No law in place to address issues of disabled persons

ISLAMABAD: Punjab that celebrated International Disability Day by beating the protesting blind persons in Lahore has the smallest number of disabled population whereas the terrorist-hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has the highest number of disabled persons but no law is in place anywhere to address their issues.

There are as many as 90.61 million people registered for Computerised National Identity Card and included in them are 148,470 disabled persons, according to the Nadra record. This information was requested using the Freedom of Information Ordinance 2002 but was provided only after the intervention of federal ombudsman as Nadra had initially refused to share it.

Punjab has 54.98 million CNIC holders and 45, 146 (0.08%) of them have been registered as disabled. Baluchistan follows in terms of lower number of disabled card holders. Out of 3.67 million CNIC holders in this resource-rich province, there are 3533 (0.09%) are disabled.

Sindh is ranked third in this category. It has 21.07 million card holders, as many as 31855 (0.15%) are registered as disabled. KP houses the maximum number of disabled. There is no study to find out that whether the disability is outcome of terrorist incidents or due to some other reasons. Out of 13301197 CNIC holders, 62,079 (0.46%) are disability card holders.

The size of disabled population is widely disputed as families generally tend to hide such details due to the social stigma attached with the disability in absence of any government policy to bring them in mainstream as productive citizens.

According to the population census of 1998, the number of persons with disabilities stands at 32866, less than 2.5 % of the total population of the country, a figure that has always been contested.

Disability rights activists argue that the number of such persons is much higher that reported in the census. The staff involved in collecting data for 1998 census was not trained to dig up information about the number of disabled persons in a family, according to Zahid Abdullah, who lost eyesight in student life. He is a role model for disabled persons who emerged as an accomplished citizen braving against all odds.

Zahid refused resigning to the blindness. Instead, he did masters in English and Development Studies, taught at different universities and authored three books including the one on disability: “Disabled by Society.”

Father of three girls, Zahid currently works as coordinator of the Coalition of Right to Information, travels abroad and inside Pakistan speaking on RTI and training common citizens as well as journalists on RTI law and how to use it for holding the government to account.

Other than 2% quota in government jobs and 50% concession in fares of national flag carrier and Pakistan Railways, successive governments have not taken initiatives to rehabilitate persons with disabilities, Zahid deplored.

Although Pakistan ratified UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011, steps have not been taken to eradicate attitudinal, social and environmental barriers that persons with disabilities have to face on daily basis. This can be gauged from the fact that there is no disability law in place to promote and protect rights of the disabled in the country, Zahid said.

The PPP government is the only administration that took some measures by launching Disability Card for such persons in 2009 with special logo displayed on it but there is no incentive for them to acquire such cards.

As a result, a negligible number of disabled persons managed to live a productive and functionally active life whereas the rest are restricted to their homes or end up as beggars on streets.

Long ago, the government allocated two percent job quotas for the disabled but this policy has never been translated into action. And when blind persons assembled in Lahore to protest the government’s failure in this regard, the police were sent to beat them on December 4, the day globally commemorated as International Day for Disabled Persons.
Umar Cheema
The News
Friday, January 16, 2015
From Print Edition

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