Persons with disabilities

Disabled persons are an important part of any society. Moreover, they have the right to live their lives with self-respect like other citizens of the country. International Disabled Day is celebrated every year in the month of December 3rd and it a clear-cut reminder of the hard-hitting life that disabled people live in Pakistan, mainly due to the government’s mistreatment in doing anything to help them. On the day itself, we see top government representatives make all kinds of promises at seminars and conferences, pledging that they will make policies to improve the lives of a person with disabilities alternatively after the day passes; everything goes back to what it was. The government’s inability to implement legislation and general ignorance about the rights of the disabled are the major barriers to making them a fuller part of society.


Ignorance about the plight of the disabled is not just relevant to Pakistan; it is global. The UN itself woke up to the issue of the disabled in 1981 and declared it the International Year of Disability. From 1981 to 2006 — in the latter year the UN adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) – the disabled of the world kept waiting for their issues to be addressed. In 2008, when the CRPD became operational, the disabled came to know that the nomenclature used for them had been changed from ‘disabled persons’ to “persons with disabilities’ (PWDs). Pakistan ratified the CRPD in 2011 and, as per Article 4 of the CRPD, took upon itself the responsibility for ensuring and promoting the full realization of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all PWDs without discrimination of any kind based on disability.

On the one hand, there is the binding agreement of the CRPD while, alternatively, there are issues impeding Pakistan’s way to fulfilling its obligations under the CRPD. Four major issues can be identified in this regard. The first is the definition crisis. In the Disabled Persons (Employment and Rehabilitation) Ordinance of 1981, the term-disabled person was used for the target population under four categories: “blind, deaf physically handicapped or mentally retarded”. However, the last population census in 1998 counted 2.49 percent of the population as disabled out of 132 million under seven heads (blind, deaf/mute, crippled, insane, and mentally retarded, multiple disability and others). This is how two definitions predicating on the types of the disabled appeared. Nevertheless, in its preamble, the CRPD has acknowledged, “Disability is an evolving concept” and should be unlimited by definitions, as the CRPD itself has avoided defining it directly. Furthermore, the preamble tells us “Disability results from the interaction between persons and impairments and attitudinal and environmental barriersthat hinders their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Article One, describing the purpose of the CRPD, says that PWDs “include [not defined as] those who have long-term physical, mental, intellectual or sensory impairments, which in interaction with various barriersmay hinder their full and effective participation in society on an equal basis with others.” Thus, the option for the agreed definitions of both disability and PWDs is still open for Pakistan.

No actual result or specific data can be done or concluded about the status and degree of the disabled population in Pakistan based on the large number of incomparable, invalid and untrustworthy data collections. Observing the disability rate in Censuses of 2017 one may expect that a much higher rate exists which may be concealed by poor data collection and validated by cultural norms to avoid speaking of such matters especially with an unfamiliar person. One may conclude from this analysis that control over various disabilities is not impossible.

The second issue is the absence of current data. Since 1998, no census has been conducted to count the exact or approximate number of PWDs — even if the societal trend to hide a disability or the mention of a PWD in a family as a stigma is overlooked — to fathom the magnitude of the disability crisis. Similarly, no data is available on the life expectancy of PWDs born with a disability. Regarding the number of PWDs in Pakistan, reliance is placed on the World Report on Disability compiled in 2011 jointly by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank. The report said that 15 percent of the world population was PWDs. The implication is that 15 percent of Pakistan has projected population at 192 million in 2015 considered PWDs at about 28 million, a staggering figure. However, the analogy employed overlooks the fact that the report also counts those who are afflicted with disability owing to an accident or natural catastrophe, any disease occurring late in life or even aging. This point makes one understand the reason CRPD is acknowledging disability as an evolving concept, by both definition and classification. Nevertheless, to meet the data collection obligation under Article 31 of the CRPD, the substitute for the census can be adopted by motivating the recently elected local bodies to collect the disability-specific data (under any evolved definition that may also include the age group; for instance, child, teenage, adult, middle age and old PWDs) at the Union Council level.

The third issue is of out-of-date legislation. The 1981 Ordinance — despite being adopted, in the wake of the 18th Constitutional Amendment took place in 2010, by Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provinces with necessary amendments in 2012 — has endured its utility for its being deficient in both regulatory and punitive contents. It focuses mainly on rehabilitation (e.g. medical treatment, segregated education, and vocational training), employment and welfare of PWDs in both government and private sectors, though the ordinance is silent on the definitions of rehabilitation and welfare. Society, in general, has long crossed the limits of the ordinance; Modern research has introduced new models of PWDs’ rehabilitation and rehabilitation. Such as, the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities (NPPD), formulated by the government of Pakistan in November 2002, owed to Pakistan is being a signatory to the Biwako Millennium Framework for Action towards an inclusive, barrier-free and rights’ based society for PWDs in Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) under the UN concluded in October 2002. To implement the policy, the Pakistan government devised the National Plan of Action in March 2006 to work five years till 2025. Unfortunately, the policy and the implementing plan face five-pronged problems: they do not flow from the 1981 Ordinance, they cannot override the 1981 Ordinance, a legislative cover does not protect them, they do not recommend any legislation and they are overruledby the CRPD, though the CRPD is not as well contradictory of them. An amendment to the 1981 Ordinance — even in the adopted version by the provinces — considering the CRPD is required.

The last and fourth issue is the absence of preventive measures to forestall disabilities to check the growing enormity of the disability crisis. The 1981 Ordinance is silent on this aspect and so is the CRPD. Though the NPPD addresses the prevention aspect aptly, it is discredited as has been pointed out. To check the disability crisis, Pakistan has to put in place a prevention regime. Research can be promoted to look for ways to prevent disability, both congenital and acquired, especially in children who constitute a major chunk of PWDs.

Prime Minister of Pakistan Mr. Imran Khan made many speeches and took adequate measures for public relief. However, in these measures Prime Minister ignored the disabled people, so the Government of Pakistan should announce a welfare package for disabled people.