Bangladeshi adolescents refuse to let disability limit the pursuit of dreams

Some of the most disadvantaged children can look forward to a bright future thanks to investment in skills training and business opportunities

A disable boy playing badminton
08 March 2022

At the age of 14, Nayeem is already a bit of an entrepreneur in these parts of Bhola, south-central Bangladesh. The proud owner of a duck farm, he has a flock of more than 30 birds which he diligently tends to every day.

Although Nayeem is fond of his animals, there is no room for sentimentality in this business. When they are mature enough the ducks go to market, selling for around 500 taka (approximately $5.80) a piece.

The business, set up with funding from a UNICEF-supported project, provides more than a little boost to the family’s modest income, it also gives Nayeem a sense of purpose and independence. The teenager has lived with disabilities which have weakened his limbs and affected his memory, since childhood.

“The problem is with my hands and legs. I find it difficult to wash clothes, carry something heavy like water in buckets or pots,” says Nayeem. 

A disable boy feeding his ducks
Nayeem, 14, feeds his ducks at home in Char Fasson, Bhola.

Nayeem is far from alone. It is estimated that seven per cent of children under the age of 17 in Bangladesh have one or more disabilities. Stigma and discrimination prevent many of them from fully participating in society. Compared to their peers, children with disabilities are less likely to go to school, receive healthcare or benefit from skills training for employment.

The initiative aims to improve the outlook for adolescents like Nayeem, by providing them with 36,000 taka (approximately $418) in cash over 18 months to invest in setting up a business or gaining vocational skills. The programme also provides counselling and medical treatment.

Disability does not have to stand in the way of dreams

For Omar, who has always loved fashion, the scheme has meant he has been able to pursue his dream of becoming a tailor. The project provided him with sewing skills training and equipment.

A  disable boy sewing
Omar Faruk sews a dress ordered by one of his customers at his house in Char Fasson, Bhola.

The 15-year–old, who already has a number of customers, seems happiest at his sewing machine as it thrums and whirs while he works on his creations.

“I want to do something big by acquiring the skills of design. There are very beautiful designs,’” says Omar, describing the elaborate necklines and sleeves that he has seen. “I actually like these designs. So, I wanted to learn sewing.”

Omar was a young boy when he was electrocuted and injured in an accident. The doctors could not save his hands and forearms, which were amputated after infection set in. He spent three months in hospital recovering from the surgery.

“Initially, it was painful. I could not work at all, but I kept trying,” he recalls.

The same determination drives Omar today. He manages his daily tasks on his own and does not ask for help. He also loves to play football and badminton with his friends – just like any other teenager.

Challenging stigma and discrimination

Another adolescent whose horizons have widened thanks to the project is Nupur. The 17-year-old opted for computer skills training with the conditional cash transfer she receives. She can imagine herself working in an office one day, putting her graphic design, Photoshop and Excel skills to good use.

A disable girl at a computer center
Nupur receives computer training with the conditional cash transfer she receives at a computer training centre in Char Fasson, Bhola.

“I felt so good to have learned these skills. I can do something by using these skills in the future,” Nupur said, adding that she believes such skills will eventually win her respect from people who only see her disability, and not what she can do.

Nupur, who has a visual impairment, has heard plenty of unkind remarks about her disability, usually from women - strangers - she passes on the street.

“The women say that she is disabled, does not look nice, how will she be married off, or what will she do in the future to survive,” says Nupur. “But, I don’t worry about this. I believe if I can do something, then they will automatically like me…if I can stand on my own two feet.”

“Like every child in the world, children with disabilities have the right to be nurtured, supported and encouraged to realize their full potential. Developing their skills and providing investment so they can earn an income of their own can mean the difference between a life of exclusion and isolation and a life of participation and connection,” says Natalie McCauley, UNICEF Bangladesh’s Chief of Child Protection.

UNICEF wishes to express its sincere gratitude to the European Union for their generous contribution to the UNICEF Bangladesh Child Protection Programmme, which aims to empower children and adolescents, including those living with disabilities, to claim their rights.