ON the International Day of Disabled Persons, it is important to take stock of how far Pakistan has come in ensuring that those with disabilities live a life of freedom, equality and dignity. Unfortunately, though Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities over a decade ago and more recently saw the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disability in 2020, there are miles to go before these rights can be enforced. To begin with, the general mentality towards PWD shows ignorance and callousness. For instance, at a news conference in Lahore in 2020, a minister made insensitive remarks about disabled people, saying that children with disabilities were a punishment from God for wrongdoers and hoarders — a most irresponsible statement from a public figure, but one that reflects the mindset of Pakistani society at large. The purpose of the convention is to uphold, protect and ensure the complete and equal enjoyment of all human rights and freedoms by all PWD, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. The disability rights law, too, provides a comprehensive legal framework to protect and promote the rights of PWD in Pakistan. These legal instruments ensure that thousands of PWD in the country who are excluded from public life are able to challenge incidents in which they are discriminated against.

Though legislation is important, there is a lot of work to be done by both the centre and the provincial governments to give access to PWD in terms of infrastructure as well as employment opportunities. In addition, a narrative is needed that battles toxic and discriminatory mindsets. Data collection on PWD, too, is abysmal. According to the 1998 census, PWD comprised just over 2pc of the population — a figure which absurdly fell in the 2017 census by around 80pc to a mere 0.48pc. Authorities must do more to collect accurate data on PWD, for only then can resources be allocated to ensure they enjoy their constitutionally enshrined freedoms.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2021

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