How home-based childcare facilities support women’s workforce engagement in low-income areas of Dhaka city

“It would not be possible for me to join the workforce if I did not have anyone to care for my child. I can continue my work by keeping my child in a daycare facility. Otherwise, I would have to stay at home with no source of income,” said Nasima (pseudonym), a working mother from the Korail slum (one of the low-income areas in Dhaka city, where most of the residents live in small shacks with bamboo frames and crenelated tin roofs), about a home-based child care facility she uses for her children. There are many other women like Nasima in the slum whose participation in paid work is possible because of the existing home-based childcare support in the community. We interviewed some of them as part of the scoping research on the childcare business model for low-income families that BRAC is developing.

In Korail slum, women generally engage in paid work due to the stress of ensuring basic living conditions, as expenses are high and only one person’s income is not sufficient to meet household needs. The situation is even more difficult in a woman-headed household where the mother is the family’s sole earning member. Therefore, being able to do paid work is very important for most women from the research area to meet household needssuch as food and health careand provide for their children’s education. 

Working women with young children often have to depend on the support of other women and girls in the extended family, as childcare is generally considered to be a female responsibility. We found a mother from the research area, who is engaged with paid work, transferring her childcare responsibilities onto her ten-year-old daughter. She had to sacrifice her daughter’s education so that there was someone to look after the younger children while she worked to provide for her family. When there are no family members or relatives to take care of the child with the mother joining the workforce, they can (if they are fortunate) avail of home-based daycare facilities existing in that area. We found home-based daycare facilities run by the mothers and caregivers—who are referred to as khalas—of the areas. These community-based innovations usually emerge when a mother with a small child requests childcare support from other women in the neighborhood, generally in exchange for a small amount of money or in-kind benefits. Subsequently, earning opportunities are created for the women who work as caregivers. Sometimes the interdependence between the mothers and the caregivers forms a unique bond between the two women with trust working as a key factor. “I have known the caregiver for years. We live in the same house. She is like my mother. She takes good care of my daughter and treats her like her own granddaughter,” said Salma (pseudonym), a working mother of the area employed in a readymade garments factory. 

One of the most important requirements of the mothers from the research area is the safety of their children from physical harm and an assurance from the caregiver that the child will not go missing. Mothers also expect home-based daycare facilities to provide care and support for the children in their absence. 

Our observations during the field research showed that while these home-based childcare facilities responded to an immediate need, they did not adequately meet the children’s care needs and the safety concerns of their mothers. These home-based daycare facilities typically use the living space shared by the caregiver and her family. There is no dedicated space for the children and their cognitive development is not prioritized in home-based childcare facilities. These facilities also do not have basic services such as proper lighting, ventilation, separate toilets, and/or wash facilities for the children. They have no system to protect the children under their care from the risks of physical harm, such as from the cooking stove, open drainage, or sewerage lines near the places where they play. 

As they have to be far from their kids for a significant time and due to the unavailability of formal daycare centers within the neighbourhood, the working mothers in the community have to depend on these home-based daycare facilities despite the lack of a child-friendly environment. Working mothers are also generally not willing to make use of the rare formal daycare centers outside the community as the distance, high costs, mistrust in an unknown caregiver, and the fixed duration of keeping the children in the center, work as barriers. 

Identifying and considering the need for quality childcare services is necessary to make such local home-based childcare facilities more sustainable. Implementing the learnings and insights from these locally innovated home-based childcare facilities, BRAC aims to run a project to support caregivers and working mothers living in such neighbourhoods. Training will be provided to the caregivers under this project so that they can ensure quality childcare services. Educational and learning materials, such as books and toys, that can contribute to children’s cognitive development will also be provided. It can be expected that with external support, the caregivers of these local home-based facilities will be able to establish quality childcare centers with more advanced, child-friendly amenities. The caregivers will also be able to run their home-based daycare center as a social enterprise. 

It is important to consider the larger picture and the need for quality daycare as a national issue both for the children and the working mothers. The development of existing initiatives across the country to provide adequate childcare arrangements and support can enable women’s engagement in paid work while balancing their need for childcare in their absence. The government has a policy on daycares which should be updated and revised to take into account the changing needs of both urban and rural areas. Safe, secure, and child-friendly daycares are a right for children as well as working mothers.