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9-Year-Old Child Worker Dies in Bangladeshi Textile Mill

DHAKA, Bangladesh — A supervisor at a textile mill was arrested after a 9-year-old worker died over the weekend, and the boy’s father accused the supervisor and others of killing him because he had protested against abuse.

Ismail Hossain, the officer in charge of the Rupganj police station in Narayanganj District in central Bangladesh, said that Nazmul Huda, an assistant administrative officer at the Zobeda Textile Mill, had been taken into custody for questioning, and that others would also be detained as the inquiry continued.

The father of the boy, Ratan Barman, 70, filed a complaint on Sunday with the Rupganj police, accusing supervisors at the mill of killing his son by pumping air from a compressor machine into his rectum.

The boy, Sagar Barman, had been working at the mill for seven months, along with his parents, his father said in a telephone interview on Monday.

“I thought, as we are poor, it will be helpful to run our family if my son Sagar can do some work in this factory,” Mr. Barman said. “I used to gather empty bobbins,” putting them into a trolley, he added. “My son also used to do the same work.”

Last year, a 12-year-old boy died in a similar manner at the motorcycle repair shop where he had worked. Though the official minimum working age is 14, child labor has long been widespread in Bangladesh, and the government does not keep records of workplace deaths or injuries involving children. But cases like Sagar’s capture the public’s attention.

Mr. Barman, in his police complaint, said he and his son had arrived at work at 6 a.m. on Sunday, as usual. Around noon, Sagar went to the compressor to clean dust from his body. Soon after, a female worker told Mr. Barman that Sagar was lying on the floor.

The father said he had rushed over and found his son unable to speak. The boy’s abdomen was swollen. Sagar was taken to a nearby hospital, then to Dhaka Medical College and Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

In the complaint, the father accused four identified and four other unknown people at the mill of being involved in the boy’s death, including Mr. Huda.

According to the police complaint, Mr. Barman said those men and several other linemen and supervisors used to speak abusively to him and his son, and beat them when there were small mistakes in their work. He said that his son was killed because he had protested about the abuse.

The complaint accused the factory’s owners, Mozammel Haque Bhuiyan, Mazharul Islam Bhuiyan, Azharul Haque Bhuiyan and Zafar Hossain Bhuiyan, of using child laborers in their factory.

The factory owners and supervisors could not be reached for comment on Monday night.

Mr. Hossain said the police were still investigating how the air got into the boy’s body, and whether “air was pumped by someone else into his body through the rectum or air went into his body through his mouth when he was cleaning his body.”

He said the mill was established in 1985 and produced yarn from cotton, which was sold at local markets to make fabric.

About 3,000 workers are employed at the mill, an estimated 10 percent of them children. They were not recruited but were employed at the request of the adult employees who wanted “some light work” for their children to perform so that “they can earn some money for their family,” Mr. Hossain said.

The management hired the children as a “humanitarian” gesture, according to Mr. Hossain.

Sagar had earned 3,100 taka, or about $40 a month.

The air compressors were mostly used to clean dust from machines and accessories in the factory, Mr. Hossain said. But he said the boy and some other workers also used the compressors to clean themselves of factory dust.

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