There is much controversy regarding the prevalence of teenage employment in Bangladesh and many questions have been raised regarding whether adolescents should work and if they do, for how many hours and in what manners.
It is argued that work experience can promote the healthy development of adolescents when it is moderate in intensity and short in duration and also does not interfere with physical and mental growth.
At the international level, Article 3 of the Minimum Age Convention, 1973 sets the general minimum age for admission to employment or work at 15 years and 13 years for light work with the fulfilment of the required conditions. It sets the standards for hazardous work at 18 and with certain strict conditions at 16.
According to ILO there are eight core conventions regarding labor issues. Bangladesh ratified all of them. Bangladesh ratified the Minimum Age Convention on 22 March 2022.
Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 is considered to be the go-to legislation where provisions have been incorporated to regulate the relationship between the workers and employers, rights and duties of the workers and employers as well.
Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 classifies workers into three categories- child workers, adolescent workers and adult workers. In this act, a child is defined as a person below the age of 14, an adolescent as a person above the age of 14 and before the completion of 18 and an adult as above 18 under sections 2(63), 2(8) and 2(36) respectively.
But there are limitations as to the type of industries in which each type of worker is allowed to work. For instance, there is no restriction on the admission of adult workers into most industries. Children, on the other hand, are prohibited to be appointed while adolescents are allowed with some conditions and limitations enshrined under Chapter III.
Analysis of Chapter III reveals two types of conditions for appointing adolescents, one is 'before appointment' and another is 'after appointment'. Before the appointment, conditions on ascertainment of age whether s/he is a child or adolescent and fitness certificate shall have to be fulfilled.
To ascertain the age, birth certificate, school certificate or certificate issued by a registered physician regarding the age shall be used (section 36). In the meantime, a fitness certificate from the registered physician shall have to be obtained either by the adolescents, guardians or by the employer as provided in section 37.
After the appointment, some other conditions shall have to be followed regarding working hours, hazardous works and work on dangerous machines etc. Adolescents shall not be required to work between 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. and the working hours in a factory or mine shall not be more than 5 hours in a day and 32 hours in a week as enshrined in section 41.
Employers are prohibited under section 39 to employ adolescents to clean, lubricate or adjust any part of machinery in motion or moving parts. Further, restrictions are imposed on the employment of adolescents on dangerous machines without full instruction of danger, precaution and sufficient training under section 40. Furthermore, section 42 prohibits the employment of adolescents in underground and underwater work.
With the fulfilment of the required conditions, adolescents are allowed to work. The duty to scrutinise whether the condition as to fitness certificate and renewal of it has been followed or not is imposed on the inspector of labour (section 38).
However, questions are always raised regarding proper implementation of existing regulations There is also an exception where the restrictions and limitations on adolescents' appointments shall not be in operation if the government is of opinion that an emergency has arisen and public interest so requires.
Developmental psychologists warn that the employment of adolescents may cut short or even deny youth an essential 'adolescent moratorium', a stage of life free from adult-like pursuits and responsibilities. For the smooth physical and mental development of adolescents, the authorities should implement the laws strictly to build up a healthy and prosperous generation.
Soeb Akter is a student in the Department of Law at the University of Dhaka.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.