By Naimul Karim
DHAKA, June 3 (Openly) - Bangladeshi companies that hire transgender people could be given tax breaks as the government seeks to boost the job prospects of the country's marginalised trans community, the finance minister said on Thursday.
Under the proposals, businesses where trans people make up 10% of the total workforce or have at least 100 trans staff members would be eligible for a tax rebate, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal told parliament.
"The third gender community belongs to the marginal and the underprivileged section of the society," he said in his annual budget speech.
"Compared to others, the third gender community is lagging behind ... and left outside the mainstream society. Social inclusion can be ensured by involving active people of this community into production-oriented occupation," he added.
Transgender people in the South Asian nation are often forced to leave their homes at a young age and - with no proper education - many struggle to find jobs and end up living in poverty, rights activists say.
In November last year, a religious charity opened Bangladesh's first school for the transgender community.
Government figures estimate the number of trans people in Bangladesh at about 11,500, but LGBT+ rights campaigners think the actual number is likely to be at least 100,000 in a nation of 160 million people.
Rights groups welcomed the proposal, which parliament is expected to approve, but urged the government to ensure that it is implemented properly.
"There are so many announcements that are made in support of the transgender community, but most of them don't work out. The government needs to monitor these proposals," said Joya Shikder, president of Somporker Noya Setu, a rights group.
Tashnuva Anan, a rights activist who made history in March as the country's first transgender newsreader on national television, called for compulsory job quotas for trans people and awareness training sessions for employers.
"This is a good initiative, but these steps should take place at a much bigger scale ... members of the transgender community also need to develop their skills. Only then will they get hired," she added.
Bangladesh is not the first country to consider measures aimed at helping trans people get jobs.
Argentina passed a law last year reserving 1% of public sector posts for trans workers and a Brazilian lawmaker announced a bill in January that would require big companies to reserve 3% of their jobs for trans employees.
(Reporting by Naimul Karim @Naimonthefield; Editing by Helen Popper. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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