KARACHI: The Sindh Differently-Able Persons (Employment, Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, 2014 that was unanimously passed in the beginning of 2015 and later amended in 2017 is one of the many laws that has yet to be implemented by the Sindh government.
The Act waived admission fees at public educational institutions for people with disabilities as well as 75% of tuition fee, along with establishing reserved seats. According to the Act, the government was to form a council, which, among its other duties, was also supposed to facilitate persons with disabilities in receiving "health insurance and free treatment at hospitals and dispensaries run under the administrative control of [the] government and local government".
As per the Act, social security grants were also to be given every month to needy people with disabilities. There were also provisions in the law for special grants for the weddings of the such persons' children and providing interest-free loans to them for setting up small businesses, along with concessions for purchase of land.
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The name of the Act originally contained the word 'disability', which was opposed by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah. He changed the name to include the word 'differently-able' instead. Shah himself has a son with disabilities and was a strong proponent of the law.
Commenting on the situation, the Committee-Based Rehabilitation (CBR) Asia Pacific Network Chairperson Ghulam Nabi Nizamani said the law has not been implemented yet because the government failed to formulate the rules.
"People with disabilities don't want the government to provide welfare, which it has miserably failed to provide through this law. We want equal rights according to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) of which Pakistan is a signatory," he said. "As the president of Pakistan, Asif Ali Zardari ratified the convention in July 2011," added Nizamani, who actively campaigns for the rights of people with disabilities and is himself wheelchair-bound.
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Nizamani called the Act a 'bureaucratic and discriminatory law'. No input from any person with disabilities was taken during the consultations and the law was copied from the federal Employment and Rehabilitation of Disabled People Ordinance, 1981 with just a few words changed, he claimed.
The activist also asserted that those with disabilities should be called 'people with disabilities' as mentioned in the UNCRPD instead of differently-abled persons. More than 100 countries have ratified the misnomer 'differently-abled', Nizamani claimed, adding that it still exists in the law.
Nizamani maintained that after the 18th Amendment, it was obligatory for the provincial government to make a law parallel to the federal law for the relief of the people with disabilities in the province and, hence, the law was approved in haste. He, however, praised the Balochistan Assembly for passing an Act this year in accordance with the UNCRPD, which provides equal rights to people with disabilities.
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Pakistan Muscular Dystrophy Patient Welfare Association President Adnan Sarwar said that the law calls for the government to establish a council, the Council for the Rehabilitation of Differently-Abled Persons, to execute policies made by the government for the employment, rehabilitation and welfare of people with disabilities but so far no steps have been taken to provide relief to them.
"Those who need to implement the law do nothing except attending programmes on December 3, which is observed as the 'International Day of Persons with Disabilities', for speeches and photo sessions," Sarwar lamented.
Talking to The Express Tribune, founder and president of the Disabled Welfare Association Jawed Rais said people with disabilities should be given their rights without hurting their self-respect. Quoting the World Health Organisation, Rais said more than 15% of the population of Pakistan is comprised of people with disabilities but they were recorded to be only 2.49% of the total population of the country in the 1998 census. According to the census of 2017, only 0.48% people of Pakistan have disabilities, which is a stark contradiction to the continuously rising population of people with disabilities in the country, he claimed.
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Rais contended that even a small job quota of 5% for people with disabilities in private and government offices has yet to be implemented. He demanded that lawmakers replace the Sindh Differently-Able Persons (Employment, Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, 2014 with another law like the American Disability Act so that those with any kind of disability can enjoy equal rights.
Recently, HANDS, a non-profit organisation, submitted a draft bill to Pakistan Peoples Party MPA Saeed Ghani for the government's consideration to replace the Sindh Differently-Able Persons (Employment, Rehabilitation and Welfare) Act, 2014. According to HANDS Chairperson Dr Abdul Ghaffar Billoo, the proposed draft bill has been prepared after deliberations with various stakeholders and is designed in the light of the UNCRPD and the chapter of fundamental rights in the Constitution of Pakistan.
"The law, if implemented, can help eliminate gross injustices faced by people with disabilities," Dr Billoo said, adding that the draft law ensures the dignity of people with disabilities and ensures equal opportunities for them.
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Adviser to the Chief Minister on Social Welfare Shamim Mumtaz told The Express Tribune that the rules of the enacted law have been made and will soon be presented before the Cabinet for approval.
However, she added that the ministry will review a copy of the proposed bill by HANDS and would pass the bill clause-by-clause if all the stakeholders agree to it.
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