The government should pay more attention to marginalised and excluded groups trapped in poverty as it strives to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, experts said yesterday.
Bangladesh has successfully reduced high general poverty and extreme poverty in the last several decades, said Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of the Power Participation Research Centre.
“But there are groups that have been trapped in poverty because of exclusion and marginalisation. If we don't give them special attention, our efforts to cut poverty further as well as implement the SDGs will not be successful.”
Rahman's comments came at a national workshop on “Leaving No One Behind: Exclusion and Marginalisation Challenges in Bangladesh”, held in Dhaka.
The Society for Environment and Human Development, the PPRC, the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh and Gram Bikash Kendra jointly organised the event in association with the European Union. The number of people belonging to the marginalised groups might be about 58 lakh, according to a government estimate. But Rahman said the number could be roughly about 80 lakh.
“Their situation will not improve if we just give them 10 more cards under the Vulnerable Group Feeding programme. We have to bring in changes to the strategy and give them additional attention,” he said.
The marginalised groups include tea workers, sweepers, dalits, sex workers, Biharis, Urdu-speaking weavers, barbers, washer-men and women, tailors, butchers and carriers of bridal carriages.
The government has various targeted social safety net programmes, said Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the prime minister. “We have to include those who have been excluded so far.”
He said the government has given huge emphasis on developing infrastructure such as transport, roads, bridges, power and energy in the last eight years. These infrastructures are benefitting all segments of the population.
The adviser also stressed bringing in necessary reforms as there are some legal barriers that stand in the way of the marginalised groups.
“It is easy to reform the laws,” he said, adding that the advocacy groups should send recommendations for areas that warrant reforms. Many people have become marginalised because of their caste or professions, said Wahiduddin Mahmud, a leading economist. “This is very unfortunate.”
The challenges they face are also different, although there are some common ones in areas of health, education and voting rights.
There are incidents where students from marginalised families have defied odds and have gone on to become educated. But, they are facing barriers while getting jobs. “We have to look at them from human rights points of view,” he added.
Legal reforms are necessary to integrate them into the mainstream society, said Md Abdul Karim, managing director of the Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation, which works for sustainable poverty reduction through employment generation. “It is very unfortunate to see marginalised groups after more than 40 years of the Liberation War,” said Hameeda Hossain, vice-chairperson of Research Initiatives, Bangladesh.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics is working on carrying out a census on the excluded groups, said Dipankar Roy, deputy director of the state-run agency.
Once completed, this will help the ministries intervene effectively in taking the benefits of 142 social safety net programmes to them, he added.
The children of the marginalised groups have to be given education, said Harishankar Jaladas, a writer and researcher. Otherwise, they will not be able to move out of poverty, he added.
A five-member family in a tea garden needs Tk 2,100 a month to maintain all expenses, whereas their income is Tk 895, said Rambhajan Kairi, general secretary of Bangladesh Tea Workers Union.
“So, there is no way for those families to send their children to school.”
Besides, tea workers lose their designated accommodation when they retire.
“Where will they go then? They are compelled to engage their children in their line of work, so that they can keep the house. As a result, we have been in this profession for more than 160 years,” he added.
Steps have to be taken in line with the demands of the marginalised groups instead of imposing any solutions from above, said Sakhawat Ali Khan, chairman of SEHD, who presided over the workshop. The marginalised groups have to be given land rights, or else their exclusion will continue, he added.
The workshop organisers are implementing a project to identify the marginalised groups and the challenges confronting them over the next three years, Philip Gain, director of SEHD, said in his presentation.
A national resource centre will be set up to provide service to the excluded groups, he added.