Playground only exists on paper
In the western corner of the National Parliament building adjacent to the Mirpur Road in the capital, a signboard with the inscription "proposed playground for children with disabilities" can be seen erected on a field covered with thick vegetation.
The five-acre land is supposed to be a playground for children with special needs, after Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced to turn it into a playground in 2011.
But 10 years later, the construction of the country's only playground for children with disabilities still has not begun, all due to the negligence of the authorities concerned and bureaucratic tangles.
With no gates whatsoever for visitors or children, the field has been left unattended all this time.
It is now covered with bushes and shrubs of all kinds, becoming an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.
According to disability rights experts, following the announcement, the land acquisition process for the playground was completed by 2016.
In January 2017, ASM Feroz, the then chief whip of the parliament, announced that it would be completed within six months.
But even after Feroz's announcement, the procurement process for the playground remained immobile.
Initially, the National Disabled Development Foundation was given the responsibility to develop the playground, which decided that the field will be turned into a sports complex .
Contacted, Md Anisuzzaman, managing director of National Disabled Development Foundation, said, "We do not have the experience and capacity to complete such projects."
"Therefore, the task was handed over to the Ministry of Youth and Sports in 2019," he added.
On November 20, 2019 Md Zahid Ahsan Russell, state minister for the youth and sports ministry, and Akhter Hossain, senior secretary to the ministry, visited the site and promised to inaugurate the playground as soon as possible.
In December 2020, Zahid presented a primary design of the playground to the speaker of the parliament.
The design included boundary walls, walkways, audience gallery, washrooms and changing rooms for children with special needs.
Contacted, MOYS' Akhter Hossain said, "We are progressing a bit slowly because the site is at a very sensitive location."
"When we placed the project before the planning ministry in 2019, they asked for clearance from the Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs," he told The Daily Star on November 15.
Finally, they got clearance from the parliament and sent all the required papers to the planning ministry. "In fact, I gave them a reminder yesterday mentioning that this is a priority project of the prime minister," said the senior secretary.
"We are hoping that we shall get the approval within a few weeks. After that, we should be able to deliver the sports complex within six months," he added.
Asked whether the complex will facilitate access for children with all types of special needs, Akhter Hossain said, "We'll follow the proposed design. Since it is located within the premises of the parliament, we can't build too many structures."
Meanwhile, disability rights activists and parents of children with special needs expressed disappointment over the delay in the project.
Syeda Asma Rashida, project manager, Sightsavers Bangladesh, an INGO working on disability rights, said, "We are really disappointed that despite repeated promises from the government, the playground has not been built yet."
According to the Persons with Disabilities Rights and Protection Act, 2013, the government has the responsbility to ensure safe playgrounds for children with special needs, she said. "If this playground is opened as soon as possible, it will give these children and their parents a huge relief," commented Rashida.
She noted that the sports complex must have instructors, physiotherapists, doctors and proper equipment to make it accessible and usable for all children with special needs.
"The government should also think of building more outdoor sports facilities for children with special needs all over the country as their number is increasing day by day," she added.
Ayesha Parveen, a mother of a visually impaired boy, said her fourth grader son feels frustrated when he sees that his friends can play in the school playground but he cannot.
"In fact, there is not a single outdoor space in the entire city where my son can play safely," she said, adding that such a playground could be a great place for children with special needs.