Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A wide variety of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated independently, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Although human rights groups often sharply criticized the government, they also practiced some self-censorship. Observers noted that a “culture of fear” had diminished the strength of civil society, exacerbated by threats from extremists and an increasingly entrenched leading political party. Even civil society members affiliated with the ruling party reported receiving threats of arrest from the security forces for their public criticism of government policies.
The government continued to restrict the funding and operations of the human rights organization Odhikar since the 2013 publication of an Odhikar report that many independent observers believed significantly exaggerated the government’s use of force during a Hefazat-e-Islam rally. The report included a count of resulting deaths that differed considerably from the official number and other independent estimates. Although the ACC dropped its case against Odhikar in June, Odhikar representatives continued to report harassment by government officials and security forces, including disruption of their planned events. Odhikar reported investigations into its finances that it regarded as harassment and the blockage by the NGO Affairs Bureau of foreign funds, including a grant from the European Union. Family members and Odhikar staff reported additional harassment and claimed their telephone calls, e-mails, and movements were under constant surveillance by security officers.
The government required all NGOs, including religious organizations, to register with the Ministry of Social Welfare. Local and international NGOs working on sensitive topics or groups, such as religious issues, human rights, indigenous people, LGBTI communities, Rohingya refugees, or worker rights, faced both formal and informal governmental restrictions. In July, the State Minister for Social Welfare Nuruzzaman Ahmed told parliament that his ministry would investigate and cancel the registration for any NGO involved in “anti-state activities.” International NGOs that assist Rohingya refugees and work with organized labor reported difficulties in meeting stringent government administrative requirements. Some of these groups claimed intelligence agencies monitored them. The government sometimes restricted international NGOs’ ability to operate through delays in project registration, cease-and-desist letters, and visa refusals. Some civil society members reported repeated audits by the National Board of Revenue. The government countered NGO criticism through the media, sometimes with intimidating or threatening remarks, and through the courts (see section 1.e.). In October, NGOs discovered that the NGO Affairs Bureau posted on its public website detailed information for foreigners employed by NGOs in the country, including names, passport numbers, local addresses, e-mail addresses, and local telephone numbers, creating a significant security risk.
Following a two-year drafting process, parliament passed the Foreign Donations (Voluntary Activities) Regulation Act on October 5, placing stricter control over the foreign funding of NGOs and enacting punitive provisions for those NGOs that make “derogatory” comments regarding the constitution of the country, its founding history, or constitutional bodies (i.e., government institutions and leaders). NGO leaders stated that the bill infringes on their constitutional right to freedom of expression, to which prominent MP Suranjit Sengupta responded that NGOs are not entitled to freedom of expression. NGOs also stated that the law was unclear, autocratic, subject to interpretation, and contrary to the constitution.
The law also includes a provision that will require NGOs to obtain preauthorization for obtaining funds from foreign individuals, and for NGOs’ sub-grantees to do the same, which will negatively affect the ability of some organizations to operate. The bill will also require approval and monitoring of each project by the NGO Affairs Bureau and give the director general of the bureau the authority to impose sanctions, including fines up to three times the amount of the foreign donation or closure of an NGO. Some NGOs reported that the NGO Affairs Bureau had pushed them toward service delivery and away from rights-based awareness raising or NGO capacity building.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The NHRC has seven members, including five honorary positions. Observers noted that the NHRC’s small government support staff was inadequate and underfunded. The NHRC’s primary activity was educating the public about human rights and ostensibly advising the government on key human rights issues. The International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights found that the NHRC did not fully comply with international standards for such bodies. Specifically, the coordinating committee focused on the lack of transparency in selecting NHRC commissioners and the NHRC’s lack of hiring authority over its support staff. In August, the government appointed Kazi Rezaul Haque as the new chairman of the NHRC through a process that lacked transparency and limited civil society participation.
Section 7. Worker Rights
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The law regulates child employment, and the regulations depend on the type of work and the child’s age. The minimum age for work is 14, and the minimum age for hazardous work is 18. The law allows for certain exceptions, permitting children who are ages 12 or 13 to perform restricted forms of light work. Minors can work up to five hours per day and 30 hours per week in factories or up to seven hours per day and 42 per week in other types of workplaces. By law every child must attend school through fifth grade.
The labor Ministry’s enforcement mechanisms were insufficient for the large, urban informal sector, and there was little enforcement of child labor laws outside the export-garment and shrimp-processing sectors. Agriculture and other informal sectors that had no government oversight employed large numbers of children.
Under the Ministry’s 2012-2016 Child Labor National Plan of Action, the National Child Labor Welfare Council is charged with monitoring child labor. The council has only met twice, however, since its inception. The government mandated child protection networks at district and subdistrict levels to respond to a broad spectrum of violations against children, including child labor; to monitor interventions; and to develop referral mechanisms.
The law specifies penalties for violations involving child labor, including nominal fines of less than 5,000 taka ($63). These penalties were insufficient to deter violations. The government occasionally brought criminal charges against employers who abused domestic servants. MOLE filed 40 child labor cases in 2015; in general, resources, inspections, and remedial action were inadequate.
On July 10, a 10-year-old boy named Sagar Barman was killed at Zobeda Textile and Spinning Mills where he worked with his father. His father accused management in the factory of beating him and killing his son by using an air compressor to pump air into his son’s rectum; similar murders occurred in August 2015 and December 2016. The boy’s death led to discovery of 24 children working at the factory, aged between 10 and 15 years old. The Department of Inspections of Factories and Establishments (DIFE) reportedly filed a case against the factory in court, and police arrested the supervisor.
Child labor was widespread, particularly in the informal sector and in domestic work. According to a 2016 Overseas Development Institute report based on a survey of 2,700 households in Dhaka’s slums, 15 percent of 6- to 14-year-old children were out of school and engaged in full-time work. These children were working well beyond the 42-hour limit set by national legislation. The ready-made garment industry was the main employer of these children and accounted for two thirds of female child labor.
According to the ILO, agriculture is the primary employment sector for boys and services is the main sector for girls. According to the BBS 2015 Bangladesh Child Labor Report, 3.45 million children are working and 1.28 million are employed in hazardous jobs. The BBS estimates that 17.1 percent of working children suffered verbal abuse, 1.2 percent suffered beatings, and 2.5 percent suffered sexual abuse. A recent UNICEF survey in Keranigaj found that 59 percent of an estimated 185,000 workers in the area were under the age of 18 and worked up to 17 hours per day during peak production. According to Young Power in Social Action, an NGO working to protect the rights of shipbreakers in Chittagong, 11 percent of the shipbreaking workforce is under the age of 18. NGOs, such as Shipbreaking Platform, report laborers work long hours without training, safety equipment, holidays, adequate health care, or contractual agreements. At least 16 workers died in the industry in 2015.
Children were engaged in the worst forms of child labor, primarily in dangerous activities in agriculture. Children working in agriculture risked using dangerous tools, carrying heavy loads, and applying harmful pesticides. Children frequently worked long hours, were exposed to extreme temperatures, and suffered high rates of injury from sharp tools. Children also worked in such hazardous activities as stone and brick breaking, dyeing operations, blacksmith assistance, and construction. Forced child labor was present in the fish-drying industry, where children were exposed to harmful chemicals, dangerous machines, and long hours of work. In urban areas, street children work pulling rickshaws, garbage picking, recycling, vending, begging, repairing automobiles, and working in hotels and restaurants. These children were vulnerable to exploitation, for example, in forced begging or being used to smuggle or sell drugs.
Children frequently worked in the informal sector in areas including the unregistered garment, road transport, manufacturing, and service industries.