December 3, International Disability Awareness day, is a day for celebrating diversity in abilities.
Many events are held worldwide on this day to celebrate the achievements and contributions of people with disability; to raise awareness about the importance of their inclusion in society, and to promote their well-being.
However, the irony in the world celebrating the disabled is reflected in the many fetuses aborted due to discovery of their “flaws” on prenatal testing.
The dark truth is that while we celebrate lives, beautiful souls get deprived of the chance to grace the world with their presence.
According to a study conducted in Pakistan titled “Experiences of parents with a child with Down syndrome in Pakistan and their views on termination of pregnancy,” mothers conveyed that they not only experienced a lack of support from relatives, but had relatives who labelled their children with Down syndrome as “mad” or “one with a bad shadow.”
The study cited the heart-breaking testimonies of mothers:
“My mother-in-law asks me: ‘When will he die and we be rid of him?’”
“My relatives think my child is bad, and that perhaps they will be touched by the child’s bad shadow and then their children will be like that”
So, consider this my letter to future mothers: It is not all gloom and doom. Give your baby a chance to embrace the world and achieve its dreams.
When a fetus is 120 days old, it has a soul -- a soul of its own -- which yearns to meet its mother. According to a ruling by the Islamic Fiqh Committee, after the soul has entered the fetus, it is considered a person, who must be protected.
To future mothers, do not be disheartened. Let the advancing world re-kindle your disappointed heart with hope -- hope that your child can live a life of bliss even if she or he happens to have a disability
Disability does not diminish ability
Alo Akhter lives in the Dalpaati slums. She has suffered from a disability in her legs since she was a baby. Her husband left her at a crucial time while she was pregnant.
However, against all the odds, she fights to give her unborn child a good life. Her disability has in no way diminished her ability to be a parent.
From afternoon to night, she works each day in a shop selling cakes and boiled eggs. She puts in her best efforts to secure a future for her unborn and is a great inspiration among her community members.
This is but one of the many success stories. “Hope against despair,” a recent report by Save the Children, highlights the stories of how disabled children can make the sky their limit.
Parul had been an incessant agony for her family, having been born with a cognitive disability. Her relatives called her “mad” while her father quarreled with her mother for birthing her.
However, Parul’s mother now proudly says: “Once I was known as the mother of a mad child, but now they know me as the mother of a golden girl.”
Parul’s life turned a new chapter because of the support she received from a local NGO called Bangladesh Protibondhi Forum (BPF).
BPF encouraged Parul to pursue swimming. Soon after, she started off participating at local competitions, and, in 2011, became the proud recipient of a bronze medal at the Greece Special Olympics.
Parul wasn’t done just yet. She won two gold medals in 2013 and another in 2015. Parul is living proof of the fact that disability is not a curse. All we need to do is give them the tools to hone their specific skill-sets and they can flourish and achieve success.
Right kind of support
Shamima’s story is no different. With only a few weeks of training provided by the Centre for Services and Information on Disability (CSID), her life changed for the better.
Her mother too was trained by the NGO so that she could cater to her child’s needs.
“I came to learn about concepts like body boundary, which helped me recognise indecent advances.” Shamima expressed how delighted she feels about doings things all by herself.
“Children with disabilities need an example before them to draw courage from and chase their dreams. I want to set that example for them,” Shamima expressed.
So, to future mothers, do not be disheartened. Let the advancing world re-kindle your disappointed heart with hope -- hope that your child can live a life of bliss even if she or he happens to have a disability.
The road may seem endless, but you need to be strong. Without a supportive environment, things might seem even more challenging, but, please, hold on.
No matter how hard things get, the moment your baby flashes a smile at you, all your grimaces will disappear; you will laugh in joy when you see them play with 10 little fingers holding a rattle.
If your baby has less than that, you will smile with even greater pride, for you will see that your baby is no less able even when they are considered “disabled.”
I assure you, everything will get better when your baby happily snuggles up into your arms. With your help, one day, your child will surely reach for the skies.
Tahsin Noor Salim is a Researcher at Bangladesh Institute of Legal and International Affairs, (BILIA).