Introduction

The past few years have shown a welcome paradigm shift in the government’s approach to ensuring the welfare and rights of persons with disabilities especially through legislative and policy actions undertaken since Bangladesh ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) on November 30, 2007 and its Optional Protocol on May 12, 2008 [1].

Bangladesh’s status as a state party to the convention catalyzed government efforts in protecting disability rights, where civil society and DPOs had earlier been playing an active role for promotion and raising public awareness and creating demand for enforcement of rights.

Disabled Population: Bangladesh faces a huge challenge in ensuring the rights of persons with disabilities, who make up a significant proportion of the population, possibly up to 10%. The 5th National Population and Housing Census conducted in 2011, indicated that persons with disabilities constituted only 1.4 % of the population. This is an increase from the figure of 0.6% based on the National Census carried out earlier in 2001. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) estimated in 2011 that persons with disabilities constituted some 9.07 % of the population, while the World Bank’s estimated [2] of 31.9 % in 2011 [3]. The disparities seem to suggest an underestimation by the government of the actual number of persons with disabilities. This prevents prioritization of disability issues and included within mainstream development approaches. The total estimated population of Bangladesh is 152.52 million. The World Bank’s estimated 10 % equates to 13.83 million people with disabilities currently living in Bangladesh as of July 2012, which includes approximately 3.4 million children with disabilities [4]. These numbers may rise rapidly, given with the current population growth rate of 1.37 % [5].

Impact of Disaster: Bangladesh is ranked as one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries, with 97.1 % of its land area and 97.7 % of its population at risk of multiple hazards such as flooding, cyclones and droughts affecting large numbers of households, with certain areas at high risk. In addition to the risk of loss of life, natural disasters contributes to poverty, reduced food intake and malnutrition, reduced levels of sanitation and hygiene, limited access to health care and withdrawal of children from school for labour: all of which seriously affect the wellbeing of persons with disabilities [6].

Poverty and Socio-Economic Rights: Bangladesh’s disabled population are among the worst sufferer of poverty [7]. According to World Bank estimates, disabled people represent 15-20% of the poor in developing countries. Statistics from 2010 shows that 43.3 % of the population live on a diet of less than 2,100 calories daily or $ 1 (PPP)/day [8].

Poverty declined by 26 % between the years 2000 – 2010 [9].

Open defecation in the country have reduced from 32 % in 1990 to 4 % in 2011. About 27 % of sanitation facilities were shared in 2011 and 55% were classified as ‘improved’ that year. . Despite such progress, most sanitation facilities remain inaccessible for persons with disabilities.

Important steps have been carried out to fulfill targets under the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) related to reduction in poverty, maternal mortality, child mortality and malnutrition and access to safe water. and safe water.

Constitution of Bangladesh: The Constitution of Bangladesh 1972 secures the right to equality before law and equal protection under law for all and sets out the duty of the state to undertake. Freedom from all kinds of discrimination have been guaranteed in Article 28 of the Constitution. Article 28 (4) encourages the State from making special provision in favour of women or children or for the advancement of any backward section of citizens. Further protection of rights is provided in Article 29(3) (a) which empowers the State to make laws for the vulnerable and backward section of the society, in instances where they are not adequately represented in the service of the Republic. Under the Constitution, persons with disabilities, like all other persons, are guaranteed the right to life and personal liberty, rights on safeguards on arrest and detention and speedy trial, protection from torture and cruel inhuman and degrading treatment, freedom of movement, association, assembly, profession and occupation, religion and expression.

The Fundamental Principles of State Policy act as a guideline for the State in making policy. Article 11 states that “Fundamental human rights and freedoms and respect for the dignity and worth of the human person shall be guaranteed”. Article 14 places a responsibility on the State to free vulnerable sections of the population from all forms of exploitation. Article 15(d) expressly recognizes the right to social security for all which includes disabled persons. TheState is obliged to provide such security in cases of unemployment, disablement, illness and old age.

Recognition of Disability Rights: As early as 1993, the Government established a National Coordination Committee on Disability under the Ministry of Social Welfare. It adopted the National Disability Policy in 1995 and to ensure equal participation and pave increased opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The Disability Welfare Act came into force in 4 April 2001 [10]. The Prime Minister’s office issued an executive order in 2002 to bring this into force. A National Coordination Committee on the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities (responsible for coordinating all disability initiatives by the Government of Bangladesh) then adopted a National Disability Action Plan on Disability 2006 [11].

In 2013, the Rights and Persons with Disabilities Act came into force, repealing and replacing the Disability Welfare Act of 2001. The new law has to an extent adopted the provisions of the CRPD and it marks a transition to a more rights focused approach than the earlier welfare based approach of the 2001 Act. The Act not only has a broader definition of the nature of disabilities but also sets out the rights of persons with disabilities in more detail covering the fundamental rights as well as the cultural, social, economic and political rights. Furthermore the Act vests duties on various committees for better protection of rights of persons with disabilities in a regional and national level and the Schedule of the Act lists out the State’s obligations for establishing such rights. The Neurodevelopment Disabled Persons Protection and Trust Act 2013 provided for a trust to be set up to benefit people with neurodevelopment difficulties and establishes the right of persons with such disabilities to avail the benefits provided under the Trust that includes their nurture, security and rehabilitation [12].

Mechanisms for Protection of Disability Rights: The National Advisory Committee set up in 2014 headed by the Prime Minister aims to ensure implementation of legislation and policies related to persons with disabilities. The MOSW is mandated as the lead government agency responsible for coordinating and implementing the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disability Act 2013 and the National Disability Policy and Action Plan by acting through the National Coordination Committee on the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities (responsible for coordinating all disability initiatives by the Government of Bangladesh) and the National Executive Committee on the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities (responsible for implementing the decisions adopted by the Coordination Committee). District Committees on the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities (chaired by the Deputy Commissioner) are, under the Act, to be constituted in all 64 administrative districts of Bangladesh are responsible for implementing directions from the Government or National Coordination and Executive Committees as well as coordinating and monitoring the activities of Upazilla Committees (led by Upazilla Nirbahi Officers) and Town Committees (chaired by Chief Executive Officers of City Corporations or Municipalities) which will be newly constituted under the 2013 Act. The National Monitoring Committee is vested with the duty to monitor implementation of the CRPD and national initiatives in relation to it through its 46 focal points, one from each of the ministries and departments with responsibility for implementation of disability-related activities.

In addition to the above, the National Steering Committee on Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities was established in 2012 with representatives from key ministries and departments supported by the National Advisory Committee for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disabilities and a Technical Guidance Committee comprising of parents and experts on disability issues [13].

Institutions for the protection of Disability Rights: As per the Constitution of Bangladesh, the judicial institutions have the Supreme Court at its apex (consisting of the Appellate Division and the High Court Division) with all Subordinate Courts (comprising of criminal and civil courts) and tribunals (Administrative Tribunals, Special Tribunals Nari-o-Shishu Daman Tribunal) functioning under it to establish the rule of law. The National Human Rights Commission established by the National Human Rights Commissions Act, 2009 is committed to protect human rights at the national and to review laws to ensure compliance with different international human rights conventions and treaties to which Bangladesh is a signatory [14]. The Information Commission which was set up to enforce and monitor the Right to Information Act 2009.Rules and Regulations made under the Act to empower citizens so that they can use their right to information to ensure transparency and accountability in public, autonomous and statutory organizations and other private organizations constituted or run by the government or foreign financing and thereby promote good governance [15].

The Government’s Social Safety Net Programmes provides for allowances in various categories that includes and benefits persons with disabilities e.g. allowances for the disabled, stipends for disabled students, grants for the schools of the disabled, Fund for the Welfare of Acid Burnt and Disabled, Stipend for drop out students, Vulnerable Group Development, Vulnerable Group Feeding to mention a few which are all run by the Department of Social Services, Department of Women Affairs through offices of the project implementation officers and various government offices with the Union Parishad of the Local Government being responsible for deciding on who the service beneficiaries are at the grassroot level [16].

Budget for Protection of Disability Rights: The national budget for the fiscal year 2014-2015 allocated Tk139.74 billion (about 1,797,485,402 USD 5.6 % of the total budget) for Safety Net and Welfare Schemes does not match the text) increasing funds for school stipend programs, special stipend programmes for physically challenged students, allowances for insolvent disabled persons, old age allowances, allowances for expecting and lactating mothers, food for works programmers, and food assistance for destitute mothers. It also put more emphasis on persons with disabilities and allocated Tk 200 million (2,572,614 USD) to the Trust for Persons with Neuro-Development Disorders and another Tk 50 million (65,000 USD for those who are physically challenged. The budget also proposed to increase the tax exempted income threshold for physical challenged disabled people from Tk 0.3 million (approx. 3,858 USD) to Tk 0.35 million (4,504 USD) [17].

Challenges: The Government of Bangladesh have centralized structure, limiting local officials’ authority and flexibility to adapt services to local capacities and demands. Government level planning often results in inadequate resources and insufficient reference to local circumstances [18]. While the accountability and coordination structure may appear to be quite detailed, the various Committees’ have not been established yet. Moreover, the lack of cooperation between the government and civil society and lack of representation of and collaboration with persons with disabilities means that the structure while detailed on paper, has limited application or effect in practice.

Discriminatory laws affecting disabled peoples’ rights in the family community and state remain in force. Initiatives for persons with disabilities are mostly dealt with separately, an approach that automatically excludes them from mainstream government programmes and services. Social attitudes largely do not recognize the development of ‘potential’ and ‘capability’ of persons, but instead focuses on the disability or ‘inability’ of disabled people. In the absence of national population data disaggregated by disability, ethnicity and gender, there is little information on among others, the actual numbers of persons with disabilities in rural, hilly or urban areas. This renders ‘invisible’ certain types of disabilities and persons with such disabilities making it harder to address their issues and concerns [19].

The CRPD Shadow Report : The following report is based on eight Articles of the UNCRPD namely Article 13 (Access to Justice), Article 6 (Women), Article 9 (Accessibility), Article 16 (Freedom from Violence, Exploitation and Torture), Article 24 (Education), Article 25 (Health), Article 27 (Work and Employment) and lastly Article 29 (Right to Political and Public life). This report is aimed at facilitating the UN Committee on the CRPD in conducting its review and it will also serve as a tool for domestic level advocacy prior to submission of the Shadow Report and after.

The report focuses on the identification and documentation of the situation of persons with disabilities and their experiences drawing from the statistical data derived from surveys and FGDs conducted across seven districts of Bangladesh. The report also consists of a legal analysis of each of the Articles and the recommendations contained in each of the sections which identify the legal and procedural reforms required for disabled people to have equal opportunities to access, for example available judicial remedies in cases of violence or family disputes and discrimination.

Methodology: Primary data was collected through District-level focus group discussions with representatives from disabled person’s organizations, civil society, government representatives among other concerned personnel. The districts covered were Dhaka, Bogra, Dinajpur, Faridpur, Kushtia, Cox’s Bazar and Sylhet. Primary reports on FGDs were then used to prepare a consolidated report on FGDs which reflected the problems and recommendations put forward by the participants of the FGDs. Survey questionnaires were then sent to fourteen categories of respondents (Persons with Disabilities, Disabled Persons Organizations, Local Government, Teachers, Teachers of Special Schools, Medical Practitioners, Judges, Lawyers, Police, NGOs, CSOs and so on) [20] in each of those seven districts and the information derived from there was used to prepare a statistical data on the situation of persons with disabilities. The situation analysis of the report was therefore based on these primary data and supported by secondary data from other reports and secondary materials. The legal analysis section of the report consists of a brief summary of the rights set by each of the CRPD Articles and progresses to a discussion of the national laws and policy framework that currently exist for persons with disabilities before the gaps and limitations of such laws and policies is elaborated on. Each of the sections then ends with a list of recommendations addressed to the State and other concerned bodies or authorities.

 

[1] www.dpi.org/…/BANGLADESH%20UPR
[2] http://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf
[3] http://www.theindependentbd.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=209840:disabled-people-in-bangladesh-magnitude-treatment-and-rehabilitation&catid=176:stethoscope&Itemid=214
[4] http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DISABILITY/Resources/Regions/South%20Asia/DisabilityinBangladesh.pdf
[5] http://bdnews24.com/bangladesh/2012/07/16/persons-with-disability-only-1.4
[6] UNICEF, Bangladesh, Country Programme Document 2012-2016, 2011
[7] http://siteresources.worldbank.org/DISABILITY/Resources/Regions/South%20Asia/ DisabilityinBangladesh.pdf
[8] ‘Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)‘ conversion factor is the number of units of a country’s currency required to buy the same amounts of goods and services in the domestic market as U.S. dollar would buy in the United States.
[9] ] http://world.time.com/2013/07/18/after-much-heartbreak-some-good-news-at-last-for-bangladesh/
[10] http://www.askbd.org/hr_report2008/21_DISABILITY.pdf
[11] Other policies somewhat benefiting persons with disabilities also include the National Children Policy 2011 and the National Disaster Action Plan of 2010.
[12] http://www.dhakatribune.com/bangladesh/2013/oct/08/neuro-disabilities-act-2013-approved
[13] Page 47, http://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/SACDB_Report_FINAL.pdf
[14 ] http://www.nhrc.org.bd/about.html
[15] http://www.infocom.gov.bd/ic/index.php
[16] http://www.bangladesh.gov.bd/www.bangladesh.gov.bd/indexc82a.html?q=en/social-safety-net
[17] https://www.albd.org/index.php/en/resources/special-reports/1241-budget-2014-2015-in-extending-social-protection
[18] UNICEF, Situation Assessment and Analysis of Children and Women in Bangladesh, 2009
[19] http://www.unicef.org/bangladesh/SACDB_Report_FINAL.pdf
[20] Please see Annex for full list of respondents

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