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Pakistan’s disabled population demand due rights and jobs

Pakistan’s disabled population demand due rights and jobs
Pakistan’s disabled population demand due rights and jobs

At least seven million persons with disabilities are forced to remain within their homes

Islamabad: Although there have been some efforts by the government, people with disabilities in Pakistan continue to face hurdles, especially in areas of education, employment, health care and transportation.

At least seven million people with disabilities (PWD) are forced to stay home as they do not have access to wheelchairs in Pakistan, Shafiqur Rehman, president of Milestone — a movement for PWDs, said on Monday.

“At least 20 million people in Pakistan have disabilities, making that 10 per cent of the country’s population,” said Rehman.

Pakistan’s 2017 census, conducted by the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS), failed to accurately count the number of disabled people in the country, further creating problems for the marginalised segment of society.

The sixth Population Census estimates that only 0.48 per cent population in the country is disabled — far less than the 1998 census.

“In the population census held in 1998, persons with disabilities were recorded as 2.49 per cent of the total population”, which indicates that the ratio of people with disabilities fell by 80 per cent, pointed out Disabled Welfare Association (DWA) President Javed Raees.

“We need the rights we are entitled to as citizens of Pakistan,” said Raees.

Recently, the provincial government of Punjab claims to have increased the job quota for the disabled people to 3 per cent from 2 per cent. Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif also announced that the government was working on a comprehensive programme for the welfare of special persons.

“[The] jobs quota for differently-abled persons has been increased from 2 to 3 per cent and 4,848 jobs have been created. In total 1,550 government jobs have been given to visually-impaired persons and recruitment process from scale five to 15 for differently-abled persons was under process,” he said.

However, the provincial capital, Lahore, has witnessed several protests by people with special needs complaining about jobs. On December 4, visually-impaired protesters from all over the province staged a protest demonstration in front of the Lahore Press Club demanding payment of salaries and permanent jobs for all those employees who are working on daily wages and on contract.

Despite the fixed job quota, country’s disabled population continues to face problems in getting a job because, “the implementation of the quota is very low. There is no official body to assess it”, explains Karim Navroz Ali, manager of administration and finance at the Network of Organisations Working for People with Disabilities, Pakistan (NOWPDP).

Elaborating on the issue, he said, “For 100 employees, companies are obligated to hire at least two PWDs. The consequence of not doing so is the payment of a fine worth the minimum wage of one employee — Rs15,000 (Dh522), into the Disabled Persons Rehabilitation Fund.” However, no company is following the regulation.

Another major issue is access. Some new buildings in Pakistan are accessible to disabled people but most are not disabled-friendly and lack proper accommodations. Students and youth with disabilities are hit hardest as they are unable to continue education which leaves them further immobilised. “The educational institutions must have accessible buildings and elevators so that at least our young generation is not left behind,” said Zulqarnain Asghar, President of Potohar Mental Health Association.

This marginalisation is not only creating educational and social barriers for persons with disabilities but also is an economic burden for the state. “Pakistan is losing $12 million (Dh44 million) every day by not including persons with disabilities in the mainstream economy” according to Shafiqur Rehman.

By not empowering the country’s disabled with education and employment, Pakistan is facing annual losses of about Rs127 billion, according to a report published in Dawn newspaper.