Leaving no child behind, transforming lives with accessible sanitation for people living with disabilities in the Rohingya settlements, Bangladesh By Rashad Wajahat Lateef and Siegfried Modola

This year, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) celebrates its 30th anniversary. It has since become the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history and has helped transform children’s lives around the world.

Not every child gets to enjoy the full childhood that they all deserve, children with disabilities face additional barriers at home, in the community and at school, and require support to participate alongside their peers. Every child with a disability should enjoy equal rights and opportunities to live their best life no matter where they are in the world. However, the rights of children with disabilities in emergencies are often overlooked and ignored.

Two years after fleeing horrific violence in their home country of Myanmar, the Rohingya camps of Cox’s Bazar and Teknaf in Bangladesh remain home to around a million Rohingya people, half of them children.

UNICEF is currently delivering safe water and sanitation for 250,000 refugees living in eight different camps. UNICEF and its partners have constructed more than 4,500 tube-wells and over 12,500 latrines to serve this population.

However, these sanitation facilities are not always accessible for the 14% of households that have a person with a disability. To address this gap in sanitation services, UNICEF and its implementing partner CARE Bangladesh have been working on a pilot project to install disability-friendly latrines to help people with disabilities have easier access to sanitation.

Two types of disability-friendly latrines designed to provide accessible sanitation solutions in an emergency situation

Mohammad Hashim is 14-years old. He has an intellectual impairment and is unable to speak. He has been living in the Balukhali camp with his parents and his little brother since August 2017. They walked for five days from their home in Myanmar before they reached Bangladesh. Finding safe water and an appropriate place to defecate was a challenge for them. They had to walk for 20 minutes to the top of a hill to find the nearest latrine.

Hashim always needs his mother, Monira Begum, to help him while he defecates. “My son gets scared very easily,” says Monira, “He doesn’t understand a lot of things. I support him while he is using the latrine so he doesn’t get scared.”

Hashim (R), 14 years old, who has an intellectual impairment and cannot speak, sits close to his mother Monira Begum, 45, and his little baby brother, in their shelter in Balukhali

After UNICEF installed a disability-friendly latrine near their shelter, supporting Hashim to use the latrine has become much more manageable.

“He can hold the handles on the sides of the latrine when he sits, so I don’t have to hold him. I can just watch and make sure he’s okay that way,” says Monira.
Hashim washes his hands after using the new disability-friendly latrine with the help of his mother, Monira Begum

Mohammad Sohel, 10 years old, was born with a physical impairment affecting his feet, making it extremely difficult for him to walk. When his family fled to Bangladesh from Myanmar, Sohel had to be carried by his father for the entire journey. Before a disability-friendly latrine was installed near his shelter, Sohel had no choice but to defecate in a bucket regularly cleaned by his family. The nearest latrine was too far away for him to reach and also his impairment did not allow him to squat easily to use a regular latrine.

Mohammad Sohel, 10 years old, walks on his own to a nearby disability-friendly latrine

Now, Sohel can make his way to the nearby disability-friendly latrine on his own unless it is raining, and the ground is wet. He can use the latrine comfortably and he has easy access to water from the attached hand-shower.

“With my feet it is very hard for me to use a normal latrine,” says Sohel, “but I can sit on my new latrine without hurting myself.”

Sohel’s family appreciates the time and energy the disability-friendly latrine saves them, as they no longer have to help Sohel with this basic human need. It also saves Sohel significant time as well.

“It doesn’t take him very long to use the latrine now,” says Sohel’s mother, “Before, Sohel would be very uncomfortable when he needed to defecate, and it would take him a very long time to finish in the bucket.”
Mohammad Sohel washing his hands after using a disability-friendly latrine

Besides persons with disabilities, pregnant women are also benefiting from these latrines. Shamsun Nahar is 21 years old and five months pregnant. She regularly uses the disability-friendly latrine.

“The new latrine is much more comfortable to use for women like me. I never feel like I will fall down when I use this latrine because I can sit without bending my knees and there is a rail behind me to stop me from falling even if I lean back. It is very comfortable,” says Shamsun.

The community of persons with disabilities living around each of these latrines feel a sense of shared ownership. They feel that the latrine is for anyone who needs to use it, but specifically for persons with disabilities, elderly women and pregnant women, and anyone else who finds using regular latrines too difficult to use. Disability-friendly latrines allow people to be more independent and access appropriate sanitation facilities with dignity.

Shamsun Nahar, 21 years old, with her firstborn son in their shelter

Rajuma is 6 years old. She was born with an impairment that affects her knees. “My knees are always biting me,” she says, indicating that her knees are constantly stinging. This keeps her from walking long distances or standing for too long without assistance. However, this never stops Rajuma from attending classes at her learning centre. With the help of a friend and classmate, Rajuma walks to school every weekday.

Rajuma, 6 years old, listening to her teacher’s lesson in her learning centre

Rajuma’s learning centre has an accessible latrine installed nearby, which is a relief for her as she does not have to painfully squat to use a regular latrine.

Rajuma washing her hands after using her learning centre's accessible latrine
“I can use this latrine and my knees won’t bite me,” she says, “I can also wash myself easily with the [hand-shower].”
Rajuma (centre), in conversation with her teacher

Four of Rajuma’s classmates, Jonayed, Nurul Amin, Harun and Yunus, have used the accessible latrine and have grown to better understand the difficulties in the lives of Rajuma and other children with disabilities.

“I can use any latrine easily,” says Jonayed, “but Rajuma can only use the new latrine because of her weak legs. I have stronger legs and I don’t have any problem.”

“Rajuma’s life must be hard. She cannot even run and play like we do,” says Nurul Amin.

Rajuma’s teacher has observed how the addition of the disability-friendly latrine to the learning centre has fostered a better understanding of people with disabilities among the other children.

“The children look at the latrine and see the importance of caring for those people who need our help,” she says.
Jonayed (6 years old), Nurul Amin (7 years old), Harun (6 years old) and Yunus (7 years old) outside their learning centre after class

Providing children with disabilities in emergency situations with a chance to live independently and with dignity is essential to restore their rights as children. UNICEF is working to scale up these products so more children like Hashim, Sohel and Rajuma can have access to disability-friendly toilets, even in emergencies.

Read more about the project here.


© UNICEF/Modola © UNICEF/Lateef