This article discusses the lessons learned from a citywide approach to reduce the prevalence of child labor and to protect working children’s rights in four cities in Bangladesh. World Vision targeted around 89,000 internally displaced children in four cities (Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet and Khulna) from 2016 to 2018. The approach was rolled out at different levels of city administration (neighborhood, district and national) and was based on partnerships and collaboration, promoting local community support mechanisms and drawing on the knowledge and feedback gained from those neighborhood activities to undertake advocacy at district and national policy levels. The citywide approach resulted in approximately 70,000 children either returned to school (if aged below 14) or continuing to work but in better jobs (those aged 14 or above). Families benefited from vocational training and income-generating activities. On average, household income increased by 15 percent.
This approach offers lessons for others involved in urban programming. However, several challenges were encountered: (1) dynamic population movements; (2) the preference among the most vulnerable IDPs for direct cash support rather than capacity building and skills training; and (3) efforts by the child labor protection committees to address abuse (both of child employment law, and physical and sexual abuse of children) were not very effective in cases where the abuser was an influential person. The authors suggest, as a way to mitigate these challenges: (a) allocating more time at the neighborhood level before carrying forward activities at district and national levels, rather than attempting interventions at three levels simultaneously; (b) building awareness among government representatives and service providing agencies of the importance of social and institutional development; and (c) better advocacy and follow up to engage influential stakeholders.