Autism Awareness and Law: Bangladesh Perspective

The term ‘Autism’ is newly introduced and it is flourishing in Bangladesh which is differentiated from other disabilities as spectrum disorder with multiple characteristics of behaviour and neurological mechanism. In Bangladesh just a few years back, people were merely aware about disability with Autism.
Only the parents are mainly concerned about their children with Autism in urban area. But at present, the situation is improving gradually throughout the country. Electronic and print Media plays an important role to build up awareness on this issue. Non-government organisations and foreign agencies are also working for awareness building in this regard.

To build an autism-friendly Bangladesh, the government has taken many revolutionary programmes, which are regarded as milestones for this segment. Parents of autistic children, civil society members, non-state actors, NGOs, media, and obviously the mass will have to come forward to make the government initiatives sustainable and a success. Consequently, the parliament of Bangladesh has promulgated two important acts to protect the rights and ensure safety of the differently able persons. One act is The Disability Rights Law, 2013 and the other is Neuro Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act, 2013.

The Disability Rights Law ensures rights & dignity of the persons with disabilities by stipulating 21 rights, rights to educational, physical and psychological improvement, rights to participation in social and state activities, rights to get the national identity cards and be listed in the voters roll, mandates enrolment in regular schools, reservation of seats on all forms of public transportation, accessibility provisions in all public places (including retrofitting), equal opportunities in employment, and protection of inherited property rights.

On the other hand Neuro Developmental Disability Protection Trust Act, 2013 highlights the issues related to providing physical, psychological, and economic assistance to all persons with disabilities, their nurture, security and rehabilitation, to ensure their social empowerment and focus on development of pertinent education system and knowledge paradigm.

Both within the country as well as in the global context, Bangladesh is playing a commendable role in undertaking appropriate policies, and social awareness and intervention programmes to mitigate the emerging and increasing problem of autism.

Since the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the Constitution mandated equality, non discrimination and creation of equitable measures for all those who are underprivileged. Therefore, all programmes and services for autism and other disabilities are currently under its jurisdiction. Besides, the government is fully aware of the prevalence of autism and it is one of the first countries to become party to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

Bangladesh has formulated a good number of policies especially national policy for the persons with disability, 1995 for social protection and ensured the rights of the vulnerable groups. Bangladesh has ratified some important social protection related United Nations Convention. Accordingly concerned Ministry has formulated National Plan of Action to implement the provisions of the said convention. Some important conventions are: United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1991, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), 1984, Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities 2007. The government has taken decision for Ratification of the Optional Protocol on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities, on 4 May, 2008, The United Nations General Assembly designated 2 April 2008 as the first world Autism awareness day. Coincidentally the National Disability Day of Bangladesh fell on the same day. For the first time the autism issue was placed in a large shape and raising awareness about autism among the mass people.

It is to be noted that Bangladesh has initiated a lot of things to deal with autism. The country is regarded as a role model in raising autism awareness & rehabilitation of the people suffering from autism. It has taken pioneering steps to overcome barriers to services for individuals with autism. No other country in the South Asian region has committed itself quite so strategically to develop the systems which address the needs of persons with autism and the difficult situation faced by their families. The country was also being recognised globally as an exemplar for combating autism with measures to register child births, raising awareness at the national level on the role of family in the psychological and physical nourishment of the autistic children. Nevertheless, this is a critical period in the history of disability and neuro developmental disability in Bangladesh. The political will and pioneering initiatives of the present government are really praiseworthy but the legacy needs to be translated into sustainable strategies, multidisciplinary planning and evidence based actions.

It is equally important to customise the programmes and planning based on the culture, social expectations, financial and professional resources, and existing infrastructure within Bangladesh.

Autism is a fairly recent discovery in Bangladesh. From the beginning of this decade, autistic children are screened and identified by the few trained parents of autistic child who learn autism to deal with their child in western countries. After introducing of medical based diagnosis system in the country still many parents feel free to screen out their children. The trained parents are now operating special schools. Medical based diagnosis system in Bangladesh has started to identify autistic children by the child development centre at the government child hospitals since 2001-2002. Bangladesh needs more and more specialist physicians, special educators, psychologists, therapists to confront the issue comprehensively. Conjointly, adequate screening for autism, culturally and linguistically appropriate interventions, scientifically based academic programmes in inclusive settings, appropriate job trainings and sheltered accommodations for young adults with disabilities are the major future challenges for Bangladesh like any other country of the world.

The writer is an Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Science & Technology University, Gopalganj.