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NGOs want a better deal for disabled kids

"Let us in." Special needs children want to go to school

A teacher assists a disabled student in a school in Dhaka A teacher assists a disabled student in a school in Dhaka
  • ucanews.com reporter, Dhaka
  • Bangladesh
  • November 13, 2012
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Rifat Howlader’s mother is the only teacher he can get. Born with crippled legs, this nine-year-old has never been allowed to go to to school, which he should have started three years sgo.

Sufi Begum, Rifat’s mother, says the authorities told her: “‘Your son can’t walk, so we can’t take him in now."

She adds that “teachers said that when he can use a wheelchair, they might take him.”

Disabled children in Bangladesh are generally neither seen nor heard.

Although figures from the National Forum of Organizations Working with the Disabled (NFOWD) show about 8.4 million disabled people, roughly 5.6 percent of the population, there are no figures for disabled children.

Many are barred from attending schools and even when they are permitted, they are seldom given the extra help that they need.

Sharmin Akter, 15, is blind and receives help from a dictation writer. But during exams she does not get any extra time to finish, which she says puts her at a big disadvantage.

“I think I deserve 30 minutes more than the others because of my disability,” she says.

NFOWD President Razab Ali Khan estimates that, aside from the government’s meager social welfare programs for the disabled, about 600 NGOs and other organizations work for disabled people. One of the few organizations that accommodates disabled children is Caritas, which helps 7,000. But according to Khan, 75 percent of disabled children get no assistance.

Khan organized a meeting in Dhaka this week to address the problems disabled people face, particularly children, with an emphasis on education as the government drafts a new education law.

He invited Law Revision Committee Adviser Quazi Kholiquzzaman as a special guest to get his concerns – and those of the disabled community – across to those that are drafting this new legislation.

Activists say that current rules under the Education Act 2001 include no specific provision for special facilities in schools for disabled children, meaning they are often unable to attend.

“The proposed education law amendment needs to ensure special rights for disabled children. They should have educational supplies, proper infrastructure, teachers, seats and an evaluation system,” said NFOWD Joint Convener Rafique Zaman.

He points out that every year the government distributes about 220 million text books to primary school children for free but not a single braille book is handed out.

Kholiquzzaman admitted that the education of disabled children was being neglected in Bangladesh.

“In the past, the issue was widely neglected but the National Education Policy 2010 visibly acknowledges special rights for disabled children and urges education institutions to be disabled-friendly,” he says. “But in the absence of legal provisions, their needs are too often overlooked. I hope the new law will address this issue.”

Masuma Akhter, a deputy director of the Social Services Department, says the government lacks funds and resources to offer better services to disabled children.

“We run 64 special schools for disabled kids across the country, each serving 10 people,” she said.

Her department has also recently started a census of disabled people in Bangladesh but it remains unclear whether this will account for disabled children.

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