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Discrimination in the family, the community and the workplace is at the core of most violations of the rights of children with disabilities in Bangladesh. Beliefs are that disability is a curse and these social beliefs are deeply rooted at all levels. While progress is slow, changes have been noted due to policy modifications and social mobilisation.
Unicef’s report “The State of the World’s Children 2013”, which was unveiled in Bangladesh recently and especially dedicated to children with disabilities, strongly recommends building more inclusive societies for them.
Bangladesh is among the first countries to ratify and bring into force the two most significant global documents that protect the rights of children with disabilities– the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
Rehabilitation services in Bangladesh are provided by the government under the direction of the Ministry of Social Welfare.
The country has taken a number of legislative and policy actions towards national adoption of the global commitments including the Children Policy 2011 and the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2012.
However, the act, a key factor for taking further actions, is pending enactment.
Social Welfare Secretary Suraiya Begum said the bill was vetted by the law ministry. At present the ministry is waiting for sending it to the cabinet.
Knowing the exact number of children with disabilities and the types of problems they are facing is another issue for further actions. However, till date the government is in the dark in this regard, as no nationwide survey on children with disabilities was held in the past.
Recently the government has started a survey to count the number.
The survey was started in June and will end in August. The result will be known not before September, said the social welfare secretary.
Challenges to realisation of the rights of children with disabilities need to be understood within the context they live in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries and over 31 percent of the total population live below the national poverty line.
To make an inclusive society for the children with disabilities, the government has mandated the schools to build ramps. The government has a programme of awarding the children with stipends as well.
Children with disabilities at primary, secondary and higher secondary levels received Tk 300, 450 and 600 per month respectively in the fiscal year 2012-13. A total of 18,620 students with disabilities, including those who enrolled for higher studies, received the stipend, a source from the social welfare ministry said.
Kalyani is a special and inclusive education system for children with disabilities under Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation. It has three centres in Dhaka.
Momtaz Begum, principal of the Malibagh school said 157 students including 26 regular children are enrolled in the school. The school has 15 staffs.
Children usually enjoy times here because, alongside study, the school has good entertainment facilities for them. Behaviour of the teachers and staffs are also good, said Nilufar Aktar, mother of a child with a disability.
A major initiative in the development of heath for children with disabilities is the establishment of Shishu Bikash Kendra (child development centre) in government medical colleges.
Ten centres with trained multi-disciplinary professionals are located in as many government medical hospitals with three in Dhaka.
The government has a plan to establish similar centres in its other medical hospitals as well, said Dr Naila Zaman Khan, national co-ordinator of the programme.
The Centre for Neurodevelopment and Autism in Children (CNAC) is another initiative where children with disabilities receive services. CNAC was launched in 2011 and is the first governmental initiative to establish a nationwide paediatric neurodevelopment and autism related management.
At present 100 to 150 children take services from the centre each day, said Professor Shaheen Akhter, executive director of the centre. She said 15 children can take services at its Day Care centre for five days in a week.
Prof Shaheen said they have further plan to turn the centre into an institute.