Intellectually challenged children are made to sit out in the open under the scorching sun for hours at Government Physical Education College in Mohammadpur in the capital yesterday so that they listen to people delivering tortuous speeches. Photo: Anisur Rahman
They were made to sit under the sun for two and a half long hours and listen to speeches they could barely understand.
As a minister and top government and NGO officials spoke about various successes of the government, some 400 intellectually challenged boys and girls sat on the ground, bewildered.
Aged between five and fifteen, the children were brought to the Government Physical Education College at Mohammadpur in the capital around 9:00am and made to sit till 11:30am.
Some were seen holding umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat. Several others were on wheelchairs.
State Minister for Social Welfare Promode Mankin addressed the programme. Other speakers included Director General of the department of social welfare and development Ayub Hossain, lawmaker Mir Shawkat Ali Badshah, Dhaka district social welfare department Director Harunur Rashid and National Life Insurance Company Ltd Managing Director Jamal MA Nasir.
To most of the children with challenges there, the speeches were unfathomable. Photo: Anisur Rahman
The programme was organised by the Society for the Welfare of the Intellectually Disabled, Bangladesh (Swid) on the occasion of its annual sports programme. Swid is a local NGO working with physically and mentally challenged children since 1977.
Yesterday, as its officials praised the minister and other government officials for their support and boasted about their various successes, some of the kids engaged in bickering, seemingly oblivious to what was happening on the stage.
Such behaviour by top government officials and NGO workers is in stark contrast to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's care for the children with special needs.
And Hasina's daughter Saima Wazed Putul champions the rights of children needing special attention. She is a member of the National Association of School Psychologists in America and is also involved with Autism Speaks, a research organisation.
Asked to comment, Nafees Rahman, director of the National Forum of Organisations Working with the Disabled, said, "This is a clear lack of commonsense shown by the organisers and it makes you ask yourself how much of it is for the children and how much of it for gratification of the speakers."
Muntasir Maruf, a doctor at the National Mental Hospital, said it was impossible for children with special needs to grasp such long speeches. "They respond well to other forms of communications like audio and visuals."
An expert at Bangladesh Protibondhi Foundation said the government high-ups in the sector demonstrated a "shocking lack of understanding" about these children.
"These children develop muscle spasms if made to stay still for too long. They also do not have the capacity to react. So, if they are made to sit, they will do so until allowed to get up regardless of the discomfort they might be going through," the expert told The Daily Star last night, requesting anonymity.
Contacted, Swid Director Nurul Islam, who himself spoke at the programme, said they went too far in this regard and that they would be careful about this in future.
He said they had 90 branches across the country and 468 children were brought to yesterday's programme from 62 branches.