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We see the captioned slogan very frequently printed on the literatures or painted on the signboards of many NGO’s and government organizations, which are supposedly serving “Disabled” or “Special Persons’ and claim to impart training to them to become useful citizens and economically independent. I am not skeptical about their sincere efforts and the service they are rendering.
But the general observation in our country is that special persons are taken as liability on society and their over-all plight is pathetic and painful. They face discrimination in every walk of life and as such are forced to live a reclusive life.
As per a news appeared in some newspaper few days ago, in which the three-member bench of The Supreme Court of Pakistan headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed, while rejecting the reports on the rights of disabled persons from federal government and the governments of three provinces, remarked that the governments are deliberately playing the delaying tactics about the disabled persons. The concern shown by the Apex Court bears testimony to the fact that how seriously they take this issue.
Honorable Judge maintained that we are way behind the world in not only enacting new laws for the rights of such persons, but also following the laws whatever few we have.
This news fomented me to take-up the issue of “Special Persons” for our Pharma Veterans colleagues. In our society this segment of population is not taken seriously and is largely deprived of their rights. They are discriminated and ignored at every level like education, job opportunities or even social activities.
Last year in March Supreme Court ordered the Federal Government and Pakistan Bureau of Statistics to strictly follow the declaration of Lahore High Court, according to which in form 2a of census clause 3 (gender), disabled male are to be given code 4, disabled female code 5 and transgender code 6. Same year in July Supreme Court ordered bureau of statistics to tabulate the statistics of such persons to ascertain their number. But when the results of census were announced this information was conspicuously missing.
This shows how ignoramus the government and its institutions are about a very important point of Rights of Special Persons which is “How Many are We” According to an estimate 5% — 10% fall in the category of special persons.
Initially law for this segment of population was enacted in 1981, The Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance 1981, which provided 2% quota for jobs for them. In 2002 a national policy was made and in 2006 national action plan was introduced for such persons, according to this, a great emphasis was laid on making the society “Disabled Friendly” This plan provisioned separate facilities for them at public places, mosques, public libraries, gardens, shopping malls, railway stations, air ports, bus terminals etc.
The action on this plan was partial and halfhearted. In 2009 special transport policy was introduced which allowed duty free import of vehicles for them. But sadly no action was taken on any of these policies.
The main reason for this lukewarm attitude and reluctance towards special persons is that in our legislative institutions (Assemblies and Senate) there is absolutely no representation of special persons. Those who reach these institutions are themselves un-aware of the rights of special persons. Therefore, to expect legislation from them is a far cry. The constitution of Pakistan gives equal rights to all citizens pertaining to health, education, jobs and all genres of life, but no heed is paid to the rights of mentally or physically challenged.
A survey of UNO reveals that there are about one billion people in the world suffering for some kind of lesser or a higher degree of disability. The problem with such persons is that they are regarded as being inconsistent with the normal human life, leading to discrimination against them. Therefore, such persons cannot influence various decisions taken for them.
This problem is more serious in the developing world. Theoretically we believe that all humans are equal but practically the situation is just the reverse.
Dr. Shahida Sajjad, Dean, Faculty of Education, University of Karachi says that: “The most important barrier to persons with disabilities is attitudes. People feel sympathy towards them but do not want to understand their capabilities, and that they can be given a job. Some companies hire disabled persons but tell them to sit at home and they’ll be paid a salary because the workplace lacks necessary facilities.”
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities was observed across the globe, including Pakistan, on December 3, 2018, to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities in all spheres of society, and to increase awareness about persons with disabilities belonging to political, social, economic and cultural spheres of life.
The theme for this year’s celebration was ‘Transformation towards a Sustainable and Resilient Society for All’.
In this connection, many organizations in the country, including Directorate General of Special Education and Government of Pakistan, organized different programs in the country. Many discussions were held and reported in media on different aspects of this issue. These activities reveal that in Pakistan, estimated number of persons living with disabilities varies between 3.3 million and 27 million, depending on whether information are based on government statistics (the last census which measured the prevalence rates was taken in 1998) or they came from other agencies.
In a bid to protect the rights and dignity of its population with disabilities, Pakistan ratified the CRPD (Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) in 2011. Despite this, persons with disabilities are marginalized in Pakistan:
- They face discrimination, exclusion and neglect, and are unable to participate fully and effectively in society.
- They particularly face barriers in education, economic participation, legal recognition, and access to health facilities.
- 4 million Children with disabilities do not have access to either inclusive or special schools.
- Only 0.49 psychologists and psychiatrists for every 100,000 people in Pakistan.
Beyond being a social, legal or moral issue, marginalizing persons with disabilities has also become a major economic issue for Pakistan. Inaction towards persons with disabilities is costing Pakistan 4.9 to 6.3 per cent of its GDP annually. In 2014, Pakistan’s economy lost an estimated US$ 12 billion because of excluding persons with disabilities from employment. In 2018, Pakistan’s economy is expected to lose US$ 20 billion.
Pakistan did in fact make early attempts at including persons with disabilities in the 1980s with the introduction of education and employment policies, setting up special schools for persons with disabilities and mandating businesses to employ persons with disabilities through a quota-based system. Although these were celebrated achievements in the early years, they proved to be ineffective in including persons with disabilities. Persons with disabilities still have difficulty exercising their civil and political rights, attending quality schools and finding gainful employment.
The culture around disability in Pakistan is one characterized by pity. Persons with disabilities are seen sympathetically, in need of medical help or charity, instead of worthy of empowerment. This perception is, evidently informed by the medical model of disability that identifies disability as a biological problem that lies with the individual. Pakistan’s ratification of the CRPD, which uses a social model of disability, therefore offers a promising opportunity. By assuming CRPD’s rights-based approach, which recognizes disability as a “diversity that needs to be accepted” Pakistan needs to develop inclusive culture that includes persons with disabilities in all walks of life.
This is high time that we as a nation realize that Pakistan cannot afford to ignore millions of its citizens, an enormous human capital, which is currently out of sight because of disability. They can, if given a chance, contribute significantly to the country as a whole.
From the government to the man on the street, there is an unswerving and pressing need for a complete transformation from a culture of pity to the one focused on dignity, empowerment and rights. To make this shift, persons with disabilities need to be empowered through quality education — the hallmark of progress for the country.
They must have equal access to employment and be able to live and work in a broader physical environment conducive to their mobility, learning and working needs.
Disability is not inability – it is a diversity that needs to be accepted.
Newspapers —Jang & Business Recorder/ Various T.V programs/ www.britishcouncil.org