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Country Portrait Bangladesh: Social policy, Social work and Social Economy

05.11.2020    Salamat Khandker, Ahmad Akhtar

  1. 1.   Introduction
    1. 1.1  Historical Background of Bangladesh
    2. 1.2  Geography
    3. 1.3  Population
    4. 1.4 Culture
    5. 1.5  Environmental Issues
    6. 1.6  Education system
    7. 1.7  Health system
    8. 1.8  Population Trends
    9. 1.9 Trends of Mortality rates and child health
  2. 2.  Social Policy and Security in Bangladesh
    1. 2.1  SocialSecurityStrategy
    2. 2.2  Social Welfare
    3. 2.3  Social Development
    4. 2.4  Social Protection and Social Services
    5. 2.5  Challenges of the Social Security System (SSS)
  3. 3.  Poverty Level and Poverty Reduction
    1. 3.1  Poverty depth
    2. 3.2  Progress with Poverty Reduction
  4. 4.  National Gender Situation
    1. 4.1  Gender Equality
  5. 5.  Economic Growth and Development
    1. 5.1  Economic Growth
  6. 6.  Digitization and Digital Economy
  7. 6.1  Digital Economy
  8. Conclusion
  9. References
  10. Authors

1.   Introduction

The Country Portrait Bangladesh gives an overview on historical background, environmental situation, educational framework, social and health profile of Bangladesh.

1.1  Historical Background of Bangladesh

Bangladesh is in the huge delta region of the Ganges and Brahmaputra River systems bordering the Bay of Bengal in the south. Border countries are Burma (271 km) and India (4142 km). The area stretches over 148,460sq km. Arab and Persian preachers initiated Muslim conversions and settlement in the region in the 10th century. Europeans established trading posts in the area in the 16th century, and the British became ruler of the subcontinent in 1757. The Indian subcontinent was divided into two states after the independence in 1947: Pakistan and India. Bangladesh was the eastern wing of Pakistan in the Muslim-majority area, also known as East Pakistan. Bitterness between the eastern and western wings of Pakistan and calls for greater autonomy led to a Bengali independence movement under the leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Bangabandhu was the chief of the Awami League (AL). AL was the main political party which led the movement and won the independence war of Bangladesh in 1971. Bangabandhu becam Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Fifteenth August, 1975, a group of army officers assassinated Bangabandhu. That resulted in a military-backed government. The current democratic government returned to the country in December 2008 with the election of the AL and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. In January 2014 and in December 2018, the incumbent AL won the national election again. Sheikh Hasina secured a third consecutive term (fourth overall) with the AL coalition won 96% of seats.1,2

1.2  Geography

Bangladesh is the largest active delta on earth. The land mass is dominated by flat, fertile and plain land. In the north-east and south-east there are small hilly regions and in the northern part some high terraces upland. Bangladesh is a riverine country. A network of some big rivers and 230 tributaries of the big rivers exist in the country. The prominent big rivers are Padma, the Jamuna, the Brahmaputra, the Meghna, the Teesta, the Surma, and the Karnaphuli. These rivers are originated outside Bangladesh and directly or indirectly drain into the Bay of Bengal. 0nly 8% of these rivers are flowing through Bangladesh and every year deposit alluvial soil containing heavy silts particularly during rainy season. The Bay of Bengal is the largest bay and Cox’s bazar is the largest natural sea beach of the world. Bangladesh is an agrarian country and about 70% of its land is agricultural land. The forests land account for almost 21% of the total land area of Bangladesh. The largest mangrove forest in the world, the ‘Sundarban’, is in the southern part of Bangladesh. Sundarban is well known for the home of the famous Royal Bengal Tiger.

1.3  Population

The estimated population was 162.7 million on 2017 July, with an annual population growth rate of 1.34 percent3.  The Male and Female ratio is 100.2:100. The life expectancy at birth of both sexes is 72.5 years, while among males it is 70.8 years and among females it is 73.3 years. Of the total population 63.4% live in rural areas. Bangla is the official language and nationality is Bangladeshi. The majority (approx. 89%) of the population is Muslim. Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians comprise 9.6%, 0.6%, and 0.3% of the population respectively.2-4

Bangladesh is divided into eight administrative divisions. The divisions are subdivided into 64 districts and under a district there are several sub-districts (Upazila). The density of the population is the highest in the world, per square km over 1200 people live in the small land mass of Bangladesh.

Map of Bangladesh

Figure-1 Map of Bangladesh
Source: Banglapaedia1

The economy of the country is still dominated by the agrarian sector. The main crops of Bangladesh are rice and jute. Rice is grown and harvested three times a year in many parts of the country, which is because of the fertile characteristics of the soil. Another important crop is the tea production in the northeast part of the country. Other crops are wheat, maize, sugarcane, vegetables, fruits, etc. However, the increasing industrialization also has an important impact on the economy of the country. The main industries are readymade garments, jute, textiles, tannery, tea and pharmaceuticals. Other industries are chemical fertilizers, sugar, cement, ceramic and steel and engineering. Information technology (IT) is becoming an important sector in the country. The principal natural resources of Bangladesh are natural gas, coal, limestone, white clay and glass-sand.1

1.4 Culture

Bangladesh has a rich cultural background dating back 2500 years ago. The name of Bengal is derived from the ancient kingdom of Bangla, but the exact origin of the word Bangla is the Bengali language ‘Bangla’ evolved from Old Indo-Aryan Sanskrit. However, over the last few centuries Bangla was influenced by many other languages. The Bengal delta region has a long and rich cultural tradition and comprises of music, dance, and drama; arts and crafts; folklore; philosophy and religion. Festivals and celebrations are the important events among the population of Bangladesh. Over the centuries Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity have influenced this part of the delta. People of different religions and ethnic groups celebrate their own religious festival and live here harmoniously for centuries. There are also some common festivals, such as ‘Pohela Baisakh’ (Bengali New Year), Victory day, International Mother Language Day, that the people celebrate irrespective of their religion.4-7

1.5  Environmental Issues

Bangladesh is a tropical country, dominated by sub-tropical monsoon. The major portion of the year is a hot and rainy season and a small portion is dry and winter. It is one of the wettest countries in the world. Most of the land area is a low-lying, flood plain and every year the country has to face the effect of a devastating flood. Land degradation and other environmental degradation as a consequence of meeting the demand of over population is an important environmental issue in the country. The use of pesticides in agriculture and naturally occurring arsenic have contaminated the ground water. Water-borne diseases like diarrhea and worm manifestations are common tropical diseases. Many fish species are extinguished due to the excessive use of pesticides. Bangladesh is under severe pressure because of the impact of climate change. It is the most vulnerable country to climate change because of its flat low-lying land and cone geographical location, heavy population density and various climate sensitive sectors. Many of the climate change events are already evident in Bangladesh such as heat waves, drought, flood, sea level rise and saline intrusion; and the most severe event is the cyclone. The frequency of cyclones has increased causing a great loss and damages of assets and kills thousands of people in the coastal areas. The Bangladesh government has signed most of the international declarations on climate change and environmental declarations, but has ratified none of them.2

1.6  Education system

Bangladesh conforms fully to the UN's Education For All (EFA) objectives and Millennium Development Goal (MDG) and other education-related international declarations. Article 17 of the Bangladesh constitution provides that all children receive a free and compulsory education.8 Bangladesh has made a striking success to increase the enrollment into school and achieved gender parity for access to primary and secondary education earlier than the target of MDG. The education system of Bangladesh comprises primary, middle, senior and tertiary education. The school system has three separate tracks: General Education, Madrasah (religious) Education, and Technical/Vocational Education.9,10

People of age 15 and over who can read and write are considered as literate. According to a 2017 estimation, the literacy rate is 72.9% (Male 75.7%, Female 70.1%). The education expenditure is 1.5% of the GDP (2016). School life expectancy from primary to tertiary education is 11 years. That means after completion of the primary certificate follow 7 years for the Higher Secondary Certificate and another 4 years for graduation. Limited avaiable resources are concentrated among the urban elite, so low-income families rarely see the benefit of an education for their children.10,11

Table 1 Number of Institutions, Teachers, and Students, 2016
Source: BANBEIS 201610
Type of InstitutionInstitutionTeachersStudents
Primary 126615 548201 18602988
Secondary 20449 243553 10184364
College 4238 117337 3767784
Madrasah 9314 113368 2460305
Professional 596 8422 136122
Teacher Education 215 2684 34768
Technical vocational 5897 32379 875270
University 130 27794 823102

According to the recent government policy, the education system in Bangladesh is divided into eight years of elementary school followed by four years of secondary education. Eight years of elementary school is mandatory for all children in the country. Children at six with one-year pre-school education must enter elementary education and the elementary education is up to grade eight. In the public schools and institutes, the elementary education is free to all students. The secondary education is divided into two phases, grade nine to ten is secondary school and grade eleven to twelve is higher secondary. Both in secondary and higher secondary education the students have the option to choose either humanities, science, commerce or any technical education program to study. After passing HSC (Higher Secondary Certificate) the student enters the undergraduate level of education (Bachelor Program) conducted by public or private universities. Usually undergraduate programs encompass four years duration except some professional educational programs. After graduation students get admission for Master’s program and so on.  There are 130 universities in Bangladesh and the government runs about one third of them, others are private. The absence of a centralized regulation has led to a decline in quality among most of the universities.11,12

Gender inequalities in education is a challenge in Bangladesh. Few female students could continue up to secondary education. There was a huge dropout of the females from education, particularly in rural areas for various socioeconomic factors. However, good progress has been achieved in terms of female participation in education and reduction of drop rates because of the programs undertaken by the government. Under the programs, all female students up to grade 10 get monthly allowances for their school participation. In addition, they get free education facilities and stipend money.10,13

Female education at different levels

Figure-2 Female education at different levels
Source: Present Situation of Female Education in Bangladesh13

The vocational training institutes or technical training centers have options for longer-term professional certification and shorter-term job-specific orientation programs. Students of both programs may take their higher secondary education certificate examination after 2 more years at a technical/poly technical institute to enhance their practical skills. Alternatively, they may enter one of many private or public universities for 5 years undergraduate study.10-12

Bangladesh has another large educational system, Madrasah, the school for Islamic religious study. Madrasah exists  either as an independent school,  which mainly deals with Islamic study or regulated by the government. The government regulated Madrasah in addition to Islamic study, provides elementary education, secondary and higher secondary education. Some Madrasah also provide undergraduate and post graduate education.11,13

1.7  Health system

In Bangladesh per capita the health expenditure is low. The WHO revealed that in 2010 only about 3% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Bangladesh had been allocated for health services. The government expenditure on health is estimated to be about 34% of the total health care expenditure (THE) and the major portion (66%) is the out-of-pocket (OOP) expenses. The huge OOP is a big problem for the poor to access the public health care services, thus, creating inequity in the utilization of health care system of Bangladesh. Rich people have the access to high quality health care services and poor people face the difficulties to get the quality services from public hospitals although it is free. There are three tiers of health care services for the public in Bangladesh, primary, secondary and tertiary health care facilities. However, to bring the primary health care to the grass root level there is a health facility which is known as ‘Community Clinic’, which provides basic and emergency health care and also family planning and preventive health care to the village people.4,14,15

Bangladesh offers free universal health care services, but these services are characterized by a shortage of doctors and nurses, medicine, medical equipment, and other logistics. In the last two decades Bangladesh has experienced a growth in private medical care services. The poor people cannot afford these services. Many people follow traditional medical care. In Bangladesh, demand of elderly care has increased because of the change of the population pyramid. But medical care issues for elderly are worsening day by day. Due to the degradation in social and religious values, family members do not treat senior citizens respectfully as they did before. The health care of senior citizens has been compromised with the rise of the nuclear family, since women in extended families were the primary care givers. In most cases, senior citizens pass their days in loneliness, vulnerability for lack of proper care, and other unmet basic needs. Senior citizens’ homes are very few. Moreover, elderly people are reluctant to move to retirement homes since this would imply leaving their close friends and family and the places that bear the joys and sorrows of their life.14,15

The population density of Bangladesh is one of the highest in the world and three times higher than India. In the recent decades Bangladesh has succeeded to reduce the birth rate in line with the population transition model. Now Bangladesh is at the beginning of stage-III of the population transition where death rate decreases substantially but the birth rate doesn't decrease sufficiently for maintaining a sustainable growth of population. The population growth has been reduced by 67% between 1979 and 2017. The life expectancy has increased from 58 years in 1990 to 72.5 years in 2017. In 1991, about 45% of the population was less than 15 years and only 5.5% was 60 years and above, while in 2017, the population decreased to 29.3% among less than 15 years and increased to almost 8% among 60 years and above. The CBR (Crude Birth Rate) decreased from 32.8/1000 population in 1990 to 18.5/1000 population in 2017. While CDR (Crude Death Rate) decreased from 11.4/1000 population in 1990 to 5.1/1000 population in 2017. Currently the population growth of Bangladesh is 1.37 per year, while in 1991 the population growth was 2.17 per year.2,3,16

Life Expectancy at Birth of the Bangladeshi population

Figure-3 Life Expectancy at Birth of the Bangladeshi population
Source: BBS 2

Bangladesh has made a significant achievement in reducing maternal and child mortality and under-five malnutrition in the current decade. Once Bangladesh had a high maternal mortality ratio (MMR/1000 Live Birth). The MDG-5 target in Bangladesh was to reduce MMR from 5.74/1000 to 1.43/1000 by 2015. In 2015, MMR was fall to 1.81/1000 and in 2017 to 1.72/1000.16,17

Maternal Mortality Ratio in Bangladesh

Figure-4 Maternal Mortality Ratio in Bangladesh
Source: BBS3

To achieve the target of MDG-4, the under-five child mortality rate in Bangladesh has also been reduced significantly. However, to achieve the target of SDG, under-five child mortality rate needs to be reduced further. The under-5 child mortality in 2017 was 31/1000 live births which should be reduced to 25/1000 live births by 2030.18-19

Trends of under-five and neonatal mortality

Figure-5 Trends of under-five and neonatal mortality (No. of Deaths/1000 live births)
Source: Bangladesh (BGD)18

The common cause of under-5 mortality is malnutrition. The indicators for the target of SDG 2.2 is the reduction of malnutrition in terms of stunting, wasting and overweight. It was reported that in Bangladesh the estimated stunting rate was 45% and wasting was 10% in 2000, but in 2014 stunting rates fell to 36% while wasting rates increase to 14%. After two years both stunting and wasting fell, which was 34% and 13% respectively.  Despite this progress, the challenge remains significant especially in rural areas where stunting levels are much higher than in urban areas.16-18

Prevalence of stunting and wasting of children under 5 years of age

Figure-6 Prevalence of stunting and wasting of children under 5 years of age (%)
Source: Midterm-Progress-Review 19

2.  Social Policy and Security in Bangladesh

2.1  SocialSecurityStrategy

The social security addresses the risks and challenges that evolved across the life cycle of a human being. In Bangladesh, the risk and challenges are categorized as individual such as poverty, illness, accident, disability, old age and shelter; and collective such as flood, drought, poor harvest, cyclone, violence, extremism, political unrest. The social security system is the strategy to address the problems of poverty, vulnerability and marginalization in the country, thus to provide support to the vulnerable people to face the risk and challenges in their life cycle. In 2011, the Government of Bangladesh has planned and implemented the first National Social Security Strategy (NSSS). The long-term vision of the National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) is “Build an inclusive SPS for all Bangladeshis that tackles and prevents poverty and rising inequality and contributes to broader human development, employment and economic growth” with an aim to make the country free from hunger and poverty. During 2019-2020 there are 125 social safety net programs; implemented by 25 line ministries, with a budget of Tk. 955.74 billion, accounting for 16.83% of the Government budget, and 3.01% of GDP.20-22

In Bangladesh, the women and children are more vulnerable in society and they need more social protection. Once in Bangladesh, the contribution of woman in the family and in the society was not recognized. The position of the women in society was that of a subordinate and males dominated them. The patriarchal, patrilineal and patrilocal social system of the society governed the women’s life cycle. The women were only the homemakers and remained inside the home and the so-called protection was provided by the male. They did not have the ability to do any work outside, had restricted mobility and could not take decisions independently. Though some women took part in the agriculture work or as a worker in industry, but that was not accepted as an economic contribution. However, because of increased female education and the socioeconomic development, more women getting a job, the attitude of the society has changed, the women are regarded as an important contributor to economic development. Now many women are working as skilled and unskilled labourers, but are not paid as much as male labourers are paid. On the other hand, vulnerability of the women remains unchanged, rape and repression of women have increased at an alarming level.21-23

In the recent years the socio-economic development in Bangladesh is tremendous, but drug abuse and trafficking and other social problems remain unchanged. Violence and brutalities against women and children including trafficking, abduction and killing are increasing. According to a report, in the last decade 200,000 women and children from Bangladesh have been trafficked. Government has given a lot of effort to control human trafficking but gradually the condition isbecoming a serious threat. Government has imposed some strict laws and adopted a National Plan of Action, but these are not practiced properly because of cumbersome process and lack of awareness. Drug addiction is a major social problem causing harm to the society and threatening social security at a large in the country. The increased political violence and extremism has triggered a great concern in preserving human security and basic human rights. In the recent past, many people including law enforcers and political parties’ activists died and suffer from injuries because of various political violence and terrorism. Not only the human sufferings are disturbing, many public and private properties have been damaged, bus and train burnt and uprooted the rail lines. Another issue are the activities of extreme religious political parties. Few years ago, these elements were almost nonexistent. Recently they appeared as a serious threat to the society and the country. However, government is showing zero tolerance against these terrorist activities.22,24,25

2.2  Social Welfare

In the recent years Bangladesh showed a remarkable performance in the socio-economic development. But the development does not reflect that there is an overall development and equity in the distribution. Rather, the development is creating more gaps between rich and poor. The main beneficiaries of the development are men; women remain to be poor and dominated by men. In all aspects of development, women lag behind men. Women are not in the main stream of development though many of them have potentiality. Still, woman comprise the largest share in the poverty line. Thus, government is undertaking various programs to reduce the gap between rich and poor and to bring benefits of the development to the women. Women are getting priority in different safety net programs undertaken by government. Government has formulated goals and strategic objectives relevant to women’s advancement and rights; they are adopted in line with the underlying principles of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); Universal Declaration on Human Rights 1948; Convention on Child Rights 1989; UN Convention on Rights of Disabled Persons 2006; and other related national and international plan and policies.25-27

However, the government is trying hard to integrate the womenfolk of the country into the main stream of the development process and ensures their participation in the development process25. Government has undertaken various programs to increase the coverage and the benefits to women, children, and specially for old people, small ethnic communities, disabled persons, destitute women and children.  The priorities are to continue the allowances for pregnant mothers, allowances for lactating and working mothers, and provision of microcredit to ensure women empowerment. Emphasis has been given to the socioeconomic development of underprivileged people through a poverty alleviation program and is implementing the programs under social welfare sector such as urban and rural community development program, development services for the physically and the mentally disabled, development services for children, welfare services for the juvenile and the distressed women, widowed women, welfare services for the aged and the infirm, rehabilitation program for the addicts, social welfare services for the beggars, social welfare services by non-government organizations, etc.23, 28-30 Thus, “Bangladesh portrays the image of a developmental welfare state, as reflected in the country’s Constitution and in many official policy documents”. 28

2.3  Social Development

Once in Bangladesh almost eighty percent of people lived below the poverty line that indicates a poor social and economic development in the country. In extreme poverty rural people lived in a miserable condition, and this was more acute for divorced or separated women. After separation or divorce from her husband, a woman cannot go back to her parents’ family because of financial inabilities of their family members. Along with poverty, gender-based cultural construction, and gender roles, socialization makes the lives of women more vulnerable and troublesome. The women become burdened with family life and face social taboos. In recent decades an increase in the social development particularly for women empowerment is reported. The poverty line in Bangladesh falls below 10%. According to the World Bank report 2018, Bangladesh continues to strong development and reducing poverty but at slower space. Bangladesh has experienced a rapid socio-economic development through establishment of ready-made garments (RMG) industries. RMG created job opportunities for 4 million workforces, especially for women through 4222 RGM units. It has contributed to empowering women by employing women. Almost 90 percent of its labor force in RGM is female. Expansion of the RMG industries has provided ample opportunities for many poor women, but employment in garment factories is characterized by the violation of many kinds of workers’ rights. However, the increase in the employment opportunities and income earning for the women proved as pushing factors many social developments and vice versa such as demand for girl’s education, program for children’s development, expansion of microcredit and initiatives of many innovative interventions.25,29-31

2.4  Social Protection and Social Services

The meaning of the term ‘social protection’ is wide, in Bangladesh social protection is referred to a set of formal and informal interventions that aim to reduce social and economic risks, vulnerabilities and deprivations for all people and facilitate fair growth. Social protection is one of the component social services. Social services also include the activities related education and health. Further, social protection includes social assistance, which is involved in cash transfers and access to social services; social insurance provide coverage for health hazards especially for working and aged people and unemployment insurance and the social justice is responsible for the issue of social rights and equality. The social protection programs and interventions are mostly rural focused and usually related to tackling challenges of poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion. Some running programs are food for work (FFW), vulnerable group development (VGD), vulnerable group feeding (VGF), cash transfer programs and primary education stipend projects. The beneficiaries of these programs are necessarily for the poor, but there are also some programs that are not, such as government pension or freedom fighters’ allowance.32,33

The government allocates a huge budgetary allocation for social protection programs. For pensions of government retired employees and their families, a single largest program in terms of budgetary allocation accounting for nearly a quarter of all money for Social Protection Programs (SPP) in Financial Year (FY) 2013 was allocated. While in higher income countries the vast majority of Social Security investment is directed at the elderly, people with disabilities, children, widows and the unemployed, with only a tiny proportion set aside as general poor relief. The government of Bangladesh allocates budget to several social programs to support rural poor people, Food for Work (FFW), Food for Education Program (FEP), Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), Women Entrepreneurs Development Program, and Poor Lactating Mothers’ Assistance Program and more.34,35

After the independence of Bangladesh in 1971, the government realized the necessity of rural- based services considering mass poverty in rural areas. Besides government, many NGOs such as the Grameen Bank, Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), Association for Social Advancement (ASA), Proshikha, and Rangpur Dinajpur Rural Service (RDRS) are working to help rural poor women. The government introduced a new program for rural poor people called Rural Social Service (RSS) to empower women, children, and youth. The RSS programs are in operation for the welfare and support of the poor. In addition, hospital social services, correctional services, day-care centers, orphan homes, vagrant homes, and Rehabilitation Center for Destitute Women are also in operation24.According to official data, 2276 NGOs are registered under the NGO Affairs Bureau of Bangladesh25, working in different development sectors. Bilateral and multilateral donors provide development aid with the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the Government of Japan, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the World Food Program (WFP) acting as key players.26 Social work practice in Bangladesh started more than half a century ago; yet it could not attain the status of a profession. Because the basis of social work is not practiced for promotion of social development. Often it is treated as an act of charity, either by individuals, or by a group.25,36-38

2.5  Challenges of the Social Security System (SSS)

Despite achieving the remarkable progress in the socio-economic development by adopting policies and various programs, there are gaps or challenges prevailing in the system such as a substantial proportion of the population remain exposed to poverty or economic vulnerabilities, limited coverage of the system, vulnerable households are not included in the social safety nets, non-poor populations are included, duplicate scheme or overlapping schemes, inadequate resource, high leakage and low transfer of payments, activities mainly rural based, poor food diversity, and lack of coordination between stakeholders and programs. The population from the remote areas like char, haor, coastal belt, hill districts etc., cannot get the benefits of the socio-economic progress. New challenges such as aging population, a breakdown in traditional care, increasing migration from rural areas and growing urbanization also need to be included in the social security system. Thus, it becomes necessary to carefully review the present SSS and its adequacy and coverage to meet properly the social security requirements of the disadvantaged population in Bangladesh.16-18 Several ministries/divisions/ departments are involved in the social protection systems, but there is alack ofcooperation and coordination, and formal mechanism for sharing information among them, leading to high administrative costs, overlapping and less effectiveness of the social protection programs. There needs to be improved cooperation and coordination and increased involvement of the local governments for effective implementation of the social security system. Otherwise the main vision of social security strategy to build an inclusive social security system for all deserving Bangladeshis will be difficult to achieve.33,34,39

3.  Poverty Level and Poverty Reduction

Poverty occurs when people cannot maintain the minimum acceptable standard of living in the society because of inability to earn an adequate income or due to an incapability to procure adequate food, shelter, health, and education services. In Bangladesh, poverty is assessed in three stages. At the first stage the food poverty line is estimated by calculating the cost of a fixed bundle of 11 items of food stuffs which include rice, wheat, pulse, milk, edible oil, meat, fish, potato, vegetables, sugar and fruits. These foods provide minimum nutrition and calories for an adult human. At a second stage, two different income lines which can meet minimum demands are assessed. The first one is for lower non-food allowance and the second one is for upper non-food allowance. At the final stage the lower poverty line and upper poverty line are estimated. In 1990 the poverty rate in Bangladesh was 56.6%, which was decreased to 31.5% in 2010 and by 8 years the rate had been decreased by 10% which was 21.8% in 2018. Similarly, the proportion of population living below the absolute poverty line (international poverty line) was 19.6% in 2010, which was reduced to 11.3% in 2018. The government of Bangladesh has given priority in its developmental strategy to alleviate poverty from the country. Government has taken up many initiatives for economic development, creating more employment and addressing related social factors for the speedy reduction of poverty. Bangladesh has adopted policies and a program to address the multidimensional of poverty in the country and already made remarkable progress on reducing the SDG (extreme poverty) measured by $1.90 per day.39,41

3.1  Poverty depth

Depth of poverty is illustrated by the consumption gap, defined as the percent by which the average consumption of poor population falls below the poverty line. This measure shows the magnitude of the additional effort needed to bring the poor out of poverty. In 2000, about half of the population (48.9%) in terms of headcount consumed lower than the basic needs consumption basket defined by the poverty line and the poverty gap was 12.8%. This gap reduced in 5 years to 9.0% percent in 2005 and the poverty head count was 40.0%. After 10 years in 2016 the gap was reduced to 5.0% and the poverty head count was one-fourth (24.5%) and in 2018 further reduced to 21.8%. In 2016, the population with extreme poverty who cannot afford a basic food consumption basket was almost half (13,0%) of the population who lived in the poverty line in 2016, which was reduced over two third (2.3%) of the poverty gap of 7.5% in 2005. The extreme poverty has reduced 3 times by 18 years, in 2000 the extreme poverty was 34.3% and in 2018 it has come down to 11.3%. The increased rate of poverty reduction is because of high and stable economic growth and lower population growth in Bangladesh. It is expected that by the year 2030, poverty will be eradicated form Bangladesh.42,43

3.2  Progress with Poverty Reduction

Bangladesh is a highly populated country, less than two-third of the total population lives in the rural area. Their main earning source in rural area is agriculture. In recent years agriculture has developed in terms of quantity and quality in production, and agriculture is one of the major contributors of GDP in the country. Recently Bangladesh has achieved a strong poverty reduction, and the reduction is more profound in the rural areas. Till 2010, in rural areas agriculture was the main contributor in poverty reduction, the income from agriculture is of over 87% of the rural people.  Later industry contributed the major share in the poverty reduction. In the urban areas industry and services are the main contributors in poverty reduction. The poverty in the urban area is associated with wage laborers, low-paid informal sector workers; lack of access to housing; basic utility services; education and health services; people being subject to violence; experiencing food insecurity and malnutrition and being voiceless and powerless.43-45

Poverty and extreme poverty headcount

Figure-7 Poverty and extreme poverty headcount (%)
Source: Bangladesh-Poverty-Assessment42

The state of the poverty in the country is assessed by the Human Development Index (HDI). In2000 the HDI score of Bangladesh was 0.470 and ranked 202, and the position was ‘low human development country’. The HDI value in 2018 has been increased about 20% from the HDI value of 2000, which is 0.614; and Bangladesh is ranked 135 out of 189 countries and the position is in ‘medium human development country’. The components of HDI had also been increased from 2000. In 2018 the life expectancy at birth is 72.3 years (increased by 7 years), expected years of schooling is 11.2 years (increased by 3.7 years), mean years of schooling is 6.1 years (increased by 2 years) and GNI per capita is $4,057 (increased by $2,307). The dependency ratio which correlates with the poverty status reveals the ratio of the non-working population (up to age 14 years and above 65 years) compared to the total working population (15years to above 64 years). In Bangladesh the dependency ration was very high and gradually decreasing with the economic development. In 1977 the dependency ratio was highest (92.8%) and after 40 years in 2017 the ratio came down to 53%, while the world average ratio of 187 countries was 58.7%.12,43,56

Age Dependency Ratio of Population

Figure-8  Age Dependency Ratio of Population
Source: BBS3

4.  National Gender Situation

For a sustainable socio-economic development, women’s involvement in the mainstream of overall developmental process is fundamental in a developing country like Bangladesh. In Bangladesh the  women’s  participation  is  assured  by  the establishment  of  women’s  rights,  empowerment  and working friendly towards the creation of a progressive society. In 1978 the government of Bangladesh established the Ministry of Women and Children Affairs (MOWCA), is responsible for the formulation of policies that promote the institutionalization and development of women and children issues. The Ministry has taken various initiatives on women and children development for the implementation of Vision 2021 and started multi-sectoral programs on violence against women. Bangladesh achieved considerable progress on women development, especially in education and political empowerment. According to the ‘Gender Gap Index Report’ in 2016, Bangladesh stood at 72nd position among 144 nations in the world, and secured consecutively 2nd times as the top country among South Asian countries. The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) has formed the Gender Equity Strategy 2001, and the Women Friendly Hospital Initiative (WFHI) within the Health, Nutrition and Population Sector Program. A National Women and Child Development Council has been formed with the Prime Minister as Chair in cooperation with the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Development of women. The Bangladesh government announced a National Women Development Policy in 1997 with the aim of mainstreaming women in development activities. The policy was amended in 2011. The policy has been formulated to ”protect the rights, provide awareness raising training, work to prevent violence against women, and towards changing discriminatory social attitudes towards women”. The government has enacted several laws for the welfare of unprivileged people (e.g. Dowry Prohibition Act, 1980; Suppression of Immoral Traffic Act, 1993; Women and Children Oppression Prevention Act, 2000) to protect women from discrimination and gender-based violence. The Bangladesh constitution, specially the Article 28(4), provides a scope for making specific laws for women emancipation. Besides this, Bangladesh is a signatory to almost all international conventions and covenants related to women development.47-49

4.1  Gender Equality

Traditionally, women are treated as “reproduction units” for bearing and nurture children; they are politically exploited, socially oppressed, legally ignored, and technologically deprived. Women are deprived of equal opportunity in the job market, with two times more of the employment opportunities being only offered to men. To increase the women participation in the job market, the government has taken measures to reduce the barriers for women, particularly by creating opportunities and improving the work environment and removing social barriers like preventing the early marriage and increased participation in education.  In the recent decades progress has been made in closing the gender gap in school enrollments. Improved schooling and participation in NGO activities have increased the involvement of women in income-earning activities, their freedom of movement and the enhancement of their role in household decision-making. However, the gender-based violence such as physical assaults, acid burning, divorce and separation, and fatwa (Religious judgment) by local social elites (without judicial power regarding marriage) is till prevailing, and women are in fear of taking legal measures because they are threatened by criminals (villain) and social taboos. The women’s participation in the labor force rate has increased from 26% to 36% between 2000 and 2018,while it was only 4% in 1974. The women labor force is increasing in the RMG sector and much higher in proportion to that of the men. The labor force participation of the women is higher (37.6%) in the rural area compared to that of women from the urban area (30.8%). The increase of women participation is not only in the RMG sector but in many non-industrial and non-traditional sectors, such as telecommunications, banking, hotels and restaurants, transportation, real estate services, insurance sectors, and in various offices. To improve women’s equality, the government’s commitment is reflected in the National Women Development Policy 2011 and in the National Strategy for speed-up Poverty Reduction (NSAPR II). Bangladesh ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1984 and subsequently ratified the Optional Protocol on CEDAW in 2000. Bangladesh is also a signatory to the Beijing Declaration and endorsed its Platform for Action (PFA).50-53

5.  Economic Growth and Development

The Quantum Index of Industrial Production (QIIP) data revealed a significant growth of several large-scale industries in the Financial Year (FY) 2017 in Bangladesh. The growth of leather and leather products was 53.4%, non-metallic mineral products 32.3%, pharmaceuticals 32.1% and textile products 21.2% and the combined products of these four industries contributed one-third of the total productions. The per capita GNI has increased from US$ 206 in 1980 to US$ 1,044 in 2014 and US$ 1,698 in FY 2018, which is a rise of 62.4% by 4 years.54,55 GDP growth was increased on average from 3.8% in 1980 to over 6% in 2006-2007; in 2014-15 the average per capita GDP growth rate was 6.5% and in 2017-18 the GDP growth rate was 7.9%, which was increased over 1% from the previous year.56,57 However, the Gross national savings as a share of GDP have declined to 29.6% in FY17, from 30.8% in FY2016. In the Seventh Five-Year Plan (7FYP) during the plan period 2016-20, the growth strategies involve agriculture, manufacturing and services sector as the principal contributors.55 Bangladesh is a top-ranking country in the world in agriculture production of rice, jute, vegetables and fish, and attaining the self-sufficiency in food grain production. Though Bangladesh is an agriculture-based country, the GDP growth is mainly driven by the manufacturing, construction and services industries. The contribution of agriculture to the GDP growth has been on the decline, because of high growth of industrial sectors. The laborers in the agricultural sector in Bangladesh are decreasing, during 2016-17, agriculture labor accounts for 40.6% of the total employment, while during 2005-06 and 2010 the agriculture labor was 48.1% and 47.3% respectively. Lower employment growth rate combined with a declining share of national income from agriculture might contribute to decrease the labor income growth compared to the GDP growth.1, 54.55

Bangladesh is experiencing a strong and steady economic growth of 6.5% annually in the recent years, because of a rapid increase in private consumption and fixed investment. As a result, Bangladesh’s economic freedom score becomes 55.6 and its economy is the 121st freest in the 2019 Index. It is ranked 27 among 43 countries in the Asia–Pacific region. The overall score is below regional (60.6) and world average (60.8) and increased by 0.5 point.58 The steady growth of the economy on an average of 6.5% has taken the country to the position of lower middle country of the World Bank in 2015. The overall performance of Bangladesh to attain the targets of MDGs has exceeded the expectation. This success became possible because of the highest-level political commitment to achieve the MDGs; the change of national development policies with the MDG targets and goals; and the supportive role of NGOs and developmental partner.54.56,59 The outstanding progress to attain MDGs has been achieved in the areas of poverty reduction, the decrease in proportion of underweight children and rates  of  stunting and wasting; assurance of food security, enrollment of primary school, gender equality in primary and secondary level education, reducing the child mortality in-terms of infant and under-five mortality rate and the maternal mortality ratio, increasing immunization coverage; bringing down the incidence of communicable diseases; improved access to reasonable sanitation for most of the population.56,59 However, still there remain challenges to attain some targets of MDGs agenda. The challenges are the prevalence of non-employment and underemployment particularly of the young people, ensuring under-five nutrition, income inequality and low economic participation of women in different sectors, dropout from primary  school,  completion  and  increasing  adult  literacy  and  availability  of  skilled  health professionals. Resources constrain and the bureaucratic barriers to investment are reported to be the major impediments to achieve these MDGs targets. The government has taken steps to reduce these barriers and to have more support from the developmental partners59,60

5.1  Economic Growth

The contributing factors for the strong and steady growth of economy of Bangladesh are increased manufacturing such as pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, leather and leather goods, plastic and chemicals; huge construction to build up large infrastructural development and bumper harvest of agriculture like rice, maize, fruits, vegetables; and a quick increase in the electric generation to provide energy to urban and rural areas.54,57 Moreover, the private consumption has remained strong, increased remittance and growth of rural income are also the important contributing factors. On the other hand, the sped up growth of exports led by garments, agricultural products, pharmaceuticals, leather, jute and jute goods and the impact of reduced or lowered import growth, raise the national economy.54,57 However there remain some vulnerabilities in the economic segment such as lack of proper management of public investment, lack of regulations to strong the revenue mobilization, reduce the infrastructure gap, higher youth unemployment, large difference of male and female employment ratio; lack of good governance, which needs to be addressed with a strong political commitment for effective mitigation and reinforcing the sustainable economic growth of Bangladesh.54,56 To achieve SDGs by 2030 and the vision to become a high-income country by 2041 Bangladesh has developed policies and strategies to eliminate extreme poverty and secure upper-middle income country status by 2021. The Government has formulated a National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) with broader scope of security that includes employment policy and social insurance. The concept of NSSS also addresses the emerging needs to become a middle-income country by 2021. For further economic growth, the government has given emphasis on economic diversification and productivity improvements by taking advantages of the technological development, including digital technology.41,54

6.  Digitization and Digital Economy

The strong political commitment of the present government is technologically transforming the nation into ‘Digital Bangladesh’. In the current decade Bangladesh has experienced a radical transformation in information and communication technology (ICT). ICT is regarded as an integral part of the development of the country. The country is in the process of  rapid  digitalization  and  the government  is  creating  various  digital  opportunities  both  in public and private sectors. Measures have been undertaken to further the understanding and importance of a Digital Bangladesh, and to establish a necessary leadership from top-to-bottom level of the administration to ensure utilization of the benefits of ICTs, and to establish a good governance and alleviate poverty within the Digital Bangladesh strategy. The nation now, with over 12 core mobile subscribers and 4.3 core internet subscribers, enjoys the fruits of digitization in many areas. Deputy Commissioner Offices in districts and UNO offices in Upazilas are providing direct digital services to rural clients, which contribute to eliminate middlemen and save both time and money.61-63

Meetings of the world leaders in 2003 at Geneva and in 2005 at Tunis, recognized Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a key development enabler, and the current government has given immense importance to transform Bangladesh into a digital country. In 2009 the government has developed the National ICT Policy 2009 to facilitate and materialize the Digital Bangladesh with a vision to achieve the middle-income status of the country by 2021, and the status of high-income country by 2041. For the implementation of Vision 2021, short-term, mid-term and long-term digital action plans were identified. The vision of Digital Bangladesh by 2021 is to initiate the mainstream ICTs as a pro-poor tool to eliminate poverty, secure social equity through proper education, set-up good governance, universal health care, enforcement of law for all, and prepare the people for the climate change. The Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology has undertaken all-out efforts to conduct a countrywide training for the development of ICT human resources. The ultimate aim is to bring the services at the doorsteps of the people with increased digitalization. The people are getting the benefits of a Digital Bangladesh through high quality telemedicine services to treat diseases, and administrative activities such as e-services in the rural areas through video conferencing. For video-conference and for other digital utilization in the rural areas about five thousand digitalized Union Information Service Centers have been established with sufficient logistics and manpower. For the telemedicine services each sub-district, district, medical college and post-graduate institute hospitals have been equipped with the necessary logistics. In the recent past the Government has turned eight thousand village post offices and approximately five hundred Upazila post offices into e-centers and introduced mobile money order and postal cash cards services. Union Information Centers, District Information Cells, National Information Cell are also revolutionary additions in the digitalization process.59,62,63

The government whenever necessary updates the ICT policy to face the new trends. Ambitious projects like development of the National ICT Infrastructure for Bangladesh and the National Data Centre and IT Parks will be established soon to bring about radical improvements in e-services, e-governance and software development in the country. Despite the progress in ICT, the rankings are poor in Network and Readiness Index (NRI), ICT development Index (IDI) and E-Governing Development Index (EGDI) compared to most of the countries of the world. Therefore, to bring Digital Bangladesh to a top-ranking country quality ICT education and ICT-based education from the primary to tertiary level, along with the orientation of general mass in ICT should be given maximum priority.63

6.1  Digital Economy

Bangladesh is in the process of rapid digitalization, and entered the global network of economic activities, commercial transactions and professional interactions through digital technologies. In the recent years because of rapid growth and easy access to internet; increased mobile phone (41%) and smart phone penetration (34%); and availability of updated digital technologies, the digital economy in the country is growing up rapidly. The digital economy in the global market is mainly based on digital outsourcing of various works such as computer programming, web designing, search engine optimization, tax preparation and so on. Developed countries are outsourcing people for doing these jobs, and Bangladesh is one of the common countries for outsourcing and many people particularly the young are becoming freelancers for these jobs. The initiatives and support of the government and non-government institutes have increased the freelancing activities in the country. Recently Bangladesh has become the second largest country in supplying on-line working man according to the Oxford Internet Institute (OII). In Bangladesh there are now 650,000 registered freelancers and of them 50,000 are working and earning $100 million annually. According to Huawei Global Connectivity Index (GCI), based on evaluating the progress of digital economy, Bangladesh has ranked as one of the top four countries in the world for improvement and remarkable growth in digital economy. GCI 2019 report revealed that in less than five years Bangladesh as a starter nation boosted up the GCI score by 7 points.63-65


Since the inception of the program ‘Digital Bangladesh’ in 2009 a massive digital transformation of Bangladesh occurred based on four pillars - human resource development, connecting citizens, digital government and promotion of ICT industry. The target of Digital Bangladesh is to achieve the Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s vision to transform Bangladesh to a Digital Economy in 2021 and in 2041 transform into a knowledge-based economy. The GDP growth of Bangladesh is 8% and regarded as the fastest growing economy in the world. It is expected that by 2030 the Bangladesh economy will be the 24th largest in the world. Overall, Bangladesh has experienced a tremendous economic growth under the leadership of Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina because of her strong political commitment. For a sustainable economic development and the intellectual and social development of a country, a peaceful political environment is essential.59 The present Prime Minister has been trying hard to bring political stability in the country and under her leadership as a third time elected Prime Minister, soon Bangladesh will have a sustainable economic development and political stability.66,67


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Salamat KhandkerDr. Med. Salamat Khandker Associate Professor,
DAAD Fellow
Department of Public Health, DIU
102 Mirpur Road, Sobhanbag,
Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209
Mobile: 01712-595502

Ahmad AkhtarProfessor (Dr.) Sk Ahmad Akhtar
Professor of Occupational and Environmental Health
Bangladesh University of Health Sciences (BUHS)
125/1 Darus Salam, Mirpur, Dhaka- 1216, Bangladesh
Tel: (8802) 029849122 (Res),
Cell Phone (0088) 01552465730

Cite this publication
Khandker, Salamat and Ahmad Akhtar, 2020. Country Portrait Bangladesh: Social policy, Social work and Social Economy. In: socialnet International [online]. 05.11.2020 [Date of citation: 24.11.2020]. ISSN 2627-6348. Available from Internet:

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