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Need for inclusivity

Persons with disabilities have historically been marginalized in Pakistan. Throughout the country’s 70 years, no solid measures have been taken to ensure the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs). Due to insensitive and non-inclusive environments, PWDs in Pakistan remain at the margins of society and are unable to realize their potential.

Article 38 (d) of the constitution of Pakistan urges the state to “provide basic necessities of life, such as food, clothing, housing, education and medical relief, for all such citizens, irrespective of sex, caste, creed or race, as are permanently or temporarily unable to earn their livelihood on account of infirmity, sickness or unemployment”.

Pakistan has signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) which aims to ensure that persons with disabilities enjoy equal human rights as others. Its objective is “to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedom by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity”. CRPD defined Persons with Disabilities (PWD) as:

“Persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which interaction with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on equal basis with others.”

Persons with disabilities face several challenges in Pakistani society. These include the public’s negative attitude towards disability; inaccessible infrastructure and transport; inaccessible information and communication; and limited access to education and employment/ self-employment, social services and healthcare, and recreational activities. And Pakistan does not have an effective, integrated policy and institutional framework to address the current challenges.

Effective policymaking requires reliable and valid data on all aspects of disability. The census conducted in 2017 presented a shockingly low number of PWDs in Pakistan. The census results showed the number to be at only 0.48 percent of the total population. It is important to mention that the last census held in 1998 showed the population of persons with disabilities as 2.49 percent of the total population.

According to World Bank estimates, almost 15 percent of the world population experiences some form of disability. For the sake of comparison, the number of persons with disabilities in India is 15 percent of its population, 17 percent in Afghanistan and 18 percent in Nepal.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that approximately 15 percent of Pakistan’s population is disabled as per the definition provided in the CRPD. Several non-government organizations working for the rights of PWDs claim the figure to be somewhere around 20 million, making them 10 percent of the country’s population. Unfortunately, there are no standardized instruments for data collection on disability in Pakistan .

Unfortunately, the uplift of PWDs has never been a priority of successive governments. Until the early 2000s, the only legislation in effect which provided for the rights of PWDs was the ‘Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, which laid down an employment quota for the disabled and their rehabilitation but remained silent on their wider rights. In 2002 a ‘National Policy for Persons with Disabilities’ was formulated which was followed by a National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities in 2006. Other efforts include The Accessibility Code of Pakistan 2006, Special Citizens Act, 2008 and Special Citizens (Right to Concessions in Movement) Act, 2009.

After the 18th Amendment, disability has become a provincial subject. The provincial assemblies have put forward legislations aimed at guaranteeing rights of the persons with disabilities. These include the Sindh Empowerment of PWD Act XLVIII of 2018, the Balochistan Persons with Disabilities Act, No II of 2017, Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) (Amendment) Act 2012, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) (Amendment) Act, 2012. A new and more inclusive bill was introduced in the KP Assembly in 2017 but it has yet to be passed. In 2012, the government of Punjab enacted the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Amendment Act 2012 to bring the law in consonance with the principles of the 18th Amendment. Among these laws, most notable is the law passed by the Sindh Assembly which defines all types of disabilities in detail.

The WHO World Disability Report (2011) recommends certain steps to governments for the betterment of PWDs. These include the creation of enabling environments, development of rehabilitation and support services; ensuring adequate social protection; creating inclusive policies and programmes; and enforcing new and existing standards and legislation that benefit the PWDs community.

In Pakistan, a national disability strategy and plan of action must be adopted which sets out a comprehensive long-term vision aimed at the well-being of persons with disabilities. Subsequently, a nationwide disability survey must be conducted to obtain the accurate data regarding the number of the persons with disabilities. Data must be standardized and internationally comparable for benchmarking and monitoring progress on disability policies, and for the implementation of the CRPD nationally and internationally.

The attitudes and knowledge of people working in the service delivery sector are especially important for ensuring non-discrimination and participation. There is a need to shift the conversation from sympathy to empathy towards disabled persons so that they can exercise their right to equal participation in society regardless of where they stand on the spectrum of disabilities.

It is interesting to note that the PTI was the first in Pakistan to introduce a policy for persons with disabilities during their election campaign. The policy was a first of its kind in Pakistan and offered a comprehensive and detailed plan of action to uplift the status of PWDs in the country. It is in line with the CRPD and the recommendations provided by the WHO’s report.

In a positive development, the government recently announced that persons with disabilities will get a hundred percent coverage under the Sehat Insaf Card Scheme. It is further hoped that the government will formulate disability-inclusive policies in order to make PWDs useful citizens of society.

The writer is the former chairpersonof the National Commission on Human Rights.

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