Poor households with a disabled child are one of the most marginalised and vulnerable groups in Bangladesh. They struggle to cope with the higher health care costs and lost income opportunities from constant care duties. As a family, they experience multiple deprivations, barriers to inclusion, and stigma and discrimination.
22.5 million people with a disability in Bangladesh
While Bangladesh has made significant progress over the last few decades in reducing poverty rates, 47 million people are still living in poverty and 26 million people in extreme poverty . Hunger is a serious problem with 41% of children under five stunted and 37 million people food insecure – one of the worst levels in the world . Poverty andmalnutrition are both the causes and consequences of disability.
Government spending on health and education (1.4% and 2.2% of GDP) is extremely low . As a result, there is a severe lack of medical infrastructure and skilled professionals needed to treat the estimated 22.5 million people with some form of disability in the country.
The few specialised health services that do exist are mostly in the capital city, Dhaka, and inaccessible to poor households due to distance, cost, or lack of awareness. Out of 30,000 non-government organisations (NGOs) working in the country, less than ten have specialist programmes for children and adults with learning disabilities, autism, or other special needs.
1.7 million children with disabilities out of school
In Bangladesh, despite educational stipends, there are 1.7 million children with disabilities who are out of school or never enrolled . This lack of education compounds poverty in adulthood through a lack of livelihoods and independence, further pressuring family and state resources.
As a result, poor children and adolescents with learning disabilities such as autism spectrum disorders, Down’s syndrome, severe epilepsy and other special needs do not receive the treatment, education, and support they need to manage their conditions and maximise their opportunities for personal development and independence. The poverty of their families worsens with the additional care needs, and cost of expensive but poor quality treatment. If they are girl children, they face the double rejection of their sex and their disability and are highly at risk of abuse and sexual violence.