5:13 pm - Tuesday April 18, 4705

The ‘fallen stars’ of Bangladesh

Like many little girls, Popy likes stuffed animals. The 8-year-old carries her teddy bear everywhere—even to work, where she sorts garbage at a dumping ground in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

“This photo hurts me and inspires me,” says photographer Md Shahnewaz Khan, referring to the first image above that shows Popy clutching her bear close to her heart.

150512173931-11-cnnphotos-fallen-stars-child-labor-restricted-super-169Khan took the picture a year ago as part of his “Fallen Stars” series. At the time, Popy worked nine hours per day. Her family could not afford to send her to school.

“Three years ago, Popy and her family migrated from an island in the Bay of Bengal to the slums,” Khan said.

The photographer began documenting child workers four years ago. He has since taken thousands of photos, fueled by his curiosity and empathy for working children.

“I always want to know about people, their life, their culture and their fight to survive,” he said.

Popy is one of the millions of child laborers in Bangladesh, where attending school could be considered a luxury. According to a UNICEF report from January 2014 (PDF), 5.6 million of the country’s 26 million children were not in school.

Underage laborers work in landfills, factories, brickyards and even homes, Khan said. Often, the conditions are dangerous and they face the possibility of mistreatment, violence and low-quality food.

“They are not lucky like others,” he said.

Khan spent six months following Shafik, 11, who works in a brickyard in Chittagong. In photo No. 6 in the gallery above, Shafik is beaten by his master for playing during work hours.

Shafik’s father agreed to 6,000 Bangladeshi takas (about $80 U.S.) for six months of his son working, according to Khan. That’s around half of a U.S. cent per hour.

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Khan said he relates to his subjects and spends a good deal of time with them. Although he never worked in an aluminum factory or a brickyard as a child, he has faced his own share of financial hardships.

Khan hopes to shed awareness on the realities of working conditions for children living in Bangladesh—and other countries, should he get the chance.

“I believe photography is such a great option for telling the truth to change the world,” he said.

Changing the world, for Khan, means children like Popy and Shafik gaining access to an education.

Popy now goes to school in the morning. But she still works five hours in the evening at the landfill.

“If they find a way to education, they will have found the right way,” Khan said. “They will not be fallen stars, they will be real stars.”

– By Jamie K. White, CNN