Ministry’s bill for rights of disabled persons criticised for lack of inclusivity

 06 February 2019

ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Human Rights tabled a draft bill for the rights of persons with disabilities a few weeks ago in parliament.

Though the bill tabled by Human Rights Minister Dr Shireen Mazari has been hailed as a good step by activists, many have voiced concerns regarding the language used in the bill and have said the draft law is not inclusive enough.

The ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2018 outlaws discrimination on the basis of disability and calls for equal treatment of all.

It says freedom of movement will be ensured for everyone and that an environment will be created so that persons with disabilities can live with freedom, self-control, choice and self-determination in everyday life.

It says quality mobility aids and assistive technology will be provided at affordable prices. No person or institution will be able to discriminate against persons with disabilities and no person with disabilities will be subjected to research against their will.

Draft law uses male pronouns, focuses on specific types of disabilities, critic says

The government will ensure special seats in all means of transport for disabled persons and allot parking spaces exclusively for disabled persons.

The bill says persons with disabilities will be offered equal rights to access to educational institutions, special education institutions will be established and the government will provide free education to persons with disabilities.

“No person, institution, organisation or entity, whether public or private, shall discriminate against a person on the ground of disability in the matters of employment, promotion, career development and enjoying fruits of his employment,” it states.

The draft suggests the establishment of an Islamabad Capital Territory Disability Fund in which federal and provincial grants and donations will be deposited.

It says that as party to the UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Pakistan is obligated to promote the full realisation of rights and freedoms for persons with disabilities by taking appropriate legislative, administrative and policy measures.

Potohar Mental Health Association Chief Executive Zulqarnain Asghar told Dawn it was better to table a bill than promulgate a presidential ordinance.

“However, the language used in the draft bill is gender blind. Throughout the bill, apart from when it talks about reproductive rights, the word ‘him’ has been used and there is no mention of women. We request the ministry and parliamentary committee to amend the language used in the bill,” he said.

He said that according to the feedback collected by his association, the bill mainly focuses on physical disabilities and other types of disabilities such as blindness, hearing impairment and intellectual disabilities are excluded from the bill.

“Accountability mechanisms are very weak or absent in various sections of the bill. In the present draft, the political rights of persons living with disabilities are very vague. The allocation of seats for disabled persons in national and provincial assemblies and the local government system is not included in the bill,” he said.

Mr Asghar added that the allocation of budgets and resources for persons living with disabilities, especially women, is not clear in the draft law.

All legislations and policies must reflect the needs of disabled persons, he said, adding that seats should be reserved for disabled persons in parliament.

“Though the bill suggests establishing an endowment fund, we demand that a percentage of the GDP be allocated for persons with disabilities so their issues can be addressed,” he said.

Published in Dawn, February 6th, 2019