Bangladesh is one of the poorest and most densely populated countries in the world. The country is affected by repeated natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods. Due to political unrest, the people of Bangladesh suffer further. Poverty is widespread and the number of abandoned children is high. SOS Children's Villages has been working in the country since 1973 and provides support for families by offering them child-care, education, vocational training and medical care.
Lives are affected by political instability and natural disasters
SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Rajshahi - photo: SOS archives
The People's Republic of Bangladesh is in Southern Asia, and has borders with India in the west, north and east, Myanmar in the south east, and the Bay of Bengal in the south. Bangladesh is one of the ten most heavily populated countries in the world with 166 million people (July 2014 est.). The capital city of Dhaka is home to around 12 million, thus making it one of the ten most populated cities in the world.
After years of political unrest, the present day Republic of Bangladesh came into existence in 1971.
Independence was achieved after a war with Pakistan which left over three million dead. The political climate following independence was unstable, but after 15 years of military rule, democracy was restored in 1990. However, the country still suffers from a volatile political climate.
It is not only the political climate which is unstable: the country is frequently affected by natural disasters such as heavy rainfall or cyclones that cause damage to infrastructure, crops and livestock. About a third of the country floods annually during the monsoon season.
An economy damaged by political upheavals and natural disasters
The combination of political upheavals and natural disasters has affected the country's economic development. However, the economy has developed quickly and grown at an average rate of five per cent per year since 1996.
Despite the progress, Bangladesh remains one of the world's poorest countries. It is estimated that about half of the population lives on less than one US dollar a day, and over 80 per cent of the population on less than two dollars a day.
Most people work in agriculture, producing mainly jute and rice. The country is trying to build up the service and industry sectors. Although the official unemployment rate of five per cent (2014 est.) is not alarmingly high, about 40 per cent of the population is underemployed.
The quality of, and access to, health care and education varies. Infant, maternal and under-five mortality rates have improved but only for some sectors of the population in limited geographical areas. Only 85 per cent of the population has access to improved drinking water and just 60 per cent to improved sanitation facilities.
Although basic free education is provided for children between the ages of six and ten years, Bangladesh continues to have one of the lowest levels of literacy in the world - around 40 per cent of the population are unable to read.
The low standard of living and the precarious environmental and economic situation, leave people particularly susceptible to the false promises of human traffickers. Bangladesh is a source and transit country for men, women and children who end up in conditions of forced labour or being sexually exploited.
Children are at risk of exploitation
Demographically speaking, Bangladesh is a very young country where over 60 million people under the age of 18 live. Children are particularly affected by the general poverty levels and it is calculated that one in ten suffer from malnutrition.
On their way home from SOS Hermann Gmeiner School Khulna - photo: Alexander Gabriel
Although no reliable figures exist, local experts estimate that about a third of all children do not have parental care or are at risk of losing it. Children who are at risk of losing parental care include those who are born to single mothers, or live with dislocated families in slum housing.
Although children under the age of 14 are banned by law from working, an estimated five million children between the ages of 5 and 14 are involved in child labour. Many of these work in exploitative conditions or in high risk jobs. In rural areas, children mostly labour in agriculture. As families migrate to cities in search of work, children end up living either in overcrowded squatter settlements or on the streets. They are forced to work as domestic workers, touting goods or in shops. As the children do not have the time to attend regular schooling, they end up in the vicious cycle of intergenerational poverty.
SOS Children's Villages in Bangladesh
SOS Children's Villages is present in six locations in Bangladesh. The organisation runs family-strengthening programmes in cooperation with local agencies. The families are provided assistance with parenting skills and the children have access to health services and education. If children cannot stay with their families, they can be looked after by the SOS mothers. As children get older they may move into youth houses where they are guided on their path to an independent life.
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