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Disability legislation

Updated June 12, 2018

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WHILE at long last Pakistan’s tribal and transgender populations have been brought into the mainstream through legislative reform, one social group has still been left behind.

This was recently spotlighted at the launch of a report titled Bringing Disability in the Constitutional Net. Speaking at the event, the PPP’s Farhatullah Babar underscored the need for political will to mainstream persons with disabilities.

Let us then examine our legislative scorecard in recent years.

There has been little to no progress since Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of PWDs in 2011. Though the 18th Amendment’s passage offered a timely opportunity to overhaul the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance, 1981, most provincial governments — including Mr Babar’s own party in Sindh — chose to enact the ordinance with minor changes.

Based on an outmoded approach, these laws frame PWDs as pitiful victims in need of charity, not inclusion. But disability is not an issue that affects only a few; whether through birth, accident, illness or old age, it touches all of us.

Accounting for this, the CRPD defines ‘disability’ as “long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder [PWDs’] full and effective participation in society”.

It outlines a social model that requires nations to guarantee PWDs’ rights through affirmative policies, and remove environmental and institutional barriers.

Two recent developments could make an argument for such legislation to be enacted at the federal level. One is the recently passed Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, a progressive law that extends to the whole of Pakistan.

Though it will likely require further provincial assent on devolved subjects for uniform service provision, it serves as a template for harmony between such future laws.

The second is the precedent set by the Supreme Court’s judgement upholding the federal Industrial Relations Act, 2012. The court found that, though labour is a provincial subject, Entry 32 of the Federal Legislative List enables the federal government to enact laws to implement international treaties (in IRA’s case, several ILO conventions).

Thus, the CRPD could also be legislated at the national level, effectively ensuring conformity in defining disability, guaranteeing legal protection from discrimination, and providing a holistic, rights-based framework to guide the drafting of better laws and implementation mechanisms by the provinces.

Let us hope, then, that our next elected representatives are able to shed their benign apathy for decisive action.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2018