Every year, between 300,000 and 400,000 people from rural regions, mostly very poor women, arrive in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, in search of a better life.

They look for work in the textile industry, an important part of Bangladesh's economy. Clothes manufacturing represents 76% of the country's total export revenue. Thanks to this industry, women's status and incomes have increased to a remarkable degree, but this has come at a price. Women are forced to live in shanty towns and have to deal with many problems: poor working and housing conditions, violence, and a lack of access to healthcare. Many of them lose their jobs when they have children, because there are no families or day-care centres to look after their children while they are at work. Their children grow up in an environment of general insecurity, with very poor hygiene conditions and a lack of food.

Because the city of Dhaka is not equipped to deal with this huge demographic increase, shanty towns have developed. Inhabitants are forced to live in insanitary homes and in extremely poor conditions. Because shanty towns are generally illegal settlements, the infrastructures (electricity, running water, sewage disposal, transport, education and health) operated by private companies are very expensive. Families are often scattered, and aid and survival networks based on personal relationships between people are broken. In addition, shanty towns are often dangerous places that drive the population to criminality, drugs and prostitution. For people who live in shanty towns, textile factories offer the workers an alternative to improve their living conditions. 

But in the textile industry, conditions are so hard that workers only work in the industry for 12 years on average. The company managers place enormous pressure on the workers, in order to ensure that orders are fulfilled within the required time limits. Hence, there are frequently no breaks at all. As well as health risks, there are also safety risks, even though the situation has improved markedly since the collapse of Rana Plaza on 24 April 2013, in which 1,100 workers were killed. Conditions are extremely hard, but people say that they are happy to have a job which, at 6,000 Taka per month (around 70 €), is much better paid than other jobs, such as domestic work.

And what about the children?

In order to fulfil their family's basic needs, both parents need to go to work. In some cases, women are left on their own with their children, and the pressure is even greater. In any case, the head of the family is torn between two harmful options: either go to work in the large textile production factories and leave their children on their own during the day, or give up the possibility of an income, which will plunge them deeper into extreme poverty. All too often, children of pre-school age are the losers in this desperate situation. They grow up in deprivation and are left unaccompanied by adults for long periods, with a very high risk of abuse or accidents. Children do not receive any stimulation. In many cases, older sisters have to stay at home with younger children, or even go to work themselves in order to increase the household income. In this case, the older children miss out on their own education, work in abusive conditions and are at risk of never escaping the vicious cycle of poverty. This is why childcare options for the youngest children are essential.

So what is the solution? Day nurseries!

Caritas Luxembourg supports the establishment of day nurseries for children aged 1 to 5 years. The aim is to ensure children's physical, emotional, cognitive and social development, and to improve the sanitary and hygiene conditions and social security of 900 households. There are already ten day nurseries for 200 children, running with the participation of the local community. The day nursery staff members are recruited directly from this local community. In addition, 54 day nurseries at women's homes have also opened their doors, welcoming an extra 270 children. The staff members receive training. In addition, women receive information and advice about the care and protection that children need, and about their physical and mental development and nutrition.

The sustainability of the project and the improvement of the day-to-day life of families are underpinned by training provided to the project beneficiaries who progressively take responsibility for the day nurseries and ensure their funding. Furthermore, the project encourages unemployed women to create their own day nurseries in their homes, so that they can earn an income while offering childcare to other families.

Companies in the textile industry that employ more than 50 people are obliged by law to implement a nursery system for their staff's children. Through awareness-raising and advocacy actions, factory managers are made aware that they need to fulfil their obligations and replicate this day nursery model. For example, the factories working for the clothing chain ZARA, among others, have started to fulfil their responsibilities with respect to their employees and their families, which already represents progress.  

Decent Work for Migrants

Because of the significant number of people in Bangladesh who migrate within the country or abroad with a view to improving their living conditions, Caritas Luxembourg informs potential migrants about their rights and makes them aware of the risks to which they are exposing themselves, particularly through awareness-raising campaigns, information offices and a telephone assistance service. Likewise, women who wish to travel abroad to work as domestic servants receive training to teach them about their rights and obligations, and they are also given language tuition. This preventative work is supplemented by follow-up work and social and economic reintegration of migrants when they return. Psycho-social and legal support is also offered. 

Food security in times of climate change

Bangladesh is one of the countries in the world where the population is most affected by climate change. One third of the population is at risk of displacement due to rising sea levels. Floods are increasingly frequent and very devastating. At the same time, many people are suffering from water stress caused by climate change. In Bangladesh, the demand for water already exceeds the available resources. The productivity of rain-fed agriculture, which depends on rainfall for its water supply, is falling. For a country with a growing population, this means that it will soon be difficult to feed everyone.

It is in these highly rain-dependent regions, which are extremely sensitive to rainfall variability, late monsoon onset, temperature fluctuations and drought, that Caritas Luxembourg is intervening by helping small farmers. Indeed, whether they are severely affected by climate change or not, small farmers manage to resist the phenomenon through many local practices that are specific to them. By bringing these small farmers together, the SAFBIN project, in which Caritas Luxembourg participates with other European and Asian organisations, relies on small farmers' collectives to strengthen each other and become more resilient in the face of climatic hazards.

To find out more about this support, visit the SAFBIN consortium website.

People who wish to support Caritas projects in Bangladesh - and more broadly all the activities of Caritas Luxembourg - can do so by making a donation by transfer to the account (CCPL) IBAN LU34 1111 0000 2020 0000 or directly below.

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