Responding to the Working Children of Bangladesh: The Work of Ain o Salish Kendra


The following interview describes the work of a drop-in centre and flexi-school for working children in Dhaka, Bangladesh. We have included this here in the hope of offering readers a glimpse of the different dilemmas facing those who are working with children in developing countries. Ain o Salish Kendra is a legal rights organisation. One aspect of their work involves trying to reduce the amount of hazardous work performed by children in Bangladesh and to provide working children with access to education, health and legal services. The Protection of Working Children Unit aims to provide meaningful opportunities to children who have no choice but to work to support themselves and their families. We were introduced to the work of Ain o Salish Kendra by Margaret Ryan (via Narrative Connections!) and visited one of their drop-in centres for working children in March 2005. Sitting in a small classroom, children somewhere between six and ten years old, all introduced themselves – proudly describing the work that they did. This ranged from selling flowers in the street, to working in a glass factory, to making paper containers, to domestic work. After they had finished their introductions they turned to us and asked: ‘And what work do you do?’ Many of our assumptions about childhood, about work and about child labour were questioned at that moment. After introductions, we witnessed the children share news from their day with their teacher. A number of children told of positive events. One described a fire that had occurred in the factory in which she worked. Another mentioned that his family was having difficulties due to his older brother’s drug use. They then moved on to read the book of the day which involved a family that was trying to get enough food to eat, to study the letters of the alphabet, and to learn how to draw pictures of ducks and people’s faces. This drop-in centre and school provides a forum for these children to speak about their lives with other children and with caring adults. As the following interview describes, the work of Ain o Salish Kendra also tries to provide pathways for these children towards safe work and opportunities for further education.