ISLAMABAD: Though Pakistan has international obligations to ensure facilities for people with disabilities, there are no comprehensive laws for the welfare of people living with disabilities. Definitions of people with disabilities are invariably used and data on the matter is inconsistent, says a report by the Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA) titled Bringing Disability in the Constitutional Net which was launched Saturday night.

The report says people living with disabilities are being denied their right to political participations and very few people with disabilities have joined political parties as workers and even fewer hold offices with parties. Similarly, there are hardly any examples of people with disabilities contesting the elections.

The report stresses on the need for passing a comprehensive law for the wellbeing of people living with disabilities so they can fully participate in all spheres of life and to ensure their rights.

Says people with disabilities are being denied right to political participation

It has long been alleged that voter turnout for disabled people is low and that their involvement in political processes is hardly noticed.

The report says they are also questions about the need of undergoing the entire process of voting, from registration to casting votes.

The report says that to date, there are no comprehensive laws covering people with disabilities and are mostly subjected to a 1981 ordinance, which deals mostly with employment. There is therefore no law to address broader issues.

It says that even if policies are inferred for accessible infrastructure, it is questionable if a violation of these polices can be penalised, in the absence of law.

One of the outcomes of the absence of a holistic law is the inconsistency in the usage of terms used to identify people with disabilities.

Public data about persons living with disabilities is scarce and inconsistent. As per the 1998 census, 2.38pc to 2.5pc of the population have disabilities. If that percentage persisted, 4.7 million of the country’s 200 million population should be disabled.

However, as per the census of 2017, this percentage is reported to have declined, standing at 1.6pc so that 3.2 million people have disabilities. The report raises questions about these statistics though.

The process of registering someone as a person living with disability is a long one, the report says.The individual is required to come to the city’s public hospital, present relevant documents proving residence and disability, appear before an assessment board, get a disability certificate and furnish that to get a special identity card on the basis of which their vote will be registered. This sequential process runs the risk of excluding disabled persons, the report says.

The report suggests that the participation of persons with disabilities in different spheres of life will significantly increase if a holistic law dealing with their welfare is introduces.

Speaking at the launch, PPP Secretary General Farhatullah Babar said proper steps should be taken to bring disabled people into the mainstream. He said residents of tribal areas and transgender persons were brought in the mainstream by parties and parliament taking proper political and constitutional steps.

He also stressed on the need for a comprehensive law in this regard and that the existing law only deals with employment. He said political will is a decisive factor and that the PPP will include disabled people in its manifesto and called on other parties to do so as well.

PMHA President Zulqurnain Asghar said the absence of law means the absence of any binding documents to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are upheld and for holding violators to account. He also wondered how the 2017 census showed a decline in the number of disabled people when the population of the country has increased.

Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2018

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