My name is Aleya*. I am 14 years old. Our home village is in southern Bangladesh, but I have lived in Hazaribagh since I was born. I live here with my parents and siblings. I have one sister and two brothers. I am the second child of the family.
My elder brother is 17 years old. He folds leather at a leather factory from 8 am until 7 pm. He can’t work much. He doesn’t understand what people say well, and he hunches over while walking. He also has a curved foot. He does what he can, but nobody wants to hire him. His employer doesn’t pay him any salary, but happily gives him Tk. 30-40 per day (less than $0.50 USD) for food.
I used to work at a shoe factory: I cleaned shoes and worked on pasting various shoe parts. I quit two months ago and am currently unemployed. My younger sister is 10 years old and works on clipping threads from hand gloves. She earns Tk. 2,000 ($18 USD) per month. My youngest brother is 7 years old and studies at a Madrasah.
My mother works as a domestic worker. She leaves at 8 am and returns at 8 pm. My father sells snacks like chanachur (Bombay mix), chewing gum and biscuits from a bag he carries. He sells snacks in different areas. He leaves at dawn and comes back at 8 or 9 pm, or even at midnight sometimes. My mother earns Tk. 5,000 ($45 USD) per month, and my father sells snacks worth Tk. 100-500 ($1-5 USD) per day. His earnings are not the same every day. He buys goods on credit, sells them and then repays his supplier the next day.
My mother enrolled me at school when I was 6 or 7 years old. I used to wear a new school uniform and go to school with friends, carrying my books and notebooks. We used to have fun on the way. When school was over, I returned home with my friends and had fun on the way back. After returning home, I ate and helped mother with her work. In the evening, I played with my friends. Then I would eat something and sit down to study. I recall these memories frequently. It was a very good time of my life.
I studied up to class 5, then I left school. I loved studying, but back in 2019 when I was studying in class 5, my parents couldn’t afford to give me private tuition. There was nobody at home to help me with my studies either. That’s why I found my lessons very difficult. The lessons were complicated too. I ended up failing two subjects in my final exams and couldn’t graduate to the next class. After that, my mother said, “You don’t have to work anymore, quit studying and start working. Our household is in poverty, and education costs money. Where will I get so much money from? Instead, if you work, you can bring some money into the household. You have failed two subjects because you’re not interested in studying. So, there’s no need for you to study.” So, I stopped going to school and never got the same opportunity again.
After failing my exams, I was idle for two to three months. I didn’t do anything except help my mother. The girl who lives next door is two years older than me and works at a shoe factory. One day, my mother asked her to take me to work with her. That girl spoke to the factory owner and took me along with her the next day. That’s how I started working.
I liked working there, but I didn’t like the long hours. I had to work from 8 am to 5 pm. When there was overtime, I had to work till 9 or 10 pm. My salary was Tk. 4,000 ($35 USD). When I worked overtime, I was paid Tk. 5,000 ($45 USD). The factory operated till 11 pm and I could work till then if I wanted to, but I used to leave by 9 or 10 pm.
I used to apply glue to the soles of shoes. They would mark over inner soles for cutting and I cleaned off those marks. The factory environment was good. It wasn’t dusty and I never had to work in the sun. There were fans, so I didn’t feel hot. The owner was good too – they were affectionate towards me and never mistreated, hit, or swore at me. And there were separate washrooms for boys and girls.
But one day, I cut my hand while trying to cut off some glue that was stuck to the side of a shoe. The factory owner put a bandage on my hand and bought me medicines. I didn’t have to visit any doctor. Another problem was that continuously looking at shoes to check them made my eyes hurt. Apart from that, everything was fine.
I used to hand over my salary from the factory to my mother, and she would give it to my father. He used to pay the rent (Tk. 4,500/ $40 USD) with my salary. We rent a half-done room to live in. My parents and we four children stay together in that room. My mother would use the remaining money to get us clothes and other essentials. Sometimes, I used to ask her for Tk. 100 or 200 ($1-2 USD) from my salary, and she would give it to me.
One day, I made a mistake while working at the factory and my supervisor swore at me badly. I cried instead of eating during lunch time. After that, I left and didn’t go back. My parents asked me what had happened, and I told them. The factory owner repeatedly sent people to try to convince me to go back to work, but I didn’t go back. The factory owner called me to come and collect my salary. When I went to the factory, they asked me why I hadn’t gone back to work, and I told them the whole story. The supervisor who had sworn at me was then fired. My mother told me to go back to work many times, but I didn’t and then the factory shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
There wasn’t any food at home when the pandemic started. We had to mainly eat rice with potato curry. My mother used to go to work, but for the rest of us at home, work came to a halt. That’s why my mother took a loan of Tk. 5,000 ($45 USD) from a co-operative. A weekly instalment of Tk. 200 ($1.80 USD) has to be paid for that loan. We don’t have any other debt.
I used to get whatever I asked my parents for, but that has changed since the pandemic started. During lockdown, my maternal aunt helped us by sending food. Whatever she ate, she shared with us. That’s why we didn’t have to ask anyone else for help.
Now, if I can get a job in another place, I will start work again. I don’t think any child should work, but what to do? I didn’t listen to my parents and wanted to play all day, and then I failed my exams. My parents sent me to work, so I started working. It would be great if I didn’t have to work. If my maternal aunt gave me money for private tuition, I could study. I wish I could be a teacher – I like that profession a lot. I like studying. I want to study and become a teacher when I grow up, but I don’t think that’s possible anymore. Our household is impoverished, and my father doesn’t work regularly. I could’ve started studying again if someone had helped us financially. If the government or my maternal aunt helps us financially, I can study and fulfil my dream.
*All names have been changed