Policies for Disabled: Rhetoric & Reality

As according to international organizations, Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) constitute about ten to fifteen percent of world’s population and by implication Pakistan’s also, it is relevant to see where we stand in terms of policy formulation and its implementation for PWDs. Because proper implementation of right policies provides the ladder for the society’s progress. so far, PWDs in Pakistan have had 1981 ordinance; 2002 National policy; 2006 Action Plan; and, 2008 the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (UNCRPD) designed to address their issues. But unfortunately none has succeeded to provide intended benefits to PWDs.

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, DEC 03: Disabled people participate in awareness walk arranged  by Paraplegic Center and Red Cross to mark the World Disabled Day in Peshawar on Saturday,  December 03, 2011. (Fahad Pervez/PPI Images).

Of the above mentioned four documents, the last instrument, the UNCRPD in summary is an international human rights treaty, intended to protect the rights and dignity of PWDs and has been enforced since May 2008. As of December 2015, the convention has 160 parties — 159 states (including Pakistan) and EU, that have signed and ratified it. Parties to the Convention are required to promote, protect, and ensure the full enjoyment of human rights by PWDs and ensure that they enjoy full equality under the law. The Convention has served as the major catalyst in the global movement from viewing PWDs as objects of charity, medical treatment and social protection towards viewing them as full and equal members of society, with human rights. Pakistan signed the UNCRPD in 2008 but ratified it on 06 July 2011, though under a lot of pressure from the PWDs thereby making it legally binding to implement.

_67919295_2177904Moreover, some of our policies prove faulty due to non-involvement of the persons or representatives to whom the policy actually impacts. Take for example the Punjab government’s ‘Recruitment Policy for Educators 2014’: while the policy claims two percent quota for PWDs, but ironically bars the very persons from applying for the posts through its terms and conditions. The policy clearly on page 3 states, “Under disabled persons’ quota, blind, deaf & dumb candidates will not be eligible to apply.” The statement, “Disability should not hinder mobility” makes the provision of two percent quota to PWDs in this policy practically a joke. The above statements in quotes are directly taken from the aforementioned policy. If unfortunately these terms are applied, then instead of real disabled persons, people with ‘deep pockets’ or ‘strong connections’ will be recruited at these positions.

Probably NGOs working for PWDs focus more on services because this is what people want in immediate terms, or it takes less time to show results, brings more media attention, is less costly and is easier to show progress by providing some services to some PWDs than “wasting time and resources” on “less attractive” aspects such as planning or legislation. In over four years, no one either in government sector or from NGOs has so far produced even a draft legislation to incorporate provisions of UNCRPD in Pakistani legal system or made a draft policy based on principles of convention. The irony is that even Special Education Departments that are tasked to work for betterment of PWDs, do not have updated accessible websites.

Whatever reasons for poor and faulty policies and planning, fact of matter is that UNCRPD in Pakistan, like constitution of country seems powerful instrument and very attractive to speak about. But it has been turned into a manipulating tool in hands of its supposed enforcers, about which they selectively but very enthusiastically talk, but do not implement. It is therefore high time that we ensure the proper formulation and implementation of our policies for PWDs or otherwise. The first step should be to shift the focus from ‘charity’ or ‘medical based approach’ to a ‘rights-based approach’ towards PWDs, which recognises that persons with disabilities should be empowered to become productive part of the society. Moreover, all of our policies concerning PWDs or otherwise should carry effective enforcement and monitoring mechanisms. Because any policy is not worth the paper it is written on unless properly enforced and implemented.

Last but not least, policies that relate to PWDs should have their inputs in all stages: formulation, implementation and monitoring, as it is them who will have to live with results. In a nutshell, it is high time that NGOs and government take practical steps to back their words with actions; move beyond mere issuance of statements or observance of days; and bridge gulf between rhetoric and reality of their actions.

By: Muhammad Shabbir

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