The case of disabled persons in Pakistan

The ILO and UN experts report that 15% of the world’s population is disabled and 80% of them are of employable age.The report by the UN also highlights that “persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the poorest segments of the society and 80% of them reside in developing countries.”

According to a recent survey, 2.7% of the population of Pakistan is categorised as disabled. The census carried out in 1998, however, indicates that 2.45% of the population is disabled. These figures do not match with the UN statistic of 15% for developing countries. Despite being challenged by multiple organizations, these official numbers continue to have an impact on the allocation of resources for disabled persons in Pakistan.

The public and private sectors have created disability specific programs to promote a world of equal opportunity for the disabled persons in Pakistan. The government launched a trust body in 1991; Punjab Welfare Trust for Disabled (PWTD), whose major function is to improve the quality of life of the disabled, through provision of monetary and technical assistance to NGOs all over Punjab.

“The trust and its development was a result of an innovative strategy. It was created to effectively reach out to a completely ignored sector in rural and urban areas. We respect the rights of the disabled persons and our ultimate aim is to provide them with a safety net that ensures inclusion at various levels of the society”, says Dr Izhar Hashmi, MD PWTD.

On devising inclusion strategies, Dr Hashmi’s response was: “Every year we redirect Rs 120 million to various organisations to ensure inclusion of disabled persons. We are developing a multitrack strategy for fund allocation and our prime agenda is to provide an ecosystem that allows skill development and enterprise creation for the disabled.”

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PWTD aims to strengthen the portfolios of NGOs and DPOs. These NGOs include organizations working for the disabled, and the DPOs are initiatives made by the disabled. PWTD is allowed to fund them for operational expense, capital expense, monitoring and evaluation and innovation in the outreach models.

The trust also ensures linkages development for its partner NGOS. Dr Hashmi adds, “The PWTD has a longstanding commitment to promoting the cause of disability and providing for the needs of its partner NGOs. We want our partner NGOS to pitch new ideas for the needs of the local market. At times we feel it is essential to reach out to global partners like the WHO for capacity building of our partners.”

The trust takes pride in citing the work of one of its partner organisations like The Deaf Welfare Awareness Foundation, which provides vocational training for the deaf in computer programing, hardware installation and fashion design. These people get employed by companies and find decent work in HR, office administration and computer operation.

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While bodies like the PWTD continue to perform, they only still manage to reach out to a limited number of people. The situation in Pakistan is alarming and there is a lot that still needs to be done.

Ms Rukhsana Hassan, former federal secretary, advocates for the need for credible systems of data collection of the disabled. According to her, the misleading statistics are a huge barrier for persons with disability. The provincial budgets allow Rs3 billion only for the education and expense of the disabled persons. An excerpt from Ms Hassan’s article in Dawn further highlights the case:

“Apart from failing to devise war-footing intervention strategies in the health, education and poverty alleviation sectors, the government in Pakistan also ignored the ballpark figure of 15pc disabled in the country despite the UN findings. Even then the figure of about Rs. 3 billion is abysmally low as at 15pc of the population, the disabled are at least 30 million. At Rs. 3billion, the government is spending Rs. 100 per disabled person every year; minus the administrative costs, it is spending Rs. 30 per disabled person.”

The government and private sector need to review and devise an aggressive strategy to fulfill the rights of the persons with disability in Pakistan. Advisors like economist Amartya Sen have promoted the cause of welfare economics. Prof Sen developed various technical measures to calculate the need of people in various categories. Sen’s work may fuel concept advisory but the figures of the UN and the alarming need of census for disabled persons call for a national ratification strategy for the sustainable development goals to be implemented in relation to people with disabilities.


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