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Handicapped deserve rights, not mercy, say Catholic activists

Bangladeshi disabled limited by culture of neglect, discrimination

Handicapped deserve rights, not mercy, say Catholic activists

Catholic activists have called for promoting the rights-based empowerment of disabled persons in Bangladesh. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

As the world observes International Day of Persons with Disabilities on Dec. 3, Catholic activists have called for an end to neglect and for promoting the rights-based empowerment of disabled persons in Bangladesh.

At least 15 percent of the world's population — 80 percent of them in developing nations — live with various forms of disabilities, according to the United Nations.

The Bangladeshi government operates 103 welfare centers for disabled people that offer various services including education, health services, handicraft training, and small business training.

According to the Social Welfare Ministry, there are about 8 million disabled people in Bangladesh in a population of 160 million. Development groups put the figure higher at more than 10 million.

Bangladesh ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and passed the Persons with Disability Welfare Act in 2013. However, millions of disabled people suffer from neglect and discrimination in their families and in society, activists said.      

"People look at a disabled person with pity. A person or an organization feels complacent by providing a wheelchair to a disabled person, they don’t think about their rights-based empowerment," said Jibon William Gomes, 41, whose legs were paralyzed by cerebral palsy after birth.

In 2010, Gomes set up Turning Point Foundation, an organization focused on the welfare of disabled persons.

"Disabled people don't need mercy, but rights. If disabled people have equal opportunities and rights, they can become self-reliant and contribute to the development of the country," Gomes said, citing his own life example.

Disabled people in Bangladesh suffer from negligence and discrimination, activists say. (Photo by Stephan Uttom)

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Changing mindset

"Many people think that by helping disabled people they can go to heaven. This mindset must change," he said.

Many disabled people in rural communities don't have access to government services and languish in misery, said an official with the Catholic charity Caritas Bangladesh.

"At the rural level, needy disabled people can't avail government services because they don’t know what services they are entitled to and how to access them. We help bridge a network between them and the government," said Binoy Rodrigues, program officer for the social welfare and community development project at Caritas.

"We help them to get various government services including education, sports, stipends and allowances and opening a bank account. From Caritas, we offer them food and medical assistance as per their needs," he said.

Since 2004, Caritas has worked for disabled persons and currently supports 4,500 disabled people across the country.

"Disabled persons are not a liability for family and society because they can prosper if they are entitled rights and opportunities," Gomes said.

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