Away From Family this Eid

by Hana Shams Ahmed
[Daily Star, October 20, 2006]


The only thing they can look forward to on Eid day is more work.

For most of us, Eid is a fun event. Not only do we get a few days off from work with an extra load in our pocket, we also get to spend some quality time with family and friends who otherwise remain at the other end of numerous missed calls and sms’. Food, shopping, hanging out with family and friends without much to worry about for a few days a year might not seem like such a luxury in the true sense. But for many, even considering something like that is an extravagant thought. They work silently among our midst with no demands and most of them will be spending this Eid without family and friends, working their usual unlimited hours.

Farid (not his real name) a home worker, will be ‘celebrating’ this Eid the way he has been for the past four years. The 14-year-old has been working in the same house in Lalmatia for these four years. “I have to do everything in the house, from cutting and cleaning vegetables, to sweeping and mopping the floor, cleaning the furniture and washing the dishes and vegetables,” says Farid. The only thing that his employer does is the cooking. His employer, a housewife also has a 10-year-old son. “I only get a few hours free time in the afternoon and I can play cricket with chhoto bhaiya then.” So will there be any respite for him this Eid? “Hardly,” says Farid, “Before Eid day Begum shahib takes out all her best crockery and I have to clean it very carefully, because they are so expensive I wouldn’t want to break them. She does some of her cooking the night before Eid but leaves the kachchi biryani cooking for after we all come back from the mosque in the morning. All day their guests keep coming to our house so I can’t really leave the house for too long.” Farid says that his employers do give him new clothes and sandals for Eid along with a bonus but says that the fun that he used to have during Eid at home just could not be compared with new clothes or any monetary benefit.

Even though we give due importance to spending Eid with our family, rarely are the house help ever allowed to go to their village home to enjoy with their loved ones. We take their presence and optimal performance on Eid day pretty much for granted. We soothe our consciences by giving them new clothes and some extra bucks on the big day but don’t realise that what they need is some time to enjoy themselves off from work.

Twelve-year-old Mohsina and 15-year-old Hasna are both very hopeful of having a good Eid this year despite being away from their family. Both of them work at a house in Gulshan. Mohsina who has been working for almost a year now does small chores in the kitchen along with sweeping the floor and ironing clothes. “Eid in the village is a lot of fun because I get to roam around with my friends,” says Mohsina who comes from Rangpur. Hasna, whose family is in Bhaluka, Mymensingh says that she is going to miss her family but adds, “I hope I will get to roam around a bit here too.”

All dressed and nowhere to go. Photo: Zahedul I Khan

Not everyone is as lucky as Hasna and Mohsina, reveals 18-year-old Billal (not his real name). “I have to be on the run from very early in the morning till late at night,” he says. Besides the usual daily chores, on Eid day Billal has to sweep the floors every couple of hours. “Kids come to our house from all over the place and make such a mess, I have to be on call all the time to clean up the mess they make. It’s very frustrating,” he says, “but what can I do? It’s my job to keep the house clean.” Billal, who hails from Brahmanbaria says that Eid is much more fun at his village home because his mother and siblings are all there. “But ever since my father died I am not that eager to go home and I would never be allowed to go there during Eid anyway,” he laments. Billal does get new clothes from his employer but says, “I keep wondering what my five brothers and sisters are doing and they do the same.”

Twelve-year-old Minu is not too upset about spending her very first Eid away from her family and is in fact looking forward to wearing all the fancy clothes she has received from her employer. This severely underweight girl came to Dhaka against her parents’ wishes but says that she is better off here. Minu is working in a house in Dhanmondi. Her chores here involve sweeping the floor and looking after a two-year-old child.

Minu is one of the lucky ones. Ten-year-old Ismail wishes he had been working at a home. Whether he will be able to go home this Eid he doesn’t know but what he does know is that life at the car garage where he works is unbearable. Not only does he not get paid anything (his employer attributes this to the fact that he does not know any work and only runs errands and that his food and lodging are taken care of) he also bears the brunt of everyone’s wrath when he is not quick enough to deliver. Slaps and ear pulls are an everyday occurrence for him and getting new clothes from his employer this Eid is a far cry.

According to the second National Child Labour Survey (NCLS) carried out in 2002/03 by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) there are 4.9 million working children – 14.2 per cent of the total 35.06 million children in the age group of 5-14 years. The total working child population between five and 17 years old is estimated at 7.9 million. Our neighbouring country India is already a few steps ahead of us in getting rid of child labour; the government recently announced a ban on children under 14 working as domestic help or in roadside food stalls, teashops, restaurants, hotels, motels, resorts, spas or other recreational centres. Poverty forces children of all ages to abandon education and take up jobs as home workers. Let us spare a thought for these poor children toiling fervently at our homes this Eid, and at least try to make it a little more joyful for them.

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