Promoting Child Rights

cr06

Children of Tea Garden
Want of proper food, healthcare and sanitation

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Helemul Alam and Pankaj Karmakar

Financial crisis, lack of proper medicare, insufficient nutritious food and poor sanitation system lead most children of the tea gardens to run unhealthy lives over the years.
While parents have to struggle for arranging plain rice three times a day, it seems a dream for children to have nutritious food everyday.
Hand-made bread and tea which they make drying the leaf of tea laced with salt, are their items for breakfast and lunch. Most of the families can eat rice only during dinner.
“We eat rice, mashed potato, pulse, and sometimes vegetable for dinner,” said Apon Das, a 10-year-old boy residing at Phuskuri tea garden under Rajghat union in Srimongol upazila of Moulavibazar.
“We can purchase some small fish only one day in a week and meat during some festivals like Durgapuja,” said Rina Sangha Bauri of Shishelbari tea garden at Srimongol upazila.
A worker in these gardens gets Tk 55 daily as wage for daylong work. They eat bread more than rice as a registered worker can get 3.50 kg flour every week at Tk 1.50 in ration.
Among the workers who can do some extra work like cultivating betel-leaf can lead better life and can afford slightly better food.
Most of the toilets in the habitats of the tea workers are unhygienic and kachcha causing different kinds of health hazards like dysentery, diarrhea, fever and even tuberculosis. Specially, children are more vulnerable to be infected with these diseases.
A six-year-old boy Proshanjeet Shankha Bhouri at Shishelbari tea garden does not know what is toilet or bathroom. When asked where he defecates, he pointed his finger towards the nearby jungle.
“We do not have any latrine so far. Some people, who can afford, have set up latrine at self-expense. We have been defecating in jungle year after year,” said Sankar Goula, a worker of Rajanagar tea garden.
Tea garden workers also suffer difficulties in collecting pure drinking water. They use tube-well and well for drinking water. But these are yet to be tested whether they are arsenic and germ-free or not.
Health care facilities are very poor here. Generally, a tea garden has a dispensary and a doctor for all of its workers. But the doctor is available only for a few hours in a week and the doctor’s assistant runs the dispensary throughout the week, said workers.
“My child very often suffers from fever and malaria and is still facing it. We get only a few tablets from the garden’s dispensary. But we do not get proper treatment because my child gets cured temporarily. A few days later, he falls sick again,” said Bonomali, a former worker of Shishelbari tea garden.
Medical coordinator of a tea garden Ali Maroof said the number of tuberculosis, malaria, dysentery, diarrhoea and fever patients are abundant. The number of tuberculosis and malaria patients is higher than other localities due to unhygienic atmosphere of their habitats and hilly places.
While most of the garden owners provide very poor medicare facilities, there are also some owners who are providing very high quality medicare facilities for their workers. It varies from one tea garden to another and one company to another, said the workers.
Talking to The Daily Star Makhon Lal Karmokar, president of Bangladesh Cha Sramik Union, said there are 85,000 workers in different tea estates of the country.
Among the workers, around 50,000 work in 91 tea gardens in Molvibazar, he said.
Makhon said there is only one dispensary for the workers of a garden and one MBBS doctor comes to give treatment once weekly for the workers of six tea gardens.
Makhon said on an average around 3,000 workers work in six tea gardens and around 12,000 family members depend on the doctor and six dispensaries.

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