Mar 05, 2012
Urban slums in Bangladesh are growing much faster than the overall rate of urbanisation, depriving the children living in these areas of basic amenities and primary education, says a recent UNICEF report.
Dhaka: Twelve-year old Mohammad Faisal Hossain works to support his family of four – himself, his mother, younger sister and brother. To meet their needs, he holds down two jobs on the packed roads of the Bangladesh capital, Dhaka: selling newspapers in the early morning and working as a helping hand on a small minibus.
Every morning, Mohammad collects newspapers from the retailer and weaves his way through the crowded railway stations and bus stops. On an average day, he earns 70 to 80 taka, less than US$1, at this job.
His second job takes up most of his time until evening. On the minibus, he shouts out the vehicles’ destination to potential passengers and collects fares from each rider. At this job, Mohammad worries for his well-being.
“I really hate this job. There is nothing to enjoy – it’s full of risk. I might die someday while doing this,” he said. “There is no assurance. I also want to go to school like other children. But my mother doesn’t have the capacity to bear my educational expenses.”
His mother, Rokhsana Begum, knows that her son is doing more than he should at this age.
“I used to work as a maid servant,” she said. “After getting sick, I left my job. With a lot of difficulties, I did manage to send my son up to fifth grade. Now, I just can’t afford to continue his studies. His father left us few years ago. I have no other choice but to send him for work.”
Children in slums
Mohammad lives in a Dhaka slum, alongside many thousands of deprived children. Urban slums in Bangladesh grew much faster than the overall rate of urbanisation. And although Bangladesh has made significant improvements in access to primary education, children living in urban slums remain the most disadvantaged.
In most cases, slums lack even the most basic amenities, such as running water, sewage systems, latrines, waste disposal services and electricity. Slum dwellers also have restricted access to basic social services, such as health clinics and schools.
Although residents of urban areas experience, on aggregate, better living conditions that those in rural areas, slum dwellers typically do not enjoy these benefits. According to a 2010 report by UNICEF Bangladesh, net secondary school attendance was 48% in rural areas and 53% in urban areas – but in slums, this number fell to 18%.
Helping the urban poor
But the good news is Mohammad’s fate is about to change: He has been selected to receive a ‘cash transfer’, part of a new UNICEF-supported initiative targeting the urban poor being implemented in partnership with the Government of Bangladesh.
With this assistance, he can go back to school while his family still receives the financial support they need.
It is a small start to addressing a very large problem. But for Mohammad and his family, it is will make all the difference in the world.