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Call for including persons with disabilities in political process

TP 5 months ago
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Islamabad (TP) September 30: Speakers including legislators have called for including persons with disabilities in elections and political process to make them part of decisions affecting their lives.

They said that persons with disabilities comprising over 15 per cent of the population must be made part of the political and legislative process.

They were speaking at a lobbying meeting organized by the Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA) with the support of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to discuss a draft bill on the rights of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

The draft of the first-ever proposed legislation on the rights of persons living with disabilities (PWDs) after having gone through parliamentary committees is ready now to be laid before the National Assembly during the session.

The speakers including members National Assembly were of the view that since it was a constitutional matter and a constitutional amendment was needed to empower PWDs, all political parties, like they have seats for women and minorities, should support the draft bill to bring a constitutional amendment to create new seats for them.

Member National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights Shunila Ruth said that it is good and commendable legislation that talks about health, wellbeing and inclusion of PWDs in the society. She said that but for reserved seats of PWDs in the parliament, there was a constitutional hitch that needed a separate resolution.

She was speaking at a lobbying meeting organized by the Potohar Mental Health Association (PMHA) with the support of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) to discuss the bill.

A government bill for the wellbeing of PWDs was tabled in the National Assembly by Federal Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari in December last. After consultations and incorporating inputs from stakeholders, the ICT Rights of Persons with Disability Bill, 2018 is expected to be tabled for voting in the lower house in the current session.

For the first time, the Pakistani parliament was going to enact a law for the rights of persons living with disabilities. Currently, there is no proper legislation for them except an outdated ordinance of 1981.

“It is the responsibility of the government and society to be sensitive about PWDs’ needs and look after them,” Ruth said.

“Though the proposed legislation is a comprehensive draft, it does not talk about intellectually challenged persons. By disability we only consider physical disability,” she said while sharing her personal experiences about problems and negative societal attitude a family that has an intellectually challenged child has to face. “My sister was a differently-abled person and in those times there was no institute to educate such children so we sent her to Japan for education. Usually, such people are hidden in the corners of houses by families but my father who was a bishop in Sialkot used to take her along in functions despite negative remarks from the people,” Shunila Ruth said.

PMHA Chief Executive Zulqurnain Asghar said that examples from around the world tell us that it was persons living with disabilities who spearhead the movements to bring legislations for their rights themselves.

“Like largely paralyzed Japanese politicians Yasuhiko Funago and Eiko Kimurawho after electing into the parliament brought the first legislation for PWDs. While in Pakistan despite that 15 per cent PWDs account for Pakistani population, there is no representation of them in the parliament,” he said.

Member of the Standing Committee on Human Rights Agha Hasan Baloch said that until seats are not reserved, parties should voluntarily support PWDs and include them in the political process.

Recently in by-elections, the Balochistan National Party gave a ticket to a wheelchair-bound candidate. We will support every legislation to uplift this marginalized section of society,” he pledged.

Gender Specialist Hadia Nusrat said that persons with disabilities make 20 to 30 per cent of constituencies and are legitimate voters so they must be a part of the legislative process.

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