Pakistan Stepping Up Rights Of The Differently-Abled
The rights for disabled or differently-abled persons have never been a major talking political or policy point in Pakistan. Throughout the years, there has been a lack of laws, policies as well as practical steps for this section of the society. According to the 1997 census, there were 2.49% disabled persons in Pakistan, while in 2017, the number reduced to 0.48%. Meanwhile, other reports suggested the number of these people ranges from 3.3 million to 27 million in the country. But this portion has never been part of political discussion, policymaking, or election promises of the major political parties.
Since 2018, after Prime Minister Imran Khan took the office, the government has taken multiple positive steps for disabled persons. Supreme Court of Pakistan also issued a special judgment regarding these individuals. The first vital policy step, taken by the current government, was the passing of the ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act 2020 by the National Assembly in January. The step was lauded by World Health Organization (WHO). The organization’s technical advisor Dr Maryam Malik said: “We hope that the bill would be passed by the Senate of Pakistan with the same interest and will be implemented in letter and spirit.” Dr Malik added that Minister of Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari had taken a personal interest in getting the bill approved from the house.
Commenting on the rights of disabled persons, Mazari stated, “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf-led government wants to help bring people with disabilities into society’s mainstream to allow them to contribute to Pakistan’s development.”
In September, the law was passed by the joint Parliament, raising hopes that the discrimination against these individuals, especially in the workplace, would be tackled.
“We finally got our ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill passed through the joint session. It has been an almost two-year-long struggle but finally, the Bill has been passed,” Mazari said.
Another major reason for passing this law was a petition signed by 5,200 people, which was sent to the parliament in December 2019. The petition was part of the Equal World campaign, which was launched by Sightsavers, the National Forum of Women with Disabilities, and the Community Based Inclusion Development Network (CBIDN).
Commenting on the development, Country director of Sightsavers’ Munazza Gillani said, “The introduction of this law represents a historic step for our country and we thank the government for making this happen.”
The new law advocates the political participation of individuals living with disabilities, along with equality in education and employment, and equality before the law. Furthermore, the law covers the areas of ease of access and mobility, protection from violent, abusive, and discriminatory behavior.
In July 2019, Supreme Court issued a landmark decision, directing the federal and provincial governments to take steps for equal participation of people with disabilities. The court issued the verdict in response to a petition filed by a person with a disability, who was denied a job as an elementary school teacher in Multan.
Under the law in Pakistan, there is a 2% quota for disabled persons, hence, the court ordered to implement this law at every tier. The verdict also upheld the reasonable accommodations principle recognized in the Disability Rights Convention. The top court also ordered the governments to discontinue the use in all official documents of derogatory terms i.e., “disabled”, “physically handicapped”, and “mentally retarded”. The court directed to replace these words with “persons with disabilities” or “persons with different abilities”.
The ruling party has also taken few other steps for disabled persons, including free medical treatment at hospitals registered under the Sehat Insaf Card scheme and the provision of free wheelchairs and white canes.
The PTI government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has also constructed separate tracks and ramps for them at BRT Peshawar. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s first smart road for visually impaired people was inaugurated in Attock in October.
Furthermore, Prime Minister Imran Khan announced financial support for the families of Disabled Persons on International Day of the Disabled on December 3, 2020.
“Under the Ehsaas Kafaalat Policy for Special Persons, two million differently-abled individuals will receive a monthly stipend of Rs. 2,000,” Khan said.
Observers underline that the above-mentioned policies, orders and steps show that the country is heading in the right direction in this regard. They maintain there is still a long way to go, but it is a start to establish hope that government will keep a consistent approach in its policies, and will work for its proper implementation in the country.
The writer is a Lahore-based journalist