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  • Keara De Silva

Is Childhood really the Happiest Time of Life?

Who wouldn’t want to be happy? Happiness is a universal life pursuit for many, but for some, it can be hard to maintain. On March 20th, the United Nations observes the International Day of Happiness where they advocate for the good health and wellbeing of individuals, with this goal linked to eradicating poverty and inequality.

When observing social issues around the world, interactions amongst elements within a country reveal the entangled factors precipitating them. However, through understanding these interactions, we will be able to eradicate such harmful social structures. Within the issue of child labour, whilst the majority of youth in Australia are fortunate to live privileged lives, not every child across the world is born into these circumstances. Currently, 152 million children worldwide are employed in child labour, however it is evident that little to none has been done about reducing this extravagant number, raising the questions of whether childhood is truly the happiest time of one’s life.

A prominent location for children’s employment exists within the garment sector of Dhaka, Bangladesh. Particularly famous for their clothing industry, Bangladesh envisions its clothing industry will reach $50 billion in exports by 2021. Bangladesh’s reliance on the garment sector as the second largest exporter creates a strong demand for cheap child labour to sustain industry growth. In doing so, garment sector growth increases Dhaka’s Bastee settlements by depleting social infrastructure and attracting migrants seeking employment, whilst also having businesses fail to consider corporate social responsibility, with formal sector companies unethically subcontracting work to unregulated informal sectors i.e. children. A recent ODI report revealed a factory manager knew 11 to 14 year olds ‘should not be working,’ however viewed their employment as ‘not illegal’. Labour inspectors, who enforce child labour laws, face a hindered flow of information as suppliers not only restrict access to factories, but also withold ages and the number of employees, with only 2.7% of working children registered.

Dhaka’s ineffectiveness in creating quality schools has also contributed to the steady growth of child labour within the country. A survey revealed that two thirds of children are unable to read one Bengali word, however the growth in child labour as opposed to attendance at school demonstrates a societal view towards the ‘necessary’ skills a child needs to survive and thrive in Bangladesh, as well a lenience towards child labour supporting cultural values. However, in knowing this cycle, Dhaka is provided with an opportunity for change by encouraging value in education within individuals. Currently, Dhaka’s poorest households spend approximately 3.2% of their budget on education. If new values of learning as opposed to labour are instilled, the cycle of intergenerational child labour for income can be broken. Children’s early entry into insecure work impedes the formal education that otherwise prospectively enables them with a quality job, reinforcing the poverty cycle underlying future child labour.

The Bangladeshi Government also plays an active role in maintaining child labour. The 2006 Bangladesh Labour Act excludes child labour in informal sectors, however 95% of the garment sector classifies their employment as ‘informal’. Despite the numerous governmental bodies and agencies that are at the expense to prohibit child labour, including the Bangladesh Court, the Bangladesh Police and the Bangladesh Border and Coast Guards, longstanding faults disallow for justice to be carried out, and for child labour to continue, such as impaired resources for enforcement, delays within court systems and political corruption. One such example can be seen within the Bangladesh Rapid Action Battalion, who accepted bribes when investigating child labourers amongst Rohingya refugees. Without change made to fix the issues that lie within governmental bodies and agencies, it is unlikely, if not impossible, for change to be seen in the reduction of child labour in Bangladesh.

The convoluted circumstances of child labour in Bangladesh alone reveal the complex systems requiring to be created to alleviate such social issues that affect human wellbeing. But with social issues as a roadblock to happiness of individuals around the world, the less fortunate circumstances they are born into need to be changed. Only through understanding and action will we be able to bring about an increase in world happiness.

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