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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 103
January 24, 2009

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Right to employment and literacy as human rights

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury

EVERYONE has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment”- said in Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The constitution of our country as articulated in Article 20 also refers work a right, duty and matter of honour for every citizen who is capable of working. Still, there are huge unemployed people in the country and scarcities of work not only affect unemployed but also their families. Many families suffer from poverty as they do not have earning member in the family. Especially, female-headed households often suffer from chronic poverty as women fail to secure job due to the reason that they do not have necessary education or skill.

It has been further articulated in Article 20 of the constitution, “The State shall endeavour to create conditions in which, as a general principle, persons shall not be able to enjoy unearned incomes, and in which human labour in every form, intellectual and physical, shall become a fuller expression of creative endeavour and of the human personality”. However, the grim reality is that there is little scope provided for poor people to express creative endeavour.

Moreover, the number of people suffering from poverty has increased over the years. Shiree, a partnership between UK Department for International Development (DFID) and Government of Bangladesh (GoB) reveals that 63 million people still live in poverty and 30 million of these live in extreme poverty. However, a recent poverty assessment done by World Bank reveals that Bangladesh remains a poor country with an estimated 56 million people in poverty in 2005 and disparities in incomes and human capabilities across income and occupational groups, gender, and regions.

Literacy competence is an essential learning outcome contributing to economic development. As narrated in “The Global Challenge of Literacy”, UNESCO reflects that a map of areas of high illiteracy in the world corresponds quite closely with a map of high levels of poverty. In this perspective, it is not literacy on its own that makes a difference, but rather what it enables people to do in order to benefit from new freedoms and address poverty- accessing information, using services they have a right to and reducing vulnerability to disease or ecological change. Literacy is one of the features but a universal one that is linked with poverty reduction, economic growth and wealth creation.

Literacy is a means for development, enabling people to access new opportunities and to participate in society in new ways. Literacy is also a right in itself precisely because, without it people will not have equal life chances. In societies today both 'developed' and 'developing' the pace of economic and social change is such that learning continues throughout life. Thus, the use of literacy must also change and adapt for example, when bookkeepers have to handle complex computer programmes rather than recording figures in a ledger, their literacy needs change.

The Right to Education is a fundamental human right. It occupies a central place in Human Rights and is essential and indispensable for the exercise of all other human rights and for development. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty, and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. None of the civil, political, economic and social rights can be exercised by individuals unless they have received a certain minimum education.

The UNESCO Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960) echoed the UDHR in affirming the right to education and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966) stressed the responsibility to provide basic education for individuals who could not complete primary education. In 1975, the Persepolis Declaration spoke of literacy as a right in itself, and in 1981, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women affirmed access to literacy as part of achieving gender equality. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) once again affirmed the entitlement to free, compulsory primary education for all children, while the Hamburg Declaration of 1997 set literacy in the context of the right to adult education, with a view to lifelong learning.

State has the prime responsibility as outlined in the constitution of Bangladesh. It has been stated in Article 17 that the State shall adopt effective measures for the purpose of -

a. establishing a uniform, mass-oriented and universal system of education and extending free and compulsory education to all children to such stage as may be determined by law ;

b. relating education to the needs of society and producing properly trained and motivated citizens to serve those needs;

c. removing illiteracy within such time as may be determined by law.

However, eradicating illiteracy has not been possible despite numerous efforts being taken by the government and non-government agencies. Literacy Assessment Survey 2008 found strong correlation between poverty and literacy in Bangladesh. It was found that the higher the wealth score, the higher is the literacy rate. The Constitution of the People's Republic of Bangladesh pins down the need of education and links education with the needs of society.

People often fail to secure employment primarily because they do not have necessary skills. Unfortunately, graduates in great number have failed to acquire necessary skills required for job market. Literacy Assessment Survey 2008 found that at present 40 percent remains illiterate even after completing primary education though enrolment is commendably high in primary education.

The latest Literacy Assessment Survey 2008, conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics and UNESCO reveals that literacy rate is 48.8 percent for the population over 15+ age groups. Again, literates at advanced level are no more than 30.2 percent of population. It is clear that literates at the initial level would have limited access to the job market. Therefore, quality improvement in adult education is essential too.

To recapitulate, public expenditure on education in Bangladesh as around 2% of GDP is low comparing to other countries in the region. In order to eradicate illiteracy, public expenditure must be increased. The new government should come forward to fulfil our constitutional obligation of removing illiteracy.

Oli Md. Abdullah Chowdhury is working for FIVDB.


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