When you ask three-year-old Sanjida Islam where her mother is, the happy toddler answers in a full, confident voice, "My Ammu (mother) is working in her office."
Her mother Nazma Begum works only a few floors above the day care centre where Sanjida spends most of her day. Nazma can come downstairs and check up on her daughter whenever she wants; there are no visiting restrictions for the mothers.
The day care centre at Evince Garments Limited in Mirpur is a medium-sized room on the ground floor. In one corner, there is a pile of small mattresses on which the children nap in the afternoon.
There are essentials like a refrigerator, microwave oven, and water filter on one side along with a small activity or playing corner. The walls have colourful paper cut-outs with pictures, numbers, and rhymes drawn on them.
The small corridor in front of the room has a few plastic toys for the children to play with.
Along with feeding and bathing the children, the two caregivers also teach them pre-school lessons. The centre has the capacity to accommodate 15 children.
Lunch is brought from home but the garment factory provides mid-day snacks like milk, fruits, or biscuits.
A typical day starts from 8am when the mothers drop their children off at the day care centre. Usually, the children leave for their homes when the mothers leave work at 5pm. In case of the mothers working over-time, the children can spend the extra hours here.
The well-kept space provides a big relief for RMG worker mothers like Nazma who do not have anyone to look after their young children at home. Sanjida's father is a bus driver who comes home late at night, her older brothers live in their village.
Day care centres ought to be necessities, not luxuries. In case of female employee-driven sectors like the RMG sector, every factory should be providing this facility for their employees.
The Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 states, "In every establishment, where 40 or more female workers are ordinarily employed, one or more suitable rooms shall be provided and maintained for the use of their children who are under the age of six years."
But a 2019 research by the International Finance Corporation conducted on 306 companies revealed that only 23 percent of them were providing childcare for their employees and 61 percent were not planning to provide it.
At present, there are 63 low-cost government day care centres in the country and 35 of them are situated in Dhaka.
However, their service and infrastructure are poor and experts are sceptical about their child safety measures. Day care centres in the city remain a problem and working mothers continue to suffer.
Like the one in Evince, a similar day care centre for its employees was also established in Quazi Abedin Tex Limited in Savar. The bright green room has a capacity for eight children and there is an additional corner for breastfeeding. When we visited it, it was nap time for the children.
The caregiver Anjuman Ara said, "I too am a mother and although my children have now grown up, I understand the woes of working mothers. I had the support of my mother and mother-in-law who looked after my young children, but most RMG workers do not get this help."
She also informed us that usually, when a child reaches the age of five or six, they are admitted to madrasas or sent to the village to their grandparents.
The day care centres are under Save the Children's "Proyash" project. It is supported by the Social and Economic Enhancement Program (SEEP), C&A Foundation, and the NGO Phulki.
The caregivers are trained and once a week, someone from Phulki comes for a follow-up. The garment management teams look after the regular maintenance.
Children between the age of six months and six years can stay at the day care centres. Due to the pandemic, the number of children has come down.
AGM (Compliance) at Evince Garments Limited Syed Shahidujjaman said, "We would love to keep all of our workers' small children here, but space is an issue. The parents need to submit applications to avail the day care centre facility and we select those who need it the most. Our future plan definitely includes expanding this day care centre to our other factories."
Executive Director of Awaj Foundation and labour rights' activist Nazma Akter said, "There may be some good day care centres in Dhaka for RMG workers' children but that is not sufficient. The labour law clearly states that factories with 40 or more female workers should have a well-maintained and hygienic day care centre for their children. But there are big RMG factories with thousands of female workers and no day care centres."
"Most RMG workers' children are sent to villages after their breastfeeding stage because there are no safe places for the parents to keep them while they are away at work. These children are deprived of nutrition and it affects their growth. The health and nutrition state of RMG workers' children is poor and on many occasions, these children become victims of sexual abuse," she said.
If day care centres in factories are difficult to establish because of lack of space and other issues, Nazma Akter suggests building centres in the community. The government, buyers, factory owners - everyone has to come forward to help the RMG worker mothers and their children, she also opined.
However, Senior Officer at Save the Children Obidul Islam thinks it might be better if RMG factories take up the responsibility of building these facilities on their own premises instead of building community day care centres. That way, the centres' sustainability would also be ensured.
He added, "The government, BGMEA, and the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs should work together to ensure that these day care centres are well-managed."
Sanjida's mother Nazma Begum is grateful to keep her daughter in her factory's day care centre.
While speaking to us, she got emotional at one point. "I am so relieved to keep my daughter here; it takes a big stress off my mind. Knowing that my child is in a safe space and being taken care of gives me peace. Here, she has a routine for sleeping, eating, playing, etc. On top, she learns alphabets and rhymes."
Another mother, an operator at Quazi Abedin Tex Limited, Mosammat Mukta echoed Nazma Begum, "My husband (he is an ironman at the same factory) and I are thankful for the day care centre. We leave home in the morning together, then we drop her off here, and in the evening, we leave together."