families meant that the children could not give up work altogether. Although MUK/CIRCLE is unable to solve their need to earn money, the NGO first convinced Hashem to make it possible for the children to attend two hours of schooling each day at an MUK transitional school.

 Photo
Photo: Mr. Hafijur Rahman Hashem, Brickfield Owner
MUK wanted more for these children, so they continued to work with their employer. MUK first invited Hashem to a meeting of its Management Committee as a guest of honor, to discuss the role of employers in reducing hazardous child labor. After some discussion, they reached a verbal agreement whereby Hashem would provide BDT 10,000.00 each to the parents of Palash and Sujan, on the condition that they invest the money in a small-scale business; for the families’ part, they must agree to send Palash and Sujan to school and not engage them in any other kind of child labor. Mr. Hashem also agreed to pay school fees and examination costs for Sujan and Palash. MUK, meanwhile, was responsible to enroll Palash and Sujan at a formal primary school. Mr. Amzad Hossain (Palash’s father) and Mr. Muktar Hossain (Sujan’s father) have jointly invested BDT 20,000.00 in a rice husking business.

 Photo
Photo: Rice husking business

The interventions of MUK/CIRCLE have enabled Palash and Sujan to get new life. Right now they are studying in Level III at Amjhupi Govt. Boys Primary School and Rajnagar Govt. Primary School, respectively. Mr. Hashem visits the school twice a month to oversee their progress. Palash, Sujan, and their parents are very grateful to Mr. Hashem and MUK Team for generous contribution to bring back positive and sustainable changes to their lifestyle.

 Photo
Photo: Former child laborers in School