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February 25, 2021

Disability support

Editorial

 
February 25, 2021

The Council on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has finally decided to do something. In its first meeting on Feb 18, the Council decided to establish a secretariat and formulate rules. It is a matter of concern that the current status of legislation and institutional mechanisms for persons with disabilities leaves much to desire. A majority of persons with disabilities in Pakistan keep yearning for their rights with little or no support from the government or the private sector. It is worth noting that the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Act 2020 was promulgated in September 2020, seeking to promote and protect differently-abled people. All civilized societies tend to effectively ensure the provision of rights to such people, but in Pakistan the process of legislation and its implementation has been disappointingly slow.

The constitution of Pakistan states such rights clearly and Pakistan has also committed itself to international disability laws. A commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (UNCRPD) resulted in its ratification in 2011 under the PPP government, but since then progress has been lackluster. First, the recently convened Council must focus on the role and functions the Act has defined for it. Then there is a question of establishing and reconstituting the medical assessment boards for persons with disabilities. Such boards must include doctors with specializations so that procedures of assessment are carried out in a professional and credible manner. The unprofessional manner with which such persons are assessed and counted in Pakistan can be gauged from the fact that according to Human Rights Watch their number varies from 3.3 million to 27 million. In fact, the percentage of persons with disabilities has declined in the past 20 years according to the last census in the country in 2017. Such persons face discrimination not only in society at large but especially at workplaces, if they manage to get a job at all. There is also a dire need to ensure the political participation of persons living with disabilities. Similarly, equity in education and employment can hardly be assured without political participation. Ease of access and mobility is another area where we need to make a lot of quick progress.

Our society has gradually become more abusive and discriminatory and these tendencies we cannot overturn unless there is equality before the law in the country. Intolerance amounting to violent behavior against such persons is disturbingly high and we must counter these attitudes. According to Pakistani laws, there has to be a two percent job quota at all tiers of employment for persons with disabilities, but hardly any employers – both in government and the private sector – follow this injunction. The courts have repeatedly taken up this issue but the disregard is still prevalent. The most alarming is the government’s oversight as it does not uphold the ‘reasonable accommodation principle’ recognized in the Disability Rights Convention. Accessible infrastructure and assistive technology are not available in a majority of government buildings and departments. We definitely need some fundamental modifications in our work environment to make it supportive to persons with disabilities.