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BANGLADESH: Extremely poor elderly are denied their right to life with dignity, deprived of food and health security in Gaibandha district

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received further information regarding the elderly suffering from food and health insecurity in Northern Bangladesh, which was initially reported in case (AHRC-HAG-002-2010). Four elderly have been denied their right to adequate food and health care, despite being eligible to receive benefits from the social security programs aiming to ensure food and health security in Bangladesh. All are landless, suffer from a range of health problems, and have no fixed source of income. They are reduced to begging because of the lack of the necessary funds to secure relief cards. It is alleged that corruption is involved because there is evidence that relief cards are only allocated to those who pay sufficient bribes to the officials.

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – HUNGER ALERT PROGRAMME
Hunger Alert General: AHRC-HAG-003-2010

9 August 2010
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BANGLADESH: Extremely poor elderly are denied their right to life with dignity, deprived of food and health security in Gaibandha district

ISSUES: Right to food; corruption; abuse of power; health- care; extreme poverty; elderly
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received further information regarding the elderly suffering from food and health insecurity in Northern Bangladesh, which was initially reported in case (AHRC-HAG-002-2010). Four elderly have been denied their right to adequate food and health care, despite being eligible to receive benefits from the social security programs aiming to ensure food and health security in Bangladesh. All are landless, suffer from a range of health problems, and have no fixed source of income. They are reduced to begging because of the lack of the necessary funds to secure relief cards. It is alleged that corruption is involved because there is evidence that relief cards are only allocated to those who pay sufficient bribes to the officials.

CASE NARRATIVE : (according to the field visit and interview with the villagers)

Mr. Md. Mofiz Uddin (80 years old) living with his wife, Saleha (70 years old) in the Khamar Jamira village, Monohopur post office, Palasbari sub-district, Gaibandha district, Rangpur division, Bangladesh have been suffering because of inadequate food and sicknesses for years. There are no government social programs aimed at guaranteeing food and health security for his family. He has worked as a daily labourer his entire life, but now is unable to do so. He and his wife are currently forced to beg on the street.

Mofiz has five sons and two daughters, all of who are engaged as daily labourers in garment factories or rickshaw pullers in Dhaka city. All the children started working and feeding themselves when they were very young and were deprived of their right to education as a result. Despite hard work, his children are too poor to support their parents at this time.

Mofiz has no farmland or other regular source of income. His father, Kasir Uddin, had owned land before falling ill, but had to sell his land to pay for treatment. Mofiz’s physical health is quickly deteriorating. He suffers from asthma, eye disease and a neck tumor. Saleha has a disease caused by a lack of Iodine.

Mofiz Uddin once tried to treat his eye disease at the public hospital, the Union Health and Family Welfare Centre (UHFWC) in Monohorpur at the village level. He was asked to pay 3000 BDT (USD 44) for the treatment. He was too poor to manage the fees and no longer goes to UHFWC. Needless to say, he could not afford treatment at a private hospital where charges are much higher.

On several occasions, Mofiz Uddin visited Union Council (lowest administrative unit in rural areas) members and the Chairman in order to ask for relief. Despite being given the hope of receiving access to the social welfare programmes, Mofiz Uddin and his wife have not received any government assistance to date. He realized that without paying a bribe, it is impossible for the extremely poor to receive any assistance from the government.

In the same village, Fulmoti Beowa (70 years old) has been a widow for 12 years. She has no source of income and her one son is too poor to support her. Her late husband, Abdus Salam, had 170 decimals of farmland. After becoming paralyzed, he sold all his farmland to pay for his treatment and food for the family. Physically weak and suffering from stomach pain, dysentery, joint pain and eye disease, Fulmoti has been facing lack of food and health insecurity. She also visited the Health and Family Welfare Center, but no longer trusts their services. She experienced that she was given the same medication for two different diseases. And when she visited the center more than once a week, she was yelled at for returning so soon.

Fulmoti resorted to begging to obtain food. However, for the last couple of years due to her sicknesses she did not have the strength to go begging every day. As a result she often goes without eating a meal. She too, appealed to Union Council members and the Chairman, but did not receive any relief because of her inability to provide bribe money.

Another widow in the village Sakina Beowa (80 years old) paid a bribe to Union Council member, Mr. Masud, and the Chairman to receive relief. She paid a 1000 BDT (USD 15) bribe a year and a half ago which was not enough to get a relief card. She had only been refunded 300 BDT (USD 5) later. She claims that it is impossible for a poor person like her to manage 3000 BDT (USD 44) to obtain a relief card. Her husband, the late Goffar Akanda, owned 50 decimals of land, but had to sell this land to treat his heart disease as well as pay for his two daughter’s dowries.

Similarly, a 58-year-old widow, Sajeda Beowa experienced the same lack of food and sickness as Sakina. Having no fixed income or other assistance from the government and unable to walk due to sickness, she cannot even go begging for food. Her son, a day labourer is financially unable to support her.

All these four elderly persons are facing the same government neglect. They are being denied their right to food and health which is fundamental to a life with dignity as a human being. It seems that the extremely poor elderly and widows living in Bangladesh have to secure their fundamental rights by paying bribes to public servants or representatives as well as doctors or the medical officials in public health institutions. It has been observed that most elderly and widows in the village confront the same situation.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION :

According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI), Bangladesh (24.7), with a rank of 67 out of 84, remains among the countries with the highest indexes in the world. With a population of 150 million, Bangladesh is one of the world’s most densely populated countries. It remains one of the poorest countries, with 49 percent living below the national poverty line. Child malnutrition rates lie at 48 percent and account for the second highest in the world, much of which is attributed to the low social status of women in Bangladeshi society.

In particular, the northern regions of Bangladesh are extremely poor. Food insecurity in Bangladesh mostly affects the segments of the population that are heavily dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. Thus, the population in rural areas such as the villages in the Gaibandha district, located in the Rangpur division, often suffers from the lack of food. The poverty in this region is often attributed to a phenomenon called Monga, a seasonal food insecurity primarily caused by an income and unemployment deficit. The areas most heavily affected by this phenomenon are: Gaibandha, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Nilpharmari, and Rangpur. Because of the undiversified income of the rural poor that is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture, Monga proves to be a large factor crippling agricultural production and the livelihood of the rural workers, in the area.

As a result of the poverty, the Government of Bangladesh has taken measures to alleviate the plight of its people, especially regarding the right to food and adequate health care. Article 15 of the Constitution of Bangladesh states that : the achievement of securing for its citizens the basic provisions of life, including food, is a fundamental responsibility of the State. The Government has reportedly set up multiple programs that focus on providing employment for two million heads of families for 75 days during the Monga season. Through programs such as the Chars Livelihoods Program (CLP), the Vulnerable Group Development program (VGD), and the Programmed Initiatives for Monga Eradication (PRIME), there has been government action toward providing support for those trapped in the poverty cycle. However, as the cases above indicate, much of this government action does not reach parts of the population who have fallen through the cracks, who become victims of poverty and hunger.

In addition, the Government has increasingly taken steps to acknowledge the needs of the elderly population. In 1978, the Government introduced a policy of Universal Health Care. Currently, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) is responsible for developing health policies and implementing the Health, Nutrition and Population Sector Program. Under this program, older people are entitled to use the national healthcare services. However, because of the lack of quality and accessibility of state health services, only 8 percent of the rural people in Bangladesh reportedly use state healthcare.

In 2006, the Government made a significant step by producing the National Policy on Older People. Government initiatives include: the Old Age Allowance, the Widow’s Allowance Scheme, and the Allowances for Insolvent Persons with Disabilities Programme. All three initiatives provide social cash transfers of 220 BDT (USD 3) per month to those older people living below the poverty line. However, although these government schemes make a difference to those receiving the benefits, there are still millions of older people who require assistance. But they are not yet targeted. This is evident in the above mentioned cases.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS :

There is a steady increase in the proportion of the population aged 60 and above in Bangladesh. In 2006, 6 percent of the total population (8.3 million) were aged 60 or above. This percentage is expected to rise to 17 percent by 2050. In a UNDP’s Human Development Index estimates in 2006, 36 percent of the population lives on USD 1 a day, of which the majority is seen to be elderly. They have to compete with the demands of other vulnerable groups supported by stronger advocacy initiatives. In fact, 40 percent of older people live below the national poverty line. The majority of these people live in rural areas, where they experience poverty, have low food security, and require targeted assistance because of the scarcity of services, healthcare provision and access to clean water. Fifty percent of older people in rural Bangladesh suffer from chronic energy deficiency, and 62 percent are at risk for malnutrition.

SUGGESTED ACTION :
Please write a letter to express your concern about the elderly in rural areas suffering from the deprivation of food and health care services. Please support the move to provide immediate relief for the victims and to conduct an objective investigation against the corrupt government public representatives and servants involved in social security programs.

The AHRC has also written a separate letter to the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Independent Expert on Extreme Poverty calling for their intervention.

To support this appeal please click here:
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SAMPLE LETTER :

Dear __________,

RE: BANGLADESH: Provide relief for the widows and the elderly suffering from food and health insecurity in rural areas

Name of victims :
Those who suffer from food and health insecurity with no government support
1. Mr. Md. Mofiz Uddin (80 years old) and Saleha (70 years old),
2. Mrs. Fulmoti Beowa (70 years old), widow, wife of the late Abdus Salam
3. Mrs. Sakina Beowa (80 years old), widow, wife of the late Goffar Akanda
4. Mrs. Sajeda Beowa (58 years old), widow, wife of the late Joynal
5. Mr. Md. Babu Miya (75 years old), son of the late Lal Miya
6. Mrs. Amiron Nesa (93 years old), widow, wife of the late Aziz Ullah Bepary
Name of government agencies in charge of food and health security :
1. Union Health and Family Welfare Centre (UHFWC) in Monohorpur
2. Monohorpur Union Council
Place of incident : Khamar Jamira village, Monohorpur post, Palasbari police station, Gaibandha District, Rangpur division, Bangladesh

I am writing to voice my deep concern regarding old widows and elderly suffering from food and health insecurity. We are informed that the elderly and widows living in Khamar Jamira village also confront the same situation as what we disclosed earlier in Ghorabandha village. As having not received any reply from you nor heard of any relief for the elderly and widows until now, we wish to get a positive response from you at this time.

The AHRC has recently come to learn that old widows and elders – suffer from lack of food and health care in Monohorpur village of Gaibandha district. We are aware that this area is one of the districts officially recognized as a “Monga” area describing vulnerability of food insecurity caused by the absence of employment and income sources.

According to a recent field visit, all of the widows and elderly mentioned here are forced to beg to obtain their food. They do not receive any support either from their children or the local government. In addition, they are now too sick to go begging. I cannot imagine how they manage to obtain any daily food under these miserable conditions.

I have learned that all of them have been depending on daily labour their whole life. They never had a regular fixed income, for example from farmland which is the primary source of income for those living in rural areas. Some of their parents had farmland before which they sold for medical treatment. Others never owned farmland. Extreme poverty further deprived their children of education and forced them in to child labour. In the long run, their living conditions never improved. And their children cannot support their parents as they too were caught in the web of being daily labourers or rickshaw pullers in Dhaka.

Accordingly, the elderly and the widows are categorized under priority criteria such as physical illness, landless, widow, and separated from family in order to receive relief through social welfare programs such as old age allowance or widow allowance. Despite this, they have not received any relief and were rather asked to pay a bribe of 3000 BDT (USD 43) by Union Council members or its Chairperson. They were also asked to pay for medical fees that they could not afford in the Union Health and Family Welfare Centre (UHFWC) in Monohorpur, a public health institution at the village level, which deprived them of their right to health.

I am aware that the Government of Bangladesh has a binding obligation to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights as a state party of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The right to food and health is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 15 of the Constitution of Bangladesh stating that the achievement of securing for its citizens the basic provisions of life, including food, is a fundamental responsibility of the State.

However, the elderly and the widows in this case seem to have to buy this fundamental right by paying bribes. This highlights the extent of corruption in the country and the failure to implement the social programs for the poor and vulnerable social groups aiming to guarantee the right to food and health.

I am of the opinion that women and old widows in rural areas are excluded from social security benefits despite being one of the most vulnerable social groups. A recent UN Human Rights Council statement emphasizes the vulnerability of old women and urges the establishment of an international surveillance and protection mechanism to monitor the financial abuse of old women and the protection of their human rights.

I therefore, strongly urge you to immediately ensure the social security of the elderly and the widows and to protect their rights from corrupt government representatives and servants who have abdicated their social, legal and moral obligations to society. I further urge you to identify the correct beneficiaries of the social programs and deliver their benefits without asking for bribes.

I strongly request you to intervene to provide immediate relief for the victims as well as to establish a long-term policy and system in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to eradicate poverty and hunger and secure human rights and food security. We are of the opinion that your authority plays a significant role to ensure food security and eradicate hunger in Bangladesh.

We look forward to your prompt and effective response.

Yours sincerely,


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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mrs. Sheikh Hasina
Prime Minister
Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh
Office of the Prime Minister
Tejgaon, Dhaka
BANGLADESH
Fax: +880 2 811 3244 / 3243 / 1015 / 1490
Tel: +880 2 882 816 079 / 988 8677
E-mail: pm@pmo.gov.bd or ps1topm@pmo.gov.bd or psecy@pmo.gov.bd

2. Dr. Muhammad Abdur Razzaque
Minister
Ministry of Food & Disaster Management
Bangladesh Secretariat
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 7162240
Fax: +880 2 7160762/+880 2 71615405
E-mail: info@mofdm.gov.bd

3. Syed Ashraful Islam
Minister
Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat
Building No. 7 (6th Floor)
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 7169176
Fax: +880 2 7174255/ +880 2 7164374
E-mail: lgd@cgscomm.net

4. Enamul Huq Mostafa Shaheed
Minister
Ministry of Social Welfare Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat
Building No. 6 (2nd & 3rd Floors)
Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 7169766
Fax: +880 2 7168969
E-mail: sseba@citechco.net (Department of Social Service)

5. Dr. Shirin Sharmin Choudhury
State Minister
Ministry of Women & Child welfare Affairs
Bangladesh Secretariat
Building No. 6 (3rd Floor)
Abdul Gani Road, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 7160568 / +880 2 7162644
Fax: +880 2 7162892

6. Secretary
Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
Bangladesh Secretariat
Building No. 2 (3rd Floor)
Abdul Gani Road, Dhaka-1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +88 02 7160469
Fax: +88 02 9559216
E-mail: secretary@mohfw.gov.bd

7. Mr. Md. Shahidul Islam
Deputy Commissioner
Office of the Deputy Commissioner
District-Gaibandha,
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 541 61483
Fax: +880 541 61486
E-mail: dcgaibandha@moestab.gov.bd

8. District Social Welfare Officer
Office of the district Social Welfare
District-Gaibandha
BANGLADESH

9. John Aylieff
Country Director
World Food Program (WFP)
IDB Bhaban 14th, 16th and 17th Floor E/8-A Rokeya Sarani Agargaon,
Sher-e-Bangla Nagar, Dhaka-1207
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 8119069
Fax: +880 2 8113147
E-mail: WFP.Dhaka@wfp.org

10. Prof. Ghulam Rahman
Chairperson
Anti Corruption Commission
1, Shegunbagicha,
Dhaka 1000
BANGLADESH
Tel: +880 2 9353004-8
Fax: 880 2 8333354
Email: info@acc.org.bd

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Thank you.

Right to Food Programme (foodjustice@ahrc.asia)
Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

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