When it comes to poverty alleviation or social safety nets for the poor in Bangladesh, the focus is diverted to rural areas. This is natural because most of the people in this agricultural country live in rural areas. The poverty rate is higher in rural areas and the need for social safety nets is higher there. But that does not mean that there are no poor people in the cities or that they do not need social security. This is in no way true.
According to the 2014 slum census, the number of slums in urban areas of Bangladesh in 1997 was 2,991. And in 2014 it increased to 13,995. The slum population exceeded 2.2 million. Among them 1 million were women and of them 5 per cent were widows. There are no updated data on how much these numbers have increased in over six years. These slum dwellers in urban areas are struggling to earn a living in various ways. But there are many people, especially women, who do not have a regular income. There are also people who cannot work due to their age and health. They need social safety nets.
A report published in Prothom Alo on Saturday reported of the distress of a widow living in Karail slum inside Dhaka metropolis. Her husband died 20 years ago. Three of his five sons are married and have their own families. The other two boys are sick. She said she was around 68 years old, but according to her national identity card, she was 59 years old. She does not get old age allowance given from the government as it is given at the age of 62 years or above. The life of this old woman with two sick sons is extremely difficult. She has to work at least three houses every day.
There are 143 social safety net programmes under the 23 ministries of the government across the country, but this woman and many other women of her age and others like her are excluded from those programmes. It is understandable that she did not receive old age allowance. But she is not getting the allowance to which she is entitled as a widow. This is because the allowances provided by the government for women who are ‘widowed and abused by their husbands’ do not apply to urban areas or under city corporations. In other words, the 5 per cent of urban slum widows remained outside the government's protection programmes which is very sad and unacceptable.
The government allocates an ample amount of money to the social security sector. In this sense, it is very important to ensure that the real poor and helpless people benefit from those. There are allegations of various irregularities in the implementation of social security programmes. This should be eliminated. Steps need to be taken to bring those urban slum dwellers who need protection under these programmes. Both rural and urban areas should be treated equally in this process.