Written by Farjana Reza, National Programme Officer, International Labour Organization CO-Dhaka, Bangladesh

 

Towards a just and equitable society, it is needed to ensure that every individual, regardless of their abilities or disabilities, has access to social protection. Persons with disabilities often face multiple barriers and forms of exclusion, making it crucial to design and implement inclusive social protection programs that address their needs.

Persons with disabilities (PWDs) [1] comprise 15 percent of the world’s population (WHO and World Bank, 2011). Exclusion of PWDs has a significant cost for individuals and households as well as for societies. Economic losses related to the exclusion of PWDs from the labour force range from three to seven percent of gross domestic product (GDP) (Backup, 2009).

Bangladesh has a population of 169.8 million people (Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), 2022); disability is not included in any routine data collection or surveillance system in the health sector (World Health Organization (WHO), 2015). According to the National Survey on Persons with Disabilities 2021 (BBS, 2022) as per the Government defined categories of disability, among the people of Bangladesh 2.80% have at least one disability, this is 3.29% among males and 2.34% among female population and 2.92% in rural area and 2.45% in urban area.

By promoting inclusive policies and providing adequate support, we can foster greater social inclusion, empowerment, and well-being for persons with disabilities. This article outlines the current context of the social protection system and policy imperatives that might be designed and implemented in Bangladesh to promote the rights and well-being of PWDs through inclusive social protection measures.

 

Understanding Disability and Social Protection

Disability is not pre-determined, or static; rather it is context-specific, socially constructed, a relation between a person’s impairment and their environment.

The Preamble of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Person with Disabilities (CRPD) (2006) says that disability is: “an evolving concept that results from the interaction between persons with impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers that hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.”

Given the multidimensional challenges confronted by PWDs, targeted social protection schemes for PWDs, are a set of policies and programmes designed to reduce and prevent poverty and vulnerability throughout the lifecycle. An inclusive social protection system across the life cycle would entail the following for an individual (National Social Security Strategy (NSSS), 2015):

  • (Basic) Income security and adequate standards of living;
  • Coverage of health care costs including early intervention, (re)habilitation and assistive devices; 
  • Coverage of disability related costs including access to support services; 
  • Faciliate access to early childhood development, education and economic empowerment programmes. 

Social protection programs aimed at PWDs in Bangladesh primarily feature unconditional and non-contributory initiatives. According to the Ministry of Finance (MoF), 7 out of 115 social security programs currently being implemented target PWDs (MoF, 2022). Eligibility for these programs is determined by various criteria that differ between programs. For example, cash transfer program eligibility requires PWDs to be over six years old, residents, and have an annual income below BDT 36,000 (Ministry of Social Welfare, 2013/2023). However, selection committees prioritize older individuals, homeless people, women with multiple disabilities, and economically disadvantaged children with intellectual impairments.

 

Current social protection scheme in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is committed to promoting the rights of PWDs. The country signed and ratified the United Nations CRPD (2006) in 2007, which is regarded as a fundamental international human rights instrument. As an effective follow-up to the CRPD ratification, disability-related issues have been given due priority in the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS), formulated, and adopted in 2015. This approach comprises: 

  • For Persons with Disabilities,a child disability benefit for all children with a disability up to age 18 and; 
  • A disability benefit for all adults with severe disabilities aged 19-59 years, and;
  • At the age of 60, people with severe disabilities will transition to the old age allowance. 

Social protection programs aimed at PWDs in Bangladesh primarily feature unconditional and non-contributory initiatives. According to the Ministry of Finance (MoF), 7 out of 115 social security programs currently being implemented target PWDs (MoF, 2022). Eligibility for these programs is determined by various criteria that differ between programs. For example, cash transfer program eligibility requires PWDs to be over six years old, residents, and have an annual income below BDT 36,000 (Ministry of Social Welfare, 2013/2023). However, selection committees prioritize older individuals, homeless people, women with multiple disabilities, and economically disadvantaged children with intellectual impairments.

 

Recommendations to address policy gaps:

  • Adequacy is not enough compared with the other countries or the global average. It is good to seek more financing opportunities (not only governmental tax financed) in this sector and should increase the allowance.
  • Compatibility with the other benefit is not allowed. It is important to receive both mainstream social protection schemes and disability-specific schemes.
  • There is an eligibility criterion with the income test. It is essential to be removed in the future for making it universal.

 

Policy Imperatives: Towards inclusive social protection for PWDs

Legislative Framework: The government must implement laws and rules that protect the rights of PWDs, such as anti-discrimination guidelines, accessibility requirements, and provisions for reasonable accommodations. These statutory provisions will offer a solid framework for inclusive social protection policy.

Infrastructure and Accessibility: Infrastructure accessibility is necessary for PWDs to have access to essential services, including healthcare, education, and employment prospects. Public buildings, transport systems, educational institutions, and healthcare facilities should all be built with accessibility in mind. PWDs will be empowered and enabled to actively participate in society through accessible environments.

Inclusive Education: PWDs must have access to high-quality education in order to be empowered and integrated into society. By putting in place policies that enable inclusive classrooms, specialized support services, and accessible learning materials, the government should provide inclusive education for PWDs. For those with disabilities, inclusive education will improve possibilities for skill development and employment prospects.

Employment and Livelihood: Discrimination, inadequate skill development, and inaccessible workplaces frequently pose obstacles for PWDs in finding employment. To ensure fair employment prospects for PWDs, the government should implement affirmative action policies. Incentives for hiring PWDs by private sector businesses, programmes for their specific career needs, and programmes to encourage self-employment and entrepreneurship among PWDs might all fall under this category.

Healthcare and Rehabilitation: In order to maximise their functional potential and general well-being, PWDs need both accessible and inexpensive healthcare services as well as rehabilitation facilities. The government should create regulations that ensure PWDs have access to complete medical care, which includes treatments for their physical and mental health, aids, and rehabilitation programmes.

Awareness and Social Inclusion: Raising knowledge and altering society perceptions of PWDs are essential for promoting inclusion. The public awareness efforts to dispel stereotypes, increase understanding of the rights of people with disabilities, and encourage favourable portrayals of PWDs in the media and in public debate. In addition, actions should be taken to encourage social inclusion through encouraging community involvement and developing forums for PWDs to express their issues and participate in decision-making.

 

An inclusive social protection system is essential to ensure the rights, well-being, and full participation of PWDs in Bangladesh. By implementing the policy imperatives mentioned above, the government in collaboration with national and international stakeholders can create an enabling environment where PWDs can thrive and contribute to society. It is crucial for policymakers, civil society organizations, and stakeholders to collaborate and work toward a society that embraces diversity, inclusivity, and equal opportunities for all, regardless of disability status. 

 

References:

Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (2022). Report: Population and Housing Census 2022. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Planning, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Backup, Sebastian. (2009). The price of exclusion: the economic consequences of excluding people with disabilities from the world of work. International Labour Office, Employment Sector, Skills and Employability Department. - Geneva: ILO, 2009 85 p. (Employment working paper; no.43)  

International Labour Organization. (2003). Social protection: a life cycle continuum investment for social justice, poverty reduction and development. https://www.ilo.org/public/english/protection/download/lifecycl/lifecycle.pdf

Ministry of Finance. (2022). Social Security Programs: Fiscal Year 2022-23. Finance Division, Ministry of Finance, Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh.

Ministry of Social Welfare. (2013/2023). Allowance for the Persons with Disabilities. Government of the People´s Republic of Bangladesh.

National Social Security Strategy. (2015). General Economics Division Planning Commission Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh  https://socialprotection.gov.bd/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/National-Social-Security-Strategy-English.pdf

United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). (2006). Sixty-first session of the United Nations General Assembly by resolution A/RES/61/106. https://social.desa.un.org/issues/disability/crpd/convention-on-the-rights-of-persons-with-disabilities-crpd

World Health Organization. (2015). Bangladesh Health System Review, Manila: WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific

World Health Organization and World Bank. (2011) World Report on Disability, available at: https://www.who.int/disabilities/world_report/2011/report.pdf?ua=1

 

[1] According to Article 1 of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Person with Disabilities (2006), “persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others”.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
    • Social care services
  • Labour market / employment programmes
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
  • Programme design
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disability
  • Labour market / employment
  • Productive / Economic inclusion
Countries: 
  • Bangladesh
Regions: 
  • South Asia
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's