Persons with Disabilities (PwDs) are among the most marginalized sections of society in Pakistan, unheard and unseen, while the efforts on part of successive government towards mainstreaming and integrating them are equally insufficient and inconspicuous. Their miseries continue; only in their routine lives they are facing challenges, which may remain insurmountable if the society, community and government do not come forward and extend a willing helping hand.
Likewise, the third world countries vow to extend all kind of moral and material support to safeguard dignity, wellbeing and rights of the disabled in Pakistan but these remain to be inadequate. The 2.54 percent of the total population comprises vulnerable persons, who are leading a miserable life in the absence of basic necessities of life. It is difficult rather impossible for them to get jobs especially in the govt sector; the prevalent injustices plaguing the society affect the disabled the most, hence their sense of deprivation grows up with every passing day.
The number of the handicapped in the entire region has raised manifold particularly within the last many years.
The 8th October 2005 earthquake alone, for example, left thousands of people, including women and children physically disabled. In addition the ongoing war against terrorism in the region has also left behind thousands of such episodes. A large number of children, women and elders have been deprived of their significant body components like limbs and arms inflicted by routine terror incidents.
Under the circumstances, the people at the helm of affairs did not bother to formulate any comprehensive strategy to cope with the challenge that has caused despondency amongst them of a greater magnitude. Most of the disabled in Pakistan lack basic facilities of living a better life. According to the latest statistics, 1.4 million persons are with disabilities in Pakistan, most of them are children without an access to schools. Existing facilities in limited capacity, quantity and quality add to the dilemma.
In the absence of fundamental amenities and basic facilities of life, the disabled are often compelled to go for begging at bus stops, shopping malls, business centres, outside the mosques and pathways to earn their bread. Parents forcibly send them for begging at picnic points. Another is the business of children’s smuggling; the handlers train them for begging purposes. Most unfortunately many of the poor parents sell their toddlers to the child-lifters and get money in return. Even the kidnappers kidnap the completely able children and make them disabled after amputating their limbs or other parts of body. The Darbar of Shah Daula in Gujrat city of central Punjab used to be the hub of such activities. Poor parents who could not afford bread for the disabled children, especially with lesser grown head skull, used to devote them for the Darbar. There they are given to the beggars for using them for begging wearing long green rags.
The government had enacted the Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Ordinance 1981 for the benefit of the disabled people, which applied to both government and private enterprise. The governments have, however, failed to implement it in its true letter and spirit, especially denying them the jobs quota.
Pakistan ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on July 5, 2011. Pakistan was among the 145 countries which ratified this Convention and thus its implementation was responsibility of the state and development organizations including the disabled people’s organizations. Being a signatory of this Convention the state is bound to ensure them their rights but the dilemma is that all existing and previous regulations pertaining to giving basic rights to the disabled have not been implemented. In other words these laws only exist in papers.
As far as the NGOs’ role in this regard is concerned, a few NGOs are in the country engaged in working for the betterment and welfare of these people. These organizations seem active on world disabled day and merely chant slogans for their rights and then disperse. They look helpless to play their respective role, whether they have financial constraints or they are not sincere enough.
In this respect only a Lahore based organization, LABARD, (Lahore Businessmen Association for the Rehabilitation of the Disabled), seems to be of stature. Its performance has been commendable for reintegration of the specials, but there scope of work is limited. The organization only accommodates local people and from the near neighbourhoods. Keeping in view the miseries’ of special people, the executives of LABARD must consider expanding their network nationwide. Other organizations in the metropolitan cities should follow the steps of LABARD to facilitate the special people.
The disabled persons are part of the society and it is the national obligation for all of us to take care of them by mainstreaming them through inclusive opportunities. The government should be mindful of the troubles confronting the disabled persons in all spheres of life, and initiate positive steps to bring them into national mainstream. The job quota allocated under Disabled Persons Employment and Rehabilitation Ordinance must be increased by 5 percent. It is also binding on the government to introduce accountability law for the organizations in order to implement the job quota. The special people in Pakistan need employment opportunities, educational independence and health facilities. Though the Punjab government has enhanced job quota for job for disables from two to three percent, it’s a good sign, but this should be theoretical in full letter and spirit. Disables are hapless angels of the society who should not be considered as a burden.
BY MAHTAB ABBASI
–The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist and can be reached at email@example.com