Bidi factories in Rangpur employ child workers, ignore heath guideline

Published : 15 Mar 2022 09:20 PM

There is a sign saying 'No child labor' at the main gate of the factory. But by showing the thumbs up to the law, thousands of tender-aged children are working to make tobacco packets. Bidi is being made by child laborers as well as making tobacco powder. While working in the bidi factory, the tender-aged children are suffering from respiratory problems, bronchitis, pneumonia and gout. Fear of COvid-19 infection has also been added. According to the Association for Community Development-ACD, a development and human rights organization, there are about 30 small and large bidi factories in Haragach area of Rangpur. At least 40,000 workers are working in these factories. They are at extreme risk of contacting coronavirus due to non-compliance with health norms including social distance.

The largest bidi industry area in the country is Haragach in Rangpur. And about one lakh workers are directly or indirectly involved in this industry. They are constantly fighting for their lives. From here, the government is collecting VAT revenue of around Tk 25 crore every year. But there is no development in this bidi industry area. The industrial area has become completely uninhabitable and destroying the balance of the environment.

It has been observed on the spot that the labor laws are not being complied with in the bidi factories. Although there is no provision for any child under the age of 18 to work, it is not being observed in these factories. Each factory employs children between the ages of 8 and 10. At the main gates of big bidi factories Aziz Bidi, Menaj Bidi, Anshar Bidi and Maya Bidi there is a signboard saying 'Child labor is forbidden'. But inside the factory, child laborers are being used to make tobacco powder. Along with that the work of filling tobacco in the bidi stick is going on. The whole body of the workers is covered in tobacco dust. They do not know the consequences. They only know that if they can make bidis for every thousand, they will get 30 Tk. Although not directly, indirectly many children are making bidi at home with their parents. Besides, the mothers are working in the factory by bringing their babies with them when needed. The child is also unknowingly getting sick from the poisonous factories. In the unhealthy environment inside the narrow alley of Haragach, there are no bathrooms in the bidi factories and no water supply. Strangers are not allowed to enter these factories. Which is absolutely forbidden for journalists.

After talking to a Aziz Bidi factory child laborer, she said that her three brothers also work in the bidi factory. She hands over the hard-earned money to his mother. And with that, their family lives. Roxana, Kabir and Rashed, child laborers at the Maya Bidi factory, said they were also working with their parents to stay well and eat well. Jisan and Ripon from the local Mollavatari village are about 8 to 10 years old. 

They said they were doing this because of financial hardship. The children are being made to work in the bidi factories. Children's work is added to the parent's card. For this reason, the names of child laborers are not included in the attendance register. 

Visiting the Anshar Bidi factory, it is seen that the workers are often coughing and sneezing. Eye irritation, abdominal pain is their daily companion. They don't know much about Covid-19 infection.

Doctors say that tobacco powder and dust combine in the body to increase blood isnophils. It causes respiratory problems, bronchitis and pneumonia. Ulcers and gastritis may also occur due to the reaction in the digestive tract. The risk of going to Jaya is not less. Moreover, at present the workers of the bidi factory are most at risk of corona infection.

When contacted, the director of several bidi factories, including Aziz Bidi, claimed that the factory had been understaffed on condition of anonymity. "The bidi industry is at risk," they said. The rate of child labor in this industry has been reduced much more than before. However, it will take a long time to completely ban child labor in these factories. ' Therefore, they have also advised smokers to quit smoking. However, in this dire situation, the production, marketing and distribution system of tobacco is extremely concerned. They demanded the authorities to take necessary steps to stop the activities of all tobacco factories and multinational tobacco companies in the country, including in the north.

Amin Uddin, president of Haragachh Bidi Workers Union, said that apart from Haragachh municipal area, most of the men and women of Gajghanta, Morneya and Tapodhan Union of Rangpur Sadar are also  bidi workers. 

Those who have no alternative means of livelihood. Mentioning that they have children with them, he said that about one lakh workers, both men and women, work directly or indirectly in the Haragach bidi industry. 

The leader of the bidi workers' union said, "It is not a good idea to employ workers in the crowded environment of the bidi factories in Haragach with health risks." In addition to ignoring government guidelines, the risk of corona infection is also increasing.