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Upashana Salam and Helemul Alam
Hunger rules over all other needs and this holds particularly true for adolescent girls living in Dhaka slums.
While many of us take our right to education for granted, young girls living in slums find it an “extravagance,” which is better suited for those who can afford safe houses and clean food.
A Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS)-UNICEF study in 2010 reveals the education situation in urban slums is generally worse off than most of the low-performing rural areas.
For example, the proportion of pupils starting Grade 1 who reach Grade 5 is 48 per cent in slums against 79.8 per cent for the national average. The highest drop-out rate from primary school is also recorded in slum areas where it is six times higher than the national level.
Even for those who are enrolled, completion of the primary education cycle is a critical issue. Only 55% of children eventually reach Grade 5.
“I have to look after my three young siblings and work for a living. Receiving an education is a dream unfulfilled for me but hopefully my younger siblings will be able to get the education that I failed to get,” said Shamima, a 15 year old, living in a Mohammadpur slum.
Her aspirations for her siblings seems far from being fulfilled, though, as two of her sisters, aged six and ten, stay at home, preferring to lend a hand in household works rather than spending the time in school.
When asked about this reluctance to send his daughters to school, Shamima’s father replied, “I can only afford to send one of my children to school and I’d rather prefer that it be my son.”
Like him, many other parents living in the slum opine that daughters have to be married off at one point or the other and it’s the son who looks after the family’s needs.
“I wanted to continue my studies but my parents took me off school when I was in fifth grade because they couldn’t afford it,” said 14-year old Shireen.
She now works as a part time domestic help, earning around Tk 2000, which goes as her contribution to household expenses.
Her predicament is shared by Sonia, living in a slum in Karwan Bazar, who used to work in a garments factory but is currently unemployed.
“I wanted to continue my study but due to my father’s death 11 years back, I had to stop my education after class five,” she said, adding that she will try her best not to repeat it with her brothers.
Parents also complain that school education doesn’t merely require them paying the tuition fee.
“We have to pay for the uniform, school supplies and much more,” said Taher Uddin, a day labourer and father of three, living in a slum in Bosilla.
He further added that he is barely able to pay for his family daily expenses, providing an education for his two sons and daughter remains out of question.
Apart from the issue of affordability, parents also refrain from sending their adolescent daughters to school in fear of hooligans teasing them on the way.
Sharmin, a lively ten-year old, goes to a school nearby but her mother is thinking of taking her off school in the next year.
“Even now, my daughter gets catcalls and is harassed by local thugs. I can’t always leave her at school and pick her up. I know this will hurt at first but I see no other option if I want to ensure her safety,” Sharmin’s mother said.
The fault does not just lie with the parents or surroundings, however. Schools and teachers also pay limited attention to slum children, assuming that they will leave school within a short while.
“What use is it for us to dream big when we know that they won’t come true? Our futures are considered insignificant by everyone starting from our parents, teachers and the society. We might as well contribute with money than by an education that will never come to use,” stated 16-year Maisha, woefully.