Bangladesh: Child Labor in Dhaka

A young boy washes recently machined metal parts in a small factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh. These shops are ubiquitous in the city and many young workers earn as little as $40 per month.

“Sir, why do you take photos?” asks the shops foreman.

“I am trying to show the life of the people,” I reply, somewhat avoiding the real focus of my project.

“Child labor?” he asks, knowingly.

“Well, yes.”

“Very good Sir!” he replies, smiling broadly, “In Dhaka there are many good photos for you.”

This sort of conversation has become commonplace while documenting the child workers found throughout Bangladesh’s capital. At first I was taken aback by the total transparency with which people were willing to talk about an issue that I felt they would naturally avoid. But now I realize that this is the reality of Bangladesh: incredibly resilient people who do what they have to do to survive.

The shooting has been simultaneously very easy, and incredibly difficult. Access to the child workers, which I imagined would be very difficult to get, has been completely free. Factory owners wave me into their workshops with smiles and then stand patiently as I make images of the dreary conditions from multiple angles. At first I thought that they didn’t fully understand what I was doing, but I now know that they understand completely. This is just part of life in the world’s most densely populated country.

What has made this project challenging is the fact that there are simply no tourists in Bangladesh. Apart from a group of South Korean volunteers, I have seen virtually no one I can distinguish as foreign. As a result, whenever I stop somewhere to shoot, people crowd the scene, eager to have their photo taken. Isolating a subject becomes almost impossible unless they are backed into a corner, and since I only carry a 17-35 mm wide angle lens, portraits of a single person are mostly out of the question. I’m shooting upward of 700 photos every two hours just trying to get 2-3 usable ones.

But Bangladeshi hospitality is some of the best I’ve ever experienced. For all the headaches I couldn’t have imagined a more welcoming people, and for that I am grateful.

I recently met the inspiring and talented Bangladeshi photojournalist GMB Akash who gave me a copy of his wonderful book Survivors. I’m working on a full length post just about him and his book, the product of 15 years of shooting in his home country. More on that later.

This is part of a larger project on Child Labour in Bangladesh.

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