Spotlight on CSID
Theater for Development: Empowering Working Children with Disabilities in Bangladesh
February 2006. The high prevalence of child labor in Bangladesh—an estimated 19% of the total child population or 6.6 million—is testament to the fact that it remains one of the most formidable social maladies plaguing the country, and a basic denial of children’s rights. No survey or study in Bangladesh as-yet desegregates working children with disabilities. In many ways, disabled children are most severely affected by the consequences of child labor and suffer from a double discrimination in society.

The Centre for Services and Information on Disability (CSID) is a Bangladeshi NGO and Winrock partner implementing a one-year CIRCLE project in Dhaka. The project seeks to enroll 40 children with disabilities into educational programs (30 formal and 10 non-formal) and retain them after the project period, to raise the awareness of 2,000 school children regarding the harm of child labor and the importance of education, to sensitize and build the capabilities of 18 teachers through pedagogical workshops and development of strategies for working effectively with disabled children, to remodel a disabled-accessible school, and to hold 20+ community awareness meetings, rallies, and workshops.
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Photos: Children participating in theater festival.
One of CSID’s key innovations has been to involve children in large-scale community awareness raising through the arts. In September 2005, CSID facilitated and organized a Theater for Development festival and art and photography exhibition—in collaboration with the street and working children with disabilities themselves—as a means of raising public awareness and influencing policy makers about the situation of working children with disabilities. The theater took place on an open stage, and exhibits were housed in popular art galleries so that a wide array of community members and stakeholders could see them. The festival provided an immense opportunity for the street and working children with disabilities to make their daily hardships known to the adults who can make a difference, an opportunity that they had never before experienced.

The beneficiary children of the CIRCLE project implemented by CSID were a powerful force at the festival. They were able to demonstrate their capacity, potential, and voices by composing and performing theater themselves, and were able to advocate for their rights through art and photography. Attendees and policy makers appreciated the efforts of the children, with many remarking that their misconceptions about disabled children had been irrevocably altered through the powerful art medium and through discussions with the children themselves. Indeed, many in attendance opined that their ’eyes had been opened’ after witnessing the many abilities, attributes and intelligence of these children.

One of the more noteworthy achievements of the festival was the attendance of Members of Parliament, local officials, and many famous artists and photographers. Not only did these policy makers attend the event (as they often attend similar festivals), but they remained at the end of the day for a question-and-answer session with the children and community members. Many of the MPs and local officials, after witnessing the powerful performances of the disabled working children, made bold commitments to share the issues of these children with party leaders and to incorporate child rights issues, including those of children with disabilities, in their upcoming election manifesto. They also vowed to work harder at implementing policies and strategies aimed at reducing instances of child labor. Other key professionals (artists and photographers) expressed their willingness to extend all possible support and cooperation to develop the disabled children’s potential in art and cultural activities.

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Photos: Left, children participating in Photography Exhibition. Right, children participating in Art Exhibition.
’Theater for Development’ has been implemented by CSID/CIRCLE as an empowering and effective means of raising awareness and strengthening policy level commitments to advocate for the rights of disabled working children, and as an empowering approach for disabled children themselves.
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Photos: Left, 2 disabled working children watching drama beside of Parliament Member (beard with glasses). Right, Q&A session between Parliament Member and children.