Award-winning photojournalist GMB Akash describes some of the conditions affecting child laborers and prostitutes in his home country of Bangladesh, in a 2011 TEDx Talk. “A lot of people, live in very bad situations. They don’t have their basic rights. They don’t have fresh drinking water, shelter, they have no food. They work the whole day, from early morning to late afternoon and they earn less than two dollars a day.” Akash goes on to describe the resilience and fortitude these individuals show, in spite of their conditions. “The most important thing about these people is that they never give up. They never complain. They are really strong inside and are happy. You will be really surprised; if you see these people and look at their eyes, they look really strong and really happy. They are never depressed.”
Akash tells stories through his photographs, and has visually narrated the stories of marginalized populations in Bangladesh. Of particular note is his work in capturing the images of children who have been subject to abusive, arduous and extraneous conditions.
Economic factors including poverty and illiteracy, typically drive affected families to send their children to work in local factories. According to the Labor Law of Bangladesh 2006, the minimum legal age for employment is fourteen. However, since more than ninety percent of child laborers work in the informal sector, it has been extremely difficult to regulate the industry and enforce policies against this abuse. Full time work at such an early age, and under such dangerous conditions frequently prevents children from attending school, contributes to high drop out rates, negatively impacts their physical and mental health and places them at risk of discrimination, trafficking as well as sexual abuse.
In 2007, Akash became the first Bangladeshi to be selected for the 30 Emerging Photographers (PDN 30) sponsored by Photo District New Magazine in the United States. And while his work has brought him global acclaim, he remains a champion of children’s rights, and he uses his lens to draw national and international attention to the situation, giving these children a voice that continues to be heard around the world.
According to Akash, child laborers in factories usually work twelve hours a day and earn the equivalent of ten dollars a month. “Most of the kids are like seven-year-old children, working from early morning to late afternoon; there is no mask, no protection, nothing. They work in very low light. The factory owners like to keep them because the children cannot make labor union, and they cannot complain and they can keep the children for a long time.” It is a form of cheap labor compared to the eighty dollars a month their adult counterparts earn, which also helps keep the factories’ costs low. He may not be able to put a full stop to it once and for all, and has even encountered opposition by the Bangladeshi government, but he is taking great strides to change the destinies of these children. Akash has been able to sponsor some children to attend school.
The child female sex workers he highlights in Bangladesh are usually below the age of fourteen, are destined for a life of sex slavery and are given Oradexon, a steroid drug that makes them look older and more attractive to prospective clients. The drug, if not administered appropriately causes adverse health effects such as Oedema, and may lead to co-morbidities like diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney failure. Most of the girls are cut off from their families and receive limited financial support throughout their lifetime.
When asked why he doesn’t show the more glamorous and progressive part of Bangladesh and is giving the country a bad name, Akash maintains his response. “It was never my intention, I love my country and I want to show the things that need to be changed positively.”
Feature Image: DMG Akash
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