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Munir, an eleven-year-old who limps around on his club foot at the Farmgate traffic signal begging for alms, says that being beaten up is a part of his daily life. He gets beaten around at home by his elder brothers, or on the street by other beggars, policemen, or even regular pedestrians.
“Maybe they hurt me because I cannot fight back, or maybe they find my foot ugly,” he says, brushing off the gravity of the issue.
Such children living on the streets are regular recipients of verbal, physical or sexual abuse because it is easier to hurt them, said Dr Khurshed Alam, Chief Executive of Bangladesh Institute of Social Research (BISR), which had conducted a study on the violence faced by such children last year.
Sexual abuse and rape usually occurred to the girls, he stated.
However, Valerie Taylor, founder of Center for Rehabilitation of Paralysed (CRP) states that, “The stigma of having a child who is disabled seems to happen amongst all social levels in the society”.
Abul Kalam Azad, co-chairperson of the Welfare Society for Mental Health and Rehabilitation (WSMHR) said that his son developed psychiatric disorders during high school, could not complete his education within the country because the environment was not friendly.
“He managed to pull through high-school, and got admitted to East West University in the capital, but dropped out within six months because of the behaviour of his peers,” he added.
Those with special psychiatric, mental or intellectual needs are often called “lunatic”, a word bearing a negative connotation about mental capacities, thereby negatively affecting their impression about themselves, said Dr Mahtab Khanam.
Badrul Mannan, General Secretary of WSMHR, who has a son with special psychiatric needs said that his son was hit with an onion by a shopkeeper who thought it would be funny.
“But it had a negative effect on his self-esteem to know that people think of him as a lunatic who can be abused “, added Badrul.
Furthermore, children with special needs can be abused at home because they require extra services, making them a financial liability, said Dr Mahtab Khanam.
Everyone in the community can do something about in order to alleviate the stigma, recommended Valerie Taylor.
Initiatives can be taken to conduct a national awareness campaign focusing on children with special needs, said Promode Mankin, State Minister for Ministry of Social Welfare.