A look at legal and policy framework offering support for persons with disabilities
he once patronising attitude towards persons with disabilities has undergone a drastic change in the country. Today, it is acknowledged that persons with disabilities can empower themselves and contribute to the society, particularly when equipped with education, tailored skills and opportunities, rehabilitation and moral support backed by legislative frameworks. More than 1.3 billion people currently experience significant disability globally, which represents 16 percent of the world population.
Each year, the International Day for Persons with Disabilities is observed on December 3 to promote an understanding of disability issues and to mobilise support for their dignity, rights and wellbeing. The theme this year is: United in action to rescue and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals for persons with disabilities.
In Pakistan, 6.2 percent of the population is known to suffer from some kind of disability. However, the percentage could be much higher considering the primary issue of data collection.
In a traditional society like Pakistan, where education and awareness levels are low and the pace of economic development slow, disabilities are often concealed, especially those acquired at or soon after birth. Many physical defects and mental sicknesses are stigmatised. Some families fear social discrimination and barely acknowledge the existence of persons with disabilities. Stigmatisation and misconceptions about disabilities persist, resulting in social exclusion.
Despite the challenges there exist various laws, policies, guidelines and programmes that aim to address the needs of persons with disabilities.
On September 16, 2020, the parliament passed a landmark law to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, raising hopes that prejudiced behaviour, inequity in education, health and employment, violence and abuse be curbed.
The Supreme Court also ordered the federal and provincial governments to discontinue the use in all official documents and correspondence of derogatory terms such as “disabled,” “physically handicapped,” and “mentally retarded,” and instead use “persons with disabilities” or “persons with different abilities.”
The National Plan of Action for Persons with Disabilities 2006 identifies 17 critical areas for interventions. It spells out short-term steps that need to be taken for their welfare as well as long-term measures to be adopted by July 2025. The plan includes provision of early medical treatment, education and vocational training; employment and rehabilitation; sport and recreation; and buildings parks and public places for children with special needs.
The National Policy for Persons with Disabilities 2002 aims to provide an environment by 2025 that allows full realisation of the potential of PWDs through their inclusive mainstreaming and providing them government’s support. This also includes training them in the use of information technology.
The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981 ensures protection of rights of PWDs related to education, employment, rehabilitation and emphasises the need to create funds and establish a national council for their rehabilitation. The federal government in 2002 increased the quota for the employment of persons with disabilities to two percent by a special directive for the public and private sectors. The Sindh government introduced a 5 percent job quota for persons with disabilities in public and private sectors from this year.
More than 68 NGOs are working in various domains of development in Pakistan. The Punjab Welfare Trust for the Disabled aims to help individuals suffering from mental, physical, visual, hearing and speech disabilities and strives to improve the quality of life of persons with disabilities through provision of monetary and technical assistance to NGOs.
In compliance with Goal 4 of SDGs, ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning opportunities for all, an inclusive education system was launched in Pakistan in 2009, producing encouraging results. This is a modern initiative and a vital opportunity for children with special needs to enjoy an equal and extensive studying environment to boost their courage and confidence.
The Emergency Operation Centre, working under the Health Department, and the Punjab Welfare Trust for the Disabled are making efforts to raise awareness regarding disabilities due to diseases and immunisation against polio. Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two remaining polio endemic countries in the world.
Pakistan has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011. In addition, it has adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as its national development agenda. The convention is the first comprehensive human rights treaty of the 21st Century to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities.
Many PWDs require care and assistance by family members. There are several barriers to reporting abuse and seeking help. It is essential therefore to impart self-help and self-reliance techniques.
The writer is a playwright and freelance journalist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and his blogging site: soulandland.com