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Hazards on the road

May 11, 2010

Millions of Bangladeshi street children are forced to work under hazardous conditions dropping out from school and without any access to primary education. In order to support their families, these child hawkers are getting trapped into low–skilled, low income jobs leading to a cycle of inter-generational poverty.

Meandering his way through some of the thickest traffic jams in Asia, Mohammed Shahin, 11, sells cigarettes to motorists in Dhaka.

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He works an eight-hour day six days a week, earning about $2 a day.

Mohammed is one of the 1.5 million children in the country estimated by the UN never to have enrolled in school.

Early each morning his father - a bicycle rickshaw puller - drops him off in the busy streets of central Dhaka from the Mogh Bazaar slum where the family lives.

'No sympathy'

"It's a tough job," Mohammed tells me. "I have to concentrate hard. If I don't watch out I will either be run over or motorists will take the cigarettes - which I sell individually - without paying for them."

It's not difficult to see just how tough his job is. I caught up with him in the middle of a busy dual carriageway, negotiating his way around the hazards of the road.

These included vast trucks with bald tyres belching out smoke, taxis notorious for their scant regard for pedestrians and auto-rickshaws which show no sympathy should any hapless person get in their way.

"I don't really get much thanks for doing this job," Mohammed said. "If people disagree with the amount I am charging them for their cigarettes, they will have no hesitation in hitting me."

Mohammed has become adept at avoiding being hit by cars and by humans.

It's a tough enough job for an by adult to do, let alone for a child aged 11. Yet Mohammed is seldom to be seen without a smile on his face even though he is a child trapped in an adult's job.

Mohammed's father, Mohammed Olil, says the family would struggle to survive without his son's earnings - which are only marginally less than the amount he earns as a rickshaw puller.

"His mother - my wife - is sick," Olil said.

"I have two daughters and his baby brother to care for and without the money he earns we would not have enough to eat."

Hazardous conditions

The economics of the family show just how pushed Mohammed's family is to make ends meet.

Mr Olil has to pay 50 taka (70 cents) a day out of his 200 taka ($2.80) earnings to hire his rickshaw in addition to paying 1,000 taka ($14.40) a month to rent their home in Mogh Bazaar.

"I feel desperate about it, but I have no choice but to send my son to work. It's a matter of survival.

"I used to beat him up when he didn't go to school but felt really guilty about doing so, especially when he was pleading with me to allow him to go to work.

"We moved to Dhaka from Bhola district four years ago to make more money and that is what we are doing."

UN figures show that millions of children like Mohammed are forced to work - sometimes in equally hazardous conditions - to help support themselves and their families.

As Olil explains: "It's a very difficult life. Its hurts our feeling when overweight people get onto our rickshaw and won't pay their fares.

"If I had an opportunity I would love to run my own business so that my son would not have to work."

Dhaka UN Development Programme spokesman Sakil Faizullah says that most working children cannot afford the time to attend regular schooling.

"Because these girls and boys do not have access to education, they become trapped in low-skilled, low-income jobs, which further push them into the vicious cycle of inter-generational poverty," he said.

"Many occupations involve working in hazardous conditions that endanger the child's physical or mental health and moral development."

Source : BBC News
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