All the interest from the high offices might not be able to help the persons with disabilities if the real issues being faced are not understood well
It is a very good news for persons with disabilities (PWDs) that the National Assembly speaker has lived up to the promise he made on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities [PWDs] on December 3, 2019, to establish a parliamentary committee to become a voice of the PWDs. The first meeting of the committee was held on October 21, 2020. It was chaired by Speaker Asad Qaisar himself.
The meeting was attended by a large number of members of the National Assembly and 12 organisations working on/with the PWDs. The purpose of the first meeting was to initiate a frank and open discussion on the state of PWDs in Pakistan and consider ways and means to enable this committee and the honourable members of the National Assembly to play a more active role in significantly improving the care of PWDs in Pakistan.
The speaker and the members of the committee were forthcoming in committing their support for the resolution of several issues faced by the PWDs as a marginalised group of population and by the individual victims of different kinds of disabilities.
This is for the first time in Pakistan that the three highest offices in the country i.e., the presidency, the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the National Assembly are taking a keen interest in expediting the initiatives aimed at alleviating the plight of the PWDs and help fill the legislative and policy gaps.
The representative of the organisations working for the PWDs and the policy community engaged with the policy issues affecting the PWDs, however, feel that all this interest from the high offices might not be able to help the PWDs, if the real issues being faced are not understood well and the necessary human (and if necessary financial) resources are not mobilised to ensure that the SDGs related to PWDs are realised by 2030.
The current arrangements/provisions to reduce the plight of PWDs are highly inadequate and the ongoing reform initiatives are poor in design and shabby in implementation. Any reform support, coming from the high offices needs to prioritise its emphasis areas very carefully.
The most important problem we face in Pakistan, even if we suppose a political will was there to help PWDs, is the absence of a scientific assessment of the actual unmet needs of social protection for the victims of severe cases of disabilities and their care-givers.
We do not have a unified, disability-wise registry of the PWDs at the national, provincial or district level. All we have are statistics from various sources, mostly on self-reported basis, putting the incidence of disability in Pakistan between as high as 15 percent and as low as 0.46 percent of the total population.
In such a situation, even if the presidency or the parliamentary committee call the governmental representatives to expedite the implementation of their programmes, enhance the quality of their work and help remove the irritants in the advancement of their work, this would bring only marginal improvement as current programmes reach only a tiny proportion of the PWDs in Pakistan.
The current arrangements/provisions to reduce the problems faced by the PWDs are highly inadequate and the ongoing reform initiatives are poor in design and shabby in implementation.
If we go by a very conservative estimate of 5 percent of Pakistan’s population being PWDs, i.e., 10 million, the number of severe cases of disabilities in need of governmental support and affirmative action would be around 3 million. The NADRA has issued Disability Cards to about 400,000 persons so far.
During the ongoing Covid crisis, which has hit the already marginalised much more than other people, the only assistance to PWDs from the government has been made available to the NADRA Disability Card holders.
The NADRA Disability Cards are issued on the basis of Disability Certificates issued by the district medical boards, using archaic forms of assessment that could not have acted as a reliable source for taking governmental support to the PWDs or to the families with dependent PWDs as most of these persons have only mild physical disability as the NADRA Cards are given on demand, usually to the job seekers under disability quota.
Unfortunately, in Pakistan, we have not carried out studies to estimate the additional cost of living with disabilities. By international standards, the cost of bringing up/ maintaining a child/adult with developmental disorders and intellectual disabilities is three times the cost of bringing up a child with physical disabilities. Depending on NADRA, the government has failed to reach out to those caregivers of PWDs, who were most in need of governmental support.
The ‘progressionist’ approach is not going to help the majority of PWDs in Pakistan. Both the presidency and the National Assembly should enjoin all stakeholders to come up with a new paradigm to meet the most pressing unmet social protection needs in a short time in an efficient and sustainable manner in order to transform the state of PWDs. In such a ‘transformational’ approach, the two areas of disability hitherto neglected should be given much more importance, i.e., man-made disabilities and invisible disabilities.
The writer is Executive Director, Social Protection Resource Centre & Sustainable Capacity Analytics, Convenor, Pakistan Alliance for Social Protection, Islamabad