Poverty fuels child labour

A group of children, some with pushing carts and some with plastic bags in their hands, are looking for shoppers around the entrance of Shohmansur market in the Tajik capital, Dushanbe. The youngest is only eight years old and the eldest ones look about 16. The boys circle each customer, offering to sell plastic bags or carry shopping bags in their carts.

Lutfullo - a thin and short boy who looks less than 10 years but says he is 12 - is among them.

“I start work at 7 am in the morning every day. I buy plastic bags first thing in the morning for 15 [Tajik] dirams [4 US cents] from other places and sell them during the day for 20 diram [6 cents]. I make 10 to 15 somoni [US $3 to $4] daily,” he told IRIN proudly while looking out the corner of his eyes for potential customers.

“There are 12 of us in my family. My elder brother works in this market as well, pushing a cart. My two other brothers are in Moscow, working there. When I get my passport I will go to Moscow to join them,” the young worker said. “I have six sisters. They are at home helping my mother take care of our house and doing housework.”

The boy works the first half of the day and goes to school the second half. “The money I make, I spend on my clothes, school fees and stationary. The rest I give to my mother to spend on food,” he said.

Thousands of child workers

Lutfullo’s story highlights the plight of thousands of child workers in the country. The United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) estimates that there are 5,000 children working the streets and markets of Tajik cities to help their families.

Photo: Fakhrinisso Kurbonshoeva/IRIN
Lutfullo makes living by carrying stuff for other people

The results of a survey on child labour in Tajikistan funded by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and made available in January 2007 revealed that poverty is the main reason for them needing to work.

According to the World Bank, just over 40 percent of Tajikistan’s 6.5 million inhabitants live on less than $2 a day.

While boys mainly work outside their homes, girls stay indoors to take care of their households and younger siblings. As a result, most working children are missing out on an education.

“Working at a young age is forcing children to drop out of school, it impacts their level of education and in the future makes their chances of getting a good job low,” Tahmina Karimova, a specialist with ILO’s International Programme for Elimination of Child Labour, said.

“Working children are not getting a sufficient education and often stay physically and psychologically underdeveloped,” Karimova added.

The ILO survey found that in addition to poverty, local culture and traditions contribute to the child labour problem. In Tajikistan, it is believed that work helps a child to develop a strong personality and acquire necessary skills.

The majority of working children are involved in menial jobs, such as washing cars or pushing carts in the markets. Of the 616 working children surveyed by the ILO, about 70 percent said they had started working from the age of 10. The survey found that girls and boys of any age work an average of five to seven hours per day. And more than 60 percent of working children come from families with four or more children.

Only about a third of underage workers spend the money they make on their personal needs, while two thirds give the money they earn to their parents or caretakers.

Educational needs

In an effort to help working children get an education, international agencies such as UNICEF and ILO are supporting local NGOs tackling the issue.

Local NGO Nasli Navras (Young Generation) is one such civil group providing education and training for working children.

“We design the format and time of education for each child individually. Besides reading and writing, we teach them a variety of life skills, like how to start their own business and how to save money,” Giyossidin Karaev, head of the NGO, said.

“Girls, for example, are attending courses on clothes designing. Additionally, boys and girls are getting computer and language classes,” Karaev added.

RCVC is another local NGO helping child workers, but focussing on those who are orphans or come from problem families. “They are given one free meal a day at our centre. They also get informal education, healthcare, play sports and games and receive physiological support. They also learn about their rights,” Mavjuda Rahmanova, head of RCVC, said.

With the onset of dusk, Lutfullo heads home a happy boy. “I have saved enough money to invite my friends to my birthday party this month,” he said.


see also
Abduholik Kamolov, “Instead of going to school I work as a shoe polisher to help my Mum"