Even though the government has made it mandatory to form a disability rights committee in each upazila of the country, the decision is not being complied with. To protect the rights of persons with disabilities, there are four-tier government committees but sometimes, they are found in name only. Coordination gap is a big obstacle to implementing disability rights, while fund crisis is another major challenge.
A lack of coordination among the disability rights and protection committees at upazila, district and national levels are making them ineffective and, therefore, the rights of persons with disabilities are not being implemented properly, according to rights groups.
The issues surfaced at a recent virtual discussion entitled "The Roles of Disability Rights and Protection Committees, Effectiveness and Challenge: Way forward" organised jointly by ADD International Bangladesh, The Business Standard and the Daily Samakal.
It was observed in the virtual meeting that although forming a disability rights committee in all upazilas of the country has been made obligatory, it is not being complied with in many upazilas.
Md Shafiqul Islam
Country director, ADD International Bangladesh
The rights of people with disabilities have to be ensured by making these rights committees more effective. If it is done, then we can engage them in the overall development process. And that will lead to an inclusive society.
Since 2018, ADD International Bangladesh, in collaboration with the European Union, has been implementing a project for persons with disabilities in Patuakhali, Bogura and Rangpur districts either directly or through national level networking organisations – NCDW and NGDO.
Under the project styled "Promoting Representation and Participation of Persons with Disabilities in Local Governance and Development (PRPPLGD) in Bangladesh as a Strategy of their Social, Political and Economic Empowerment", we are working on how to make the district, upazila and city committees more effective under the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act.
Apart from this, awareness is also being raised among the impaired people. ADD International is working in about 12 upazilas under the three districts. About 4,500 people are involved in this project.
Ghulam Faruq Hamim
Head of programme, ADD International Bangladesh
According to the Section 16 (1) of the Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013, persons with impairments in Bangladesh should have all kinds of rights.
According to the law, to protect the rights of persons with disabilities there must be committees – the National Coordinating Committee, the National Executive Committee, the District Committee and the Upazila/City Committee – on behalf of the government.
However, the district or upazila level committee meetings focus only on the daily needs of people with impairments. In many cases, these meetings do not have the opportunity to make any observations or discussions or review the progress in ensuring the overall social rights of persons with disabilities.
There are also limitations in coordination and supervision between the national level committees and the district and upazila level committees.
There is a fund crisis as well for holding meetings at the district and upazila levels, which is why the department concerned sometimes has to outsource fund.
The police stations in our project areas are now providing special assistance for the impaired individuals and the committees are holding meetings regularly. However, since deputy commissioners and upazila nirbahi officers are the head of some committees, those committees sometimes cannot hold meetings on time owing to their preoccupation.
The ADD's experience in working with the rights committees through the PRPPLGD project is as follows: Persons with disabilities have come under registration while they have been included in the government social security programme. Most committee members have an idea about the law regarding the rights of persons with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Patuakhali district administration has issued letters to all the unions/ municipalities under the district to make a specific allocation in the annual budget for those with impairments.
Many have received golden citizen cards and are covered by allowance.
Police administration is also providing all kinds of legal assistance to persons with disabilities and there is a separate helpdesk for them.
Besides, Steps are being taken against the abuse of women and children with disabilities.
Most of the committees formed at the beginning of the project are functioning well. Committee meetings in the project areas have now become much more regular due to communication with the people with disabilities. Like district or upazila level committees, local government representatives and administrative officials concerned have a role to play in this regard.
Team Leader-Governance, EU Delegation to Bangladesh
Through the PRPPLGD Project, ADD International, in collaboration with the European Union, has also worked with the rights and protection committees in Patuakhali, Bogura and Rangpur districts.
As part of the project, ADD International has been providing necessary assistance to the local government as well as the district and upazila committees to ensure the participation of the impaired in the committee meetings.
Besides, it is also working with NGOs to increase coordination among local governments, local administration and the committees, and enhance their supervision and capacity.
The project will end on 31 March this year. I hope all the activities that were planned will have been implemented successfully within the stipulated timeframe.
Excluding people with disabilities from the mainstream society do not affect only those who are excluded, but the whole community is affected at the end of the day. This is because the course of barring people from taking part in society leads to a loss of human potentials.
In this sense, the project is a challenging one because its aim has changed the mindset of people and different institutions. From the discussions of a number of participants, we have found that there are still some challenges.
There is need for coordination among the committees at national and local levels. It is also important to maintain proper reporting, follow up meetings and ensure accountability of these committees.
The training of local government representatives and other service providers is also important.
As you mentioned there are national legal and institutional frameworks regarding disability rights, the implementation of the national action plan is still facing a number of challenges.
I thank all stakeholders concerned for their efforts to establish disability rights and implementation of laws and wish your success in future.
Acting editor, The Daily Samakal
At this moment, we are at a crossroads – in the golden jubilee of our country's independence.
Persons with impairments should not be looked upon with pity. They have to be empowered.
They have the right to survive even in the face of adversities. Everyone has to come forward to establish the rights of persons with disabilities. For this reason, The Daily Samakal has been working for the welfare of the impaired for a long time and will continue to do so in the days to come.
Additional secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare
The rights committees have been set up in accordance with the law for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities. What will be done in the committee meetings has been stated in the provision, but today we have come to know that the committees do not hold meetings regularly.
All the disability rights committees and meetings are determined by the law so there is no way to avoid such meetings.
Hardly anything is discussed or any decision taken up in the meetings to make the people with disabilities engaged in income-generating activities. The DCs and UNOs have to play an ardent role in this respect.
Budget shortage cannot be the cause of shying away from one's regular responsibilities. Not only the Ministry of Social Welfare, but also all other ministries and departments should come forward for the welfare of the disabled.
It is true that creating coordination among all these bodies and ministries concerned is a challenge. Some 211 service centres are in operation. District and upazila administrations have been repeatedly notified to form committees. The Public Works Department has been asked to construct buildings in a way so that persons with disabilities can access them.
Khandakar Jahurul Alam
Executive director, Centre for Services and Information on Disability
The rights and protection act for those with impairments has been formed with the participation of 12,000 such persons.
There is no gap in the law. If the rights committees perform their duties properly, the lives of the disabled would be changed. Besides, the National Foundation for Development of the Disabled Person has manpower shortage and resources constraints so it cannot play an effective role as a coordinating organisation.
Executive director, Women with Disabilities Development Foundation
We could not hold accountable the officials concerned tasked with ensuring the rights of those people with different kinds of impairments.
There is doubt whether the committees hold any meeting once a year. Around seven years have passed since the Disability Protection Law was formulated, but we are not getting any reports from those rights committees.
Not all impaired people need allowance. We have to turn them into human resources and make sure that they participate in all social activities.
President, National Council of Disabled Women (NCDW)
People in the administration do not want to waste time for meetings.
Since the meetings are held on the second and third floors, people with physical impairments cannot climb up the stairs. There is no monitoring over the meetings as such by the government, while no one is held accountable in this regard.
Sushanto Kumar Das
President, National Grassroots Disability Organisation
The Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act has been in force for seven years. Awareness programmes have to be carried out by the people's representatives.
In the next population census, the government must identify people with disabilities properly to get their actual number.
AHM Noman Khan
Executive Director, Centre for Disability in Development
In 2001, even though talks about the welfare of those with impairments stated in the law, their rights were not mentioned there. The law promulgated in 2013 has provisions regarding the rights of this group.
The law has many positive impacts. Especially, government officials have been involved in the activities related to the disability rights.
However, we are way behind implementing the law. If we can make disability rights committees stronger and more effective, persons with disabilities will be able to enjoy all their rights.
Nazrana Yesmin Hira
Programme Manager, Manusher Jonno Foundation
To fill in the allowance form, a disable person has to pay Tk200 but there are many who do not have the capacity to pay this amount.
It is necessary to ease the process for allowance. It's a matter of great regret that the disabled do not get any financial or other support from the government other than the Tk700 monthly allowance.
However, officials of various ministries are not aware of their duties related to the lawful rights of persons with disabilities.
There is also a lack of monitoring over the implementation of the law. So, I suggest forming a monitoring cell.
Abu Sayed Md Kawsar Rahman
Deputy Director, District Social Welfare Office, Bogura
The identification of persons with impairments is a challenge. Doctors who were trained in 2012-13 to conduct the survey and identify people with disabilities in upazilas have now been transferred from their workplaces. As a result, doctors who are involved in same duty are not trained enough.
In most hospitals, doctors remain busy with the identification of the persons with disabilities.
There is also a problem regarding the announcement of the allowance. After the announcement was made, healthy people also wanted to come under the category of the disabled. People with disabilities tend to be less self-reliant. They are rather interested in getting the allowance.
Another challenge is inadequate manpower under the Department of Social Services at the upazila level. We have to perform our duties with only 12-13 staffer in an upazila.
Md Nurul Islam
Social services officer, Bogura
We have teams in Bogura and our regular meetings are held here. But we have not get any response from the officials of other ministry.
There are 4,000 people with impairments in the district. We are trying to make many of them self-reliant and helping them obtain various loans including education loan.
Shila Rani Das
Deputy Director, District Social Services Office, Patuakhali
It is advisable to engage those in upazila committees to monitor the district committees as well. Then a lot of problems will be identified.
Trainings need to be imparted on the officials at district and upazila committees. We observe that e officials of other ministries are less interested in disability issues.
Probation Officer, District Social Services Office, Rangpur
In the midst of many problems in our area, district and upazila committee meetings are held regularly. However, there are some problems due to the coronavirus.
Md Oliul Islam
Upazila social services officer, Galachipa
The rights committee in our upazila was formed before I came here. The committee is active and ADD international is making a huge contribution.
If everyone is aware, committees will be active to enforce the rights of persons with disabilities across the country.
- Committee meetings should be held regularly especially at the national level.
- All the opportunities for persons with disabilities must be ensured alongside analysing and applying the provisions of the existing laws.
- The committees should play a more active role in implementing the national action plan for those with impairments at the local level.
- The district, upazila and city committees should report to the higher authorities concerned and follow up decisions taken in their regular meetings.
- The committees need to make sure whether they are being able to function properly or not, and if not, the disadvantages need to be identified and brought to the notice of the authorities concerned.
- Steps should be taken to provide necessary fund/manpower/logistics supports to ensure the protection or services to persons with disabilities and make the district-upazila committees more effective
- The national committees have to be made more effective as per the law