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Our largest minority

December 07, 2017

DELAYED, then rushed, the 2017 census was bound to betray some statistical anomalies, but perhaps the most glaring discrepancy is that of the disabled population at 0.48pc of the total population. The figure beggars belief considering that WHO estimates 10-15pc of the global population has some form of disability – and that this number skews higher in developing countries marred by disease, poverty and conflict. In fact, according to a recent report in this paper, a survey conducted along international standards in Attock district in 2015 found that 15.5pc of the population had a disability. That the census exercise was an opportunity missed is a huge understatement. The truth is, people with disabilities are likely our largest and most inclusive social group — all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions and socioeconomic levels are represented; and anyone can join this group at any time; at birth, or through injury, illness or old age. It stands to reason then that any government that claims to be people-centric must factor in disability as a major development priority.

Yet, Balochistan is so far the only province to have passed comprehensive legislation based on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Pakistan ratified in 2011. And although the other provinces have passed legislation based on the antiquated Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, since the 18th Amendment, virtually no progress has been made in practice. The latter legislation mandates an employment quota for people with disabilities in both public and private sectors; companies with more than 99 employees which fail to do so must pay into a rehabilitation fund. Yet, the report reveals that public officials seem apathetic, and it appears there’s no implementation by the provinces to generate revenue through this mechanism for much-needed disability-specific programming. Nor has there ever been effective implementation of the Accessibility Code of Pakistan, 2006, to ensure that infrastructure can be accessed by every Pakistani. Despite introducing a Special CNIC (ostensibly to avail specialised social services) in 2009, only a few hundred thousand PWDs have registered; most Nadra offices remain inaccessible, and the process is lengthy and prohibitive. The right to a life of dignity and equal opportunity ought to be unconditional, but if that is not enough to awaken our policymakers, they should consider this startling fact: the cost of excluding PWDs from Pakistan’s workforce could reach as high as $21.4bn by 2018.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2017