Thousands of clothing stores in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka are facing closure and a government decree barring them from selling their wares has prompted the nation’s largest garment producers to suspend work.
The closure is the latest in a series of measures by the government in a bid to curb the nations growing garment industry, which has grown rapidly over the past two decades.
Since 2014, the government has imposed a ban on clothing and toys, banned the sale of childrens’ clothes and banned the import of children and women’s clothing.
The measures came in response to a nationwide wave of child-driven violence that has killed more than 1,000 people and left more than half a million homeless in the past year.
Since March, more than 20 garment factories have closed, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
In recent weeks, the UN has warned of the dangers posed by child labour, which is largely unregulated in Bangladesh.
But the garment industry is largely run by middlemen, who are often reluctant to take responsibility for working conditions.
In a statement on Sunday, the Bangladehi government said it would impose the “maximum possible” penalty on those involved in the closure of shops.
“In the light of the closure, it is necessary to ensure the safety of the workers, especially the children, and also ensure that their rights and interests are protected,” the statement said.
The government said all retailers that do not follow the restrictions would face the maximum possible penalty of a maximum of 50,000 Bangladese shillings ($2,800) for each day they remain open.
“The authorities will continue to implement the measures for the next two months to bring down the costs of the shutdown,” the government statement added.
“We will take all measures to protect the workers and children and we will not tolerate the closure or interference in their lives.”
The countrys most populous province, West Bengal, is also grappling with the problem of child labour.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared a state of emergency in West Bengal and issued orders to suspend the sale and import of clothes for three days in the state.
The crackdown has been widely condemned by rights groups and the UN.
“This is yet another example of the government’s inability to keep its promises to its people, including those affected by the garment crisis,” said Nabeel Raja, head of the Bangladesh-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Bangladesh, who is also a member of the World Health Organization.
“There is no alternative to the government to make the necessary reforms.
But the government will not act unless the countrys garment industry becomes sustainable again.”
In a recent report, the United States’ State Department called Bangladesh’s efforts to curb child labour a “waste of time”.
“We have no doubt that the government is attempting to tackle child labour in the garment sector, but we see little or no progress in tackling the underlying causes of the problem,” the report said.
“These efforts have also not been accompanied by any meaningful implementation of child labor prevention measures, and the government must address the root causes of this problem.”
A report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF last month estimated that almost 40 per cent of Bangladesh’s garment workers were under the age of 15.