16 March 2018
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights concluded today the consideration of the initial report of Bangladesh on measures taken to implement the provisions of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
Presenting the report, Mohamed Shahriar Alam, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, noted with satisfaction that Bangladesh was appearing before the Committee in a very particular moment in its development trajectory, as it was due to celebrate its graduation from a least developed country into a middle-income one. Bangladesh had outweighed many developing nations within and beyond their region in the application of the provisions of the Covenant, as it had maintained well over six per cent growth for the last ten years, and persisted in an equitable distribution of development benefits among all sections of the society. The country held the 36th position in the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index, decreased poverty rate from 38.4 per cent in 2006 to 24.3 per cent in 2016, and raised life expectancy to 71.6 years. Gender equality and protection of women and children from violence had become a national priority, and the 2017 Child Marriage Restraint Act reduced marriage of girls under the age of 15 from 22.5 per cent in 2016 to the current 10.7 per cent. The State was committed to eliminating all forms of child labour by 2025, and it had adopted the National Social Security Strategy in 2015 to equally and inclusively cover all age groups with the social security net. Mr. Alam drew attention to the complex and overwhelming challenges caused by the arrival to Bangladesh of more than one million Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar’s systematic persecution, and stressed that the priority was to ensure a safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya to their country of origin, Myanmar.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts expressed great appreciation for the efforts of Bangladesh to host the Myanmar’s Rohingya and recognized the immense challenges ahead as it worked to secure the rights of its own citizens. The Rohingya too must enjoy all the rights under the Covenant, Experts insisted, and urged Bangladesh to ensure that the camps of Balukhali and Kutupalong were ready for the monsoon season. Experts took a very positive note of the impressive decrease in extreme poverty to 12.9 per cent in 2013 and stressed the importance of maintaining the progress; in this context, they underlined the critical role of equal share of the benefits of development, the fight against corruption, tax collection, and social spending. A topic that drew the attention was the discrimination against Dalits, Hindus, people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, and other minority groups. One of the most prominent issues in the discussion was child marriage which Experts said must be approached as a grave problem that it was and treated with utmost urgency and commitment. Probing the delegation on the Rana Plaza fire and building collapse, Experts raised concerns about occupational and health standards, labour inspection, and working conditions, especially in the informal sector where 90 per cent of the jobs were located. Those issues were particularly relevant in the context of numerous young and upcoming generation that would need employment soon. When it came to the education policy, one of the most prominent issues that was addressed was the lack of national curriculum that would cover all existing schools, both state and private ones, as well as Koranic schools and Madrasas.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Alam emphasized that development was a journey and that it was essential to acknowledge the reality on the ground and not ignore the challenges. Mr. Alam then promised that Bangladesh would not wait 17 years to submit its next report.
Sandra Liebenberg, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for Bangladesh, in her concluding statement, welcomed the stated efforts to build a national mechanism to deal with human rights and businesses, and praised civil society organizations for their work and substantial contributions.
Maria Virginia Bras Gomes, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, praised the very positive dialogue with the delegation of Bangladesh which would hopefully provide an opportunity for the country to review their commitments to the Covenant.
The delegation of Bangladesh consisted of representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs, Ministry of Land, Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Children Affairs, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs, Anti-Corruption Commission, Centre for Research and Information, and representatives of the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of Bangladesh towards the end of its session, which concludes on 29 March 2018.
All the documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available at UN Web TV.
The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 19 march at 10 a.m. to meet with civil society organizations with respect to the Central African Republic, Spain, and New Zealand, whose reports will be reviewed next week.
The Committee has before it the initial periodic report of Bangladesh (E/C.12/BGD/1).
Presentation of the Report
MOHAMED SHAHRIAR ALAM, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, noted with pride that Bangladesh was appearing before the Committee in a very particular moment in its development trajectory, as it was due to celebrate its graduation from a least developed country into a middle-income country. Already in 2015, Bangladesh had achieved a lower middle-income country status, and was progressing towards attainment of the Sustainable Development Goal which were integrated in the national development agenda. The Constitution adopted after the independence ensured that human rights were an integral part of Bangladesh’s journey as a nation; the Constitution also placed an obligation on the Government to implement economic, social and cultural rights through progressive means. A Perspective Plan 2010-2021 contained actionable agenda to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 and a prosperous one by 2041, while five-year plans had been further integrated into the priorities of the 2030 Agenda to ensure that development in Bangladesh was inclusive and sustainable.
Bangladesh had outweighed many developing nations within and beyond their region in the application of the provisions of the Covenant, stressed Mr. Alam. It had maintained well over six per cent growth for the last ten years and persisted in equitable distribution of development benefits among all sections of the society; today, Bangladesh held the 36th position in the World Economic Forum’s Inclusive Development Index. Living standards were being raised, poverty rate decreased 38.4 per cent in 2006 to 24.3 per cent in 2016, and life expectancy currently stand at 71.6 years. Gender mainstreaming and protection of women and children from violence had become a national priority. When it came to ensuring the participation of women in all walks of life, the 17th amendment of the Constitution had extended the tenure of women in reserved seats in the national Parliament and one third of the seats had been reserved for women in elections to local bodies. When it came to women’s participation in the workforce, according to the Gender Gap Index 2017, Bangladesh stood as 47th of 144 countries. Bangladesh had adopted the Domestic Workers Protection Policy in 2015 which would gradually be expanded to cover all informal sectors.
The Government was committed to eliminating child labour by 2025 and already some 100,000 children had been removed from hazardous jobs and rehabilitated. In order to promote the rights of persons with disability, a one per cent quota for people of this group in first class government jobs and ten per cent in third and fourth class jobs had been reserved. The 2015 National Social Security Strategy aimed to equally and inclusively cover all age groups with the social security net. When it came to the protection of the best interests of children, a Child Marriage Restraint Act of 2017 had been enacted with the aim to provide preventive measures against child marriage, resulting in the reduction of child marriage to 10.7 per cent for girls under the age of 15 compared to 22.5 per cent in 2016. On the matter of agricultural productivity, the amount of incentives provided had been increased fifteen times compared to 2006. Among others, Ekti Bari Ekti Khamar (One House One Farm Project) launched in 2009, saw the establishment of 40,200 cooperatives with the participation of ten million poor and extremely poor persons. The Food Safety Act enacted in 2013 aimed to ensure the safety of citizens and their health. When it came to the protection of the unique local culture and tradition of the tribal and ethnic communities, the Small Ethnic Communities Cultural Institutions Act from 2010 aimed to preserve and promote cultural heritage.
Mr. Alam drew attention to Bangladesh’s acceptance of more than one million Rohingya forced to flee Myanmar’s systematic persecution, discrimination and exclusion. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had personally extended her hand and support, and Bangladesh continued to provide this group with shelter and basic services, including the allocation of 5,800 acres of land to building shelters. The Rohingya had fled Myanmar in the past and their long-term presence in Bangladesh posed enormous challenges to the country, such as the impact of the movement of this refugee population on the environment, security threats, and negative repercussions on host communities, including the enjoyment of their economic, social and cultural rights. In view of those unsustainable pressures, Bangladesh had decided to install the latest refugees on Bhashan Char island in the south of the country, and the Government was now working to make this island habitable. This was an interim measure, stressed the head of the delegation, as the priority was to ensure a safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya to their country of origin, Myanmar.
Questions by the Country Rapporteur
SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Bangladesh, after welcoming the numerous delegation of Bangladesh, asked about the intentions concerning the ratification of the Optional Protocol, and the strengthening of the legal framework for domestic remedies for persons who claimed their economic, social and cultural rights.
The National Human Rights Commission only had the B status granted by the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, she remarked, and inquired about measures that are being considered to improve the independence of the appointment process of its members, as well as its resources. What measures were being contemplated to ensure the Commission’s mandate extended to the Covenant rights, particularly in the area of economic, social and cultural rights?
Noting the extremely serious situation of the Rohingya from Myanmar, the Rapporteur expressed great appreciation for the efforts of the host country, and recognized the immense challenges that lied ahead, as it struggled to secure the rights of its own citizens. The Rohingya must also enjoy all the rights provided for in the Covenant, the Expert insisted, and urged Bangladesh to ensure that the camps of Balukhali and Kutupalong were ready for the monsoon season.
Ms. Liebenberg noted that extreme poverty in Bangladesh had decreased to 12.9 per cent in 2013, which should enable the country to achieve the first Sustainable Development Goal by 2030. Noting the slowdown in the decline in the poverty rate, she asked the delegation to provide information on current figures on social spending and plans for their allocation to social sectors. What was being done to remedy tax evasion and make the tax system more progressive; and to fight against corruption, in particular by improving the effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission and the accountability of personalities deemed to be corrupt?
Women’s representation in decision-making positions was also questioned, with questions raised about the steps being pursued to improve their representation in political life.
The Rapporteur highlighted discrimination against Dalits, Hindus, people of different sexual orientation and gender identity, and other minority groups, and asked the delegation to outline steps to protect ethnic, religious and other minorities from discrimination and violence. What was being done to ensure that non-governmental organizations and the media had the necessary freedom to fulfil their functions in relation to Covenant rights?
Responses by the Delegation The delegation stressed in its response that Bangladesh abided by human rights policies with a special focus on ensuring their conduct in practice with raising public awareness on the matter. When Parliament passed legislation, that legislation applied to everyone.
The Bangladesh Human Rights Commission had established in 2009 to investigate violations, analyze laws, guarantee access to justice and raise awareness of the perception of those rights. A budgetary allocation to the Commission had been increased by more than 100 per cent and steps were being taken to address the fact that the Optional Protocol had not yet been signed.
For its part, the Anti-Corruption Commission was an autonomous institution and was more efficient than the office it had replaced. It had 2,900 employees, including 25 teams in the fight against institutional corruption, and a corruption hotline, the delegation said. More than 16,000 cases of corruption had been opened, and 14,000 were still before the courts. The Commission had prosecuted 222 money laundering cases and had frozen 1,408 bank accounts with significant funds. A very recent example of the State’s determination to address the issue of corruption at all levels of authority was that of the former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia and members of his family who had been tried and sentenced to long prison sentences for misappropriating money for the construction of orphanages.
On the matter of the rights of religious and ethnic minorities, the Constitution of Bangladesh recognized all its citizens as “indigenous” as they were indigenous to their land. If Bangladesh had not acceded to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the State was nevertheless obliged to promote the lifestyle of all communities living in the hills and plains and to preserve their cultural heritage. The rights of all ethnic communities had been protected by the 15th amendment of the Constitution and there were also seven institutes established to protect and promote the rights of ethnic minorities.
The delegation deplored the impasse in the implementation of the Chittagong Hills Tracts peace agreements, stressing the need for courage and unconditional commitment to implement these agreements with communities. More than 2,000 complaints had received by an office set up for this purpose in the hill district.
The anti-discrimination bill recognized a number of protected groups, and it was still being examined by the Government, Parliament and civil society organizations before submitting the final version which would not leave any group aside. Bangladesh was swift to deal with violence against civil society representatives and journalists with great diligence and attention, at all levels of authority.
The delegation said that Bangladesh had already sheltered some 300,000 Rohingya from Myanmar in the 1990s, and that over 600,000 had arrived since August 2017, bringing the number up to around 1,090,000. Balukhali camp was the biggest refugee camp in the world today, with nearly 600,000 sheltering there, and it was of utmost importance to assist the Rohingya living outside of camps before the next monsoon season.
On the matter of the social safety net budget, the delegation highlighted that all the safety net programmes were being continually expanded in order to bring the number of poor people to a single digit percentage. Bangladesh was the sixth in the world when it came to women’s representation in decision-making positions, said a delegate, however there was still work to be done in this regard.
Follow up Questions and Answers
In their follow up questions, Committee Experts noted a number of reservations Bangladesh had entered to different articles of the Covenant, and remarked that the approach in the current anti-discrimination bill was one of a closed rather than open list of prohibited grounds. Could the delegation explain what the declaration of the State religion meant, its impact on members of other religions, and how conflicts between civil and traditional laws were resolved? An Expert noted a considerable delay in submitting the initial report and wondered about the impact of the Covenant on policy changes in Bangladesh.
The delegation was asked about its perception of gender equality in Bangladesh and the impact and effectiveness of measures taken; the protection for domestic workers especially those working abroad; and the situation of births, marriages and death registrations.
Responding, the delegation stressed that the economic, social and cultural rights were universally enjoyed by all citizens of Bangladesh. While the Covenant could not be invoked directly in the courts, it provided guidelines for the respect of the rights it enshrined. Bangladesh believed that economic, social and cultural rights could be achieved gradually and required a country to have adequate resources; as a developing country, Bangladesh could not guarantee the effective enjoyment of those rights without securing the necessary long-term financing to do so. However, specific rules in different aspects of life as well as sectoral laws guaranteed the enjoyment of the rights protected by the Covenant, said the delegation.
The reservations to articles 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 10 and 13 of the Covenant stemmed from the fact that those articles were not entirely compatible with the Personal Status Code, particularly with regard to inheritance. This was also true for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, where Bangladesh also maintained reservations. It was important to consider socio-cultural realities in each country, said the delegate, noting an example of how national legislation had eventually helped remove reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bangladesh would carefully examine the reservations and remove them gradually. Bangladesh would consider the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Covenant at a later date.
The concept of State religion had been incorporated into the Constitution to meet the will of the majority of the population, but the Constitution also included the principle of secularism was also included in the Constitution, which stipulated that all other religious groups were free to practice their religion.
The delay in the submission of the initial report was due to a lack of capacity and political will, and the lack of continuity. Nevertheless, the provisions of the Covenant had been and were being taken into account by lawmakers when changes were made to existing law practices.
The delegation recognized the important contribution of the four million Bangladeshi migrant workers whose remittances were important source of income for the country and which helped reduce dependence on official development aid. Bangladesh was aware of the rights violations of female domestic workers, mainly in the Middle Eastern countries, and was doing everything it could to help them, for example through bilateral agreements with host countries. To date, such agreements had been signed with 14 receiving countries and the delegation cited Hong Kong as a model, saying there had never been a complaint from Bangladeshi workers working there.
Birth registration was mandatory, and the adoption of new law on marriage registration had made the registration of both Islamic and Hindu marriages mandatory; death registrations were also made mandatory, permitting the inheritance of property and belongings to family members or close friends.
Turning to questions on gender equality, the delegation said that Bangladesh had seven female ambassadors, a 66 per cent quota was reserved for female elementary school teachers, and there was a ten per cent quota for women for the first class government jobs. Bangladesh had been honoured as the Agent of Change at the United Nations General Assembly in 2017.
The criminalization of same-sex acts was a remnant of the colonial times, noted a delegate. Today, the Hijra and other lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons were recognized by the health system and their health rights were fully protected, particularly in cases of HIV and AIDS.
Questions by the Committee Experts
In the next cluster of questions, the first issue raised was related to employment, with Experts asking about the working conditions in the informal sector where 90 per cent of the jobs were; the plans to increase youth employment; and measures to address child labour. Universal minimum wage was not being applied in all sectors, Experts noted, and wondered whether the 365 labour inspectors were sufficient to ensure that the conditions of work and employment were adequately inspected throughout the country, and the economy.
What measures would be taken to address the important gender gap in the informal sector, and to improve the position of domestic workers?
On the issue of the trade union registration, the Experts noted that 67 percent of the registrations failed – could the delegation comment? What was the status of the implementation of the one per cent quota for representation of persons with disabilities in employment?
Experts further noted that the National Social Security Strategy had a number of programmes and policies, some of which overlapped while certain parts of the population remained uncovered. What was being done to improve the targeting of those programmes as well as address the corruption in social protection programmes? What was being done to increase tax collection in order to improve funding of social protection programmes?
Response by the Delegation The delegation addressed the questions raised about the Special Powers Act which had been enacted in 1974, as Bangladesh had experienced some rough times in its domestic political history. Bangladesh had exercised very high caution in the application of this Act, including in the matters of the uprising of fundamentalist radical forces in 2001 and 2006. Going forward, the policy was not to exercise the powers under this Act.
With regards to the situations of Dalits, the delegation noted the existence of many ethnic groups in the country, and reiterated that all policies were mindful of the fact that there were historically disadvantages groups and sections in the society. The total ethnic minority population was about five to six million, of which one million lived in the hilly districts and the rest lived in plains. There was a job quota of five per cent for tribal population in the hilly district, but nor for the population living in the plains as over the last decade they were being successfully integrated with the mainstream population.
Bangladesh did not deny that there were still some sectors of the society which found it difficult to use the same facilities for example as Dalits, but there was no discriminatory policy in the Government establishments whatsoever. There was a community called Horizon in which 80 percent of the positions in the cleaning and housekeeping sectors was reserved for Dalits at their request, without prohibiting them to work in other areas
Turning to the questions on the shrinking space for the civil society, the delegation stressed that civil society organizations were a natural partner of the Government, and there was a rigorous consultation process on a number of important issues, for example the legislation on child marriages, or the right to information. Bangladesh had aligned its policies with the Sustainable Development Goal, at the centre of which were civil society organizations.
Bangladesh was a newly emerging economy which still faced a number of challenges in implementing the provisions of the International Labour Organization Conventions it was a party to. After the terrible incidents in which many workers had lost their lives, for example in the Rana Plaza collapse, Bangladesh was opening itself to scrutiny. Informal sector remained a challenge, but there was no wage discrimination; for example, the workforce of four million in the 31 billion US$ garment industry was pulling up the wage and increasing the wage in other sectors. In 2015, the Government had adopted a policy to protect the rights of domestic workers in 2015 and currently the consultation process was underway on the law on domestic workers. This was something unimaginable only several years ago.
Following the collapse and a deadly fire in the Rana Plaza in 2013, a national plan of action had been put in place to ensure the workplace safety and workers’ rights. The Bangladesh Labour Act 2006 had been amended with a special provision concerning safety and health, and trade union. The labour policy and occupational health and safety policies had been adopted, and was upgrading the labour inspectorate with additional manpower. A massive training programme for the labour inspectors had been put in place with the cooperation of the International Labour Organization and other partners.
A coordination cell had been set up to assess buildings and rectify engineering faults and bring them up to the safety code, while30 million US$ had been put in a separate bank account to pay compensation to the families of workers killed in the Rana Plaza fire.
On the issue of trade unions, the delegation noted that following the 2013 Labour Code amendment and the elaboration of the standard operating procedures for trade unions which had been done in partnership with the International Labour Organization, the number of trade unions was on the rise, to reach more than 8,000 today. In the garment industry, the number of trade unions increased from 132 before 2013 to over 500.
When it came to child labour, Bangladesh was determined to eliminate all its forms by 2025 and hazardous forms of child labour by 2021. The National Child Labour Elimination Policy 2010 was being implemented through a national action plan and a strong monitoring system; there was strong participation of social partners. The 2003 survey conducted by the Government and the International Labour Organization had found 3.2 child labourers, and in 2013, the same survey had found 1.7 million children in work, demonstrating that a 50 per cent reduction had been made in ten years. Bangladesh had ratified the International Labour Organization Convention 182 on worst forms of child labour, and in accordance with its provisions, and had listed 38 kinds of hazardous work.
When it came to upcoming young labour force, a policy on the matter existed that covered male and female workers equally, coming from all areas of social status. There were credit facilities giving loans to 1.68 million youth in order to be trained and enabled to start their own businesses. In the response to the question on the minimum wage, the amount had been revised twice lately and another revision was expected in the near future, the delegation said.
On the matter of the right to social security and the related strategy, Bangladesh had 136 different programmes, some of which did overlap, but in total they were truly successful as parts of the social net in general. With the elimination of child labour in the formal sector, those children were provided with suitable schools to improve and complete their education.
The delegation welcomed the news of Bangladesh’s transition from the least developed to a middle-income country on 16 March 2018, and said that, with the support of the United Nations Development Program, it was planning to establish a national human rights and business mechanism. Bangladesh aimed to reduce extreme poverty to less than 12 per cent by 2021.
Questions by the Committee Experts
Continuing the interactive dialogue, the Experts remarked that only three percent of new-borns in refugee camps were registered and therefore at risk of statelessness, and without access to school or health services. What was being done to improve the provisions of the birth and registration act in refugee camps, how did it work in practice and had there been adjustments to the act in order to improve its functionality?
Despite the ban on the employment of children under 14 years, there was still a high number of children, and younger children, in work, including in hazardous jobs; the situation was particularly acute in the informal sector. Additionally, pregnant women often performed tasks that were harmful to their health.
Personal status laws continued to regulate marriage, divorce and inheritance, and were often discriminatory particularly for women. What steps were being taken to unify family laws and eliminate discriminatory provisions from personal status laws?
Despite the adoption of a law in 2017 on child marriage, 18 per cent of married girls were under the age of 15, and early marriage was still very common. It was detrimental to the sexual and reproductive health of girls, and was one of root causes of high maternal mortality rates. Which were the circumstances that warranted an authorization for a child marriage under the Child Restraint Act, and what happened to girls who refused such marriages? How many child marriages happened in Bangladesh every year?
Women continued to experience violence, including intimate partner violence – 73 per cent of married women experienced at least one form of violence during their marriage.
Could the delegation inform of fatwas against women and civil society organizations working on women’s issues, outline measures to combat violence against women including domestic violence and rape, and explain how primary health care particularly to pregnant girls and adolescents was provided in the most disadvantaged areas?
Response by the Delegation
The delegation said that a number of measures, including legal, had been taken to prevent violence against women and help the victims, and highlighted the difficulties of addressing violence against women in the family environment. There were national trauma counselling centres, and mobile apps that could be used to report the violence. A mobile laboratory or emergency center on violence against women and children allowed the recording of victims’ testimony, and a free helpline was available. Many Bangladeshi women participated in the #MeToo movement; at the same time fundamentalist movements were calling for women to stay home.
A lot of work was being done by both the Government and civil societies and organizations and various educational programmes had been conducted on the issue of rape. Rape was punishable by life sentence and 128,000 cases were pending across the country; marital rape was now part of the abuses that a woman could report to justice. The national health plan had been improved by the sections dedicated to the acts of violence against women and the number of accidents had been significantly reduced.
A series of 2009 guidelines distributed to prevent sexual harassment and awareness-raising activities resulted in a relative decrease in the number of incidents. More importantly, men were more respectful of women than they had been ten years ago, for example. A committee against sexual harassment has been created within the police and in the ready-to-wear industry.
Bangladesh stood strongly against child marriage and was strictly implementing the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2017. Some of the rules of the Act were still being formulated, said a delegate and stressed the critical importance of women empowerment in better understanding and applying the concept of the best interest of the child. Bangladesh was a moderate Muslim country and such social constraints must be borne in mind. The commitment of the Government and of society in the framework of the law on the best interests of the child must be appreciated and the delegation invited the Committee to be patient on this subject.
Bangladesh indeed treated child marriages as a grave problem, which was evident in the recent revision of the law and in the adoption of the national policy goal of eliminating child marriages by 2030. There was no single exception in the implementation of the child marriage law, stressed the delegation. A lot of work was being done on the education of the population, both the children and their parents, but it must be understood that the progess, due to society and culture, was slow.
The National Adolescent Health Strategy 2017 to 2030 highlighted the importance of adequate knowledge on pregnancy so that the future mothers could to better plan their family life and pregnancy. There was a toll free national help line that was open both to the cases of violence against women and child marriage.
The delegation informed that the Birth Registration Act had been online since October 2017 and recalled that birth registration was obligatory. As for the birth registration of the Rohingya children, the delegation explained that this Act was being applied according to the bilateral arrangement with Myanmar.
Questions by Committee Experts In the final round of questions, the Expert inquired about the status of the rights contained in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and stressed that their progressive realization should not depend on the development plans of the country but should be based on the optimum use of resources. They asked the delegation to provide examples of the contribution made by the judiciary to the adoption of the laws dealing with the Articles 13, 14 and 15 of the Covenant.
On the topic of education, Committee Experts stressed that the upcoming education law should ensure that all schools including private ones provided free and universal access to education; that the national curriculum should be void of extremist influence; that the education was free of sexual and gender violence; and that the students with disabilities were provided access to education.
What system was in place to ensure that the curriculum of teaching religion in public schools was well balanced and ensured the rights of children from religious minorities, and how religious teachers were educated? How Bangladesh monitored and controlled the education in, and functioning of, madrasas especially in the context of the fight against extremism?
Lastly, under Article 11 and the land distribution policy, there were many reports of land grabbing and the lack of rights of women to land ownership. Were there statistics on the land given to slam dwellers, landless people and women?
Responses by the Delegation Responding to those and other questions, the delegation explained that the Education Act was being drafted in association with civil society organizations and once ready, would be published online. Private elementary schools charged fees and those who could afford, enrolled. Bangladesh had achieved universal primary education with 100 per cent enrolment rate. Measures were in place to support school drop outs. The National Education Programme was being applied throughout the country; teachers’ rating system was in place which enabled the schools to hire the best possible teachers.
The delegation rejected the idea that madrasas were incubators of extremists, arguing, on the contrary, that all except one terrorists in Bangladesh had been elite or had grown up abroad. The task of modernizing textbooks and curricula in these Koranic schools was a very delicate task, said the delegation, informing the Committee that two commissions had been set up to bring forward that task, and the authorities were successful in convincing the madrasas to remove a chapter from the textbooks entitled “jihad”.
The Ministry of Religious Affairs was also responsible for the functioning of temples, mosques and other places of worship. Revising textbooks to make them free from factual errors was an ongoing effort, especially in the face of constant pressure from fundamentalists who wanted, first and foremost, that girls did not attend school, which the Government strongly opposed.
Bangladesh was aware of the utmost importance of technical and secondary education, and it aimed to raise enrolment in such schools by 20 percent by 2020 and 30 percent by 2030. It was also planning to set up 100 technical and vocational schools and colleges.
When it came to the provisions for ethnic minorities, Bangladesh remarked that it did not have an obligation to recognize the rights of the indigenous peoples; however, all rights if all ethnic groups, including small ones, were equally protected and their cultures and customs promoted and represented through numerous programmes.
The Government was investing in increasing the availability of housing, and was building 10,000 new apartments for slum dwellers. The Government had also set the aim of ensuring that by the end of 2018, there would not be anyone in rural Bangladesh without a house.
Food distribution programs in disadvantaged areas were operational in several provinces, including the Chittagong Hills, where there had been a food shortage in 2016. In 2014, Bangladesh had adopted a national strategy for access to water and sanitation and it had officially recognized the right to safe drinking water. Concluding Remarks
MOHAMED SHAHRIAR ALAM, State Minister for Foreign Affairs of Bangladesh, in his closing remarks, emphasized that development was a journey and that since the 1971 war for independence, Bangladesh had suffered major natural disasters which had caused severe material and human losses. It was essential to acknowledge the reality on the ground and not ignore the challenges, stressed Mr. Alam, extending a promise that Bangladesh would not wait 17 years to submit its next report.
SANDRA LIEBENBERG, Committee Expert and the Rapporteur for Bangladesh, in her closing statement, congratulated Bangladesh for achieving the status of middle income country and reiterated that the Committee and Bangladesh were bound by a common goal of the well-being of the Bangladeshi people. The Rapporteur welcomed the stated efforts to build a national mechanism to deal with human rights and businesses and praised civil society organizations for their work and the substantial contributions.
MARIA VIRGINIA BRAS GOMES, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, praised the very positive dialogue with the delegation of Bangladesh which would hopefully provide an opportunity for the country to review their commitments to the Covenant.
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