When the provincial government introduced its Disability Empowerment Act in Sindh in 2018, it was hoped that the landmark ruling would herald a new beginning for people with special needs.
The new edict, albeit unique, envisaged a life without discrimination – a life in which every disabled person in the province had the right to dignity, self-determination and equal opportunities. “Nobody may be deprived of their personal freedom just because of a disability,” proclaimed the law. In addition, she pledged to take extraordinary steps to ensure the effective inclusion of all disabled people through education, skills development and an employment rate of five percent to determine employment. However, three years later, little of what was planned at the time seems to have been turned into reality. It appears that amid the high standards and reassuring lip service, the law has passed largely without substantial enforcement within the province.
While people with disabilities, defined under the aforementioned law as those with long-term physical, mental, mental or sensory impairments, are still waiting to experience a fraction of all that was once promised. Among other things, the 2018 edict promised to take additional measures to speed up the legal process for people with disabilities. “In order to ensure speedy justice, the government, in agreement with the Chief Justice of the Sindh High Court, will set up special courts for disabled people,” said a clause in the law. But as they say, promises are meant to be broken like pie crust. At the time of filing this report, no such court appears to have been established in the past three years.
Finding clues to a government agency responsible for protecting disabled people, as required by law, was also just a wild goose hunt. According to officials, in December 2006 the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted its Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Pakistan adopted almost five years later in October 2011. The law was passed in accordance with the recommendations of the UN Convention, among other things, promising access to accommodation with good living conditions in terms of safety, hygiene, health care and advice for disabled people and children who have no place to live. The ratified convention also calls on the government to set up a dedicated job exchange portal where every public and private company provides information on job vacancies for people with disabilities. In addition, the law provided that those who had been registered with the portal for more than two years had access to unemployment benefits.
Like the portal, the allowance remains a pipe dream for disabled people in the country. In addition, there are still no proper data for disabled people living in the province, which greatly questions the seriousness of the government regarding the provincial law. Although different international organizations have put forward different numbers on this, many of them remain controversial by both federal and provincial governments. In order to find a solution to the controversial statistics, the law had promised the provincial government to conduct an in-depth investigation and release a final number of people with various disabilities living in Sindh. While no government-backed data has been disclosed since then, according to the Benazir Income Support Program, 50,673 people in the province are legally blind, 21,722 are hearing impaired, 69,150 are diagnosed with a mental disorder, 35,631 are dumb while they are past 182,820 some form of physical disability. In this regard, Abid Lashari, head of a nonprofit NGO called The National Disability and Development Forum, said that if the provincial government is often quick to legislate, it is implementing the law it is grappling with.
“Oddly enough, most of the disabled people in Sindh don’t even know there is such a law. And people are not aware of the law. How should they benefit from it? “Said Lashari. “That is why we are currently working with various international organizations to launch a mass media campaign to raise public awareness of the law,” he added. On the other hand, however, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah seems to see the edict as a success of the province. He called for implementation, saying his government had set up a separate department to handle all matters related to disabled people. “The five percent quota applies to all government departments in which the Prime Minister himself is interested. We have also almost completed the remaining rules, which will soon be implemented in Sindh, ”he explained at a press conference.
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