Pakistani parliament passes landmark law to protect rights of people with disabilities

Pakistan's wheelchair cricket player Muhammad Latif (C) celebrates his century during the Asia Cup Twenty 20 wheelchair cricket tournament final match between India and Pakistan at Kirtipur Cricket Ground in Kathmandu on May 18, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 17 September 2020

Pakistani parliament passes landmark law to protect rights of people with disabilities

  • Bill passed by joint sitting of parliament and will become law once president signs it, human rights minister says 
  • Human Rights Watch says number of people living with disabilities in Pakistan varies from 3.3 million to 27 million

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Wednesday passed a new disability law through a joint session of parliament, raising hopes that discrimination, especially in the workplace, against millions of Pakistanis could be curbed. 

According to Human Rights Watch, estimates of the number of people living with disabilities in Pakistan wildly vary from 3.3 million to 27 million. Pakistan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2011.

The new landmark law comes after more than 5,200 Pakistanis signed a petition that was handed to parliament in December last year. The petition was part of the Equal World campaign, launched in Pakistan by Sightsavers, the National Forum of Women with Disabilities and the Community Based Inclusion Development Network (CBIDN).

“Today we finally got our ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill passed through Joint session,” human rights minister Shireen Mazari said in a tweet. “It has been an almost-2 year struggle but finally the Bill has been passed by Parliament and will become law once President signs it.”

The new law covers areas like the political participation of persons living with disabilities, equity in education and employment, equality before the law, ease of access and mobility, and protection from violent, abusive, intolerant and discriminatory behaviour.

In July this year, Pakistan’s Supreme Court also directed the federal and provincial governments to take necessary steps to fully realize the equal participation in society of people with disabilities. The court ruling was in response to a petition from a citizen who was denied a job as an elementary school teacher in the city of Multan. 

Pakistani law currently requires that two percent of people employed by an establishment be “disabled persons.”

The court held that the two percent employment figure must be implemented at every tier of an establishment. The decision upheld the reasonable accommodation principle recognized in the Disability Rights Convention, holding that mere provision of employment was not sufficient and Pakistani authorities also had the obligation to provide necessary and appropriate adjustments including accessible infrastructure, assistive technology, modifications to the work environment, and other forms of support so that people with disabilities, once appointed to a position, could effectively perform their job.

The Supreme Court also ordered the federal and provincial governments to discontinue the use in all official documents and correspondence of derogatory terms such as “disabled,” “physically handicapped,” and “mentally retarded,” and instead use “persons with disabilities” or “persons with different abilities.” 

“This is to be applauded: government labels shape public perceptions,” Human Rights Watch has said. “Pakistan’s federal and provincial governments have a responsibility to not only implement this [Supreme Court] decision but to also reform laws and policies to ensure they are in complete conformity with the country’s international human rights obligations.”


Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

Updated 19 September 2020

Urdu comic book 'Little Master' to help Pakistani children fight COVID-19 misinformation

  • The book tells the story of a young boy from Karachi's Lyari, who is learning about the virus to help others
  • 'Little Master' is illustrated by Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series 'Paak-Legion'

RAWALPINDI: "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book, is going to be released on Monday to guide Pakistani children how to stay safe amid the coronavirus pandemic and cope with COVID-19 misinformation.
Published by Mehrdar Art & Production (MAP), the book tells the story of Ahmed, a young boy from Karachi's Lyari area, who is trying to learn about the coronavirus to help keep others safe, regardless of their community background.
"Comics are a great way to tell a story positively and are really useful in countering misinformation,” Muhammad Faheem, documentary filmmaker and MAP founder, told Arab News on Saturday.

The cover of "Little Master," an Urdu-language comic book to help Pakistani children cope with COVID-19 misinformation. (Photo courtesy of Muhammad Faheem via AN)

The efforts have been funded by MAP itself and through government and private support. To illustrate "Little Master," Faheem asked for help Umair Najeeb Khan, the creator of Pakistan’s first superhero comic book series "Paak-Legion."
Thousands of copies of "Little Master" will be distributed at schools in underprivileged areas such as Lyari, where misinformation has led to blame games and community tensions that affected virus response. Some narratives even questioned the very existence of the virus and necessity to follow any precautions against it.

Umair Najeeb Khan is working on an illustration for the "Little Master" comic book in Islamabad on Sept. 19, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Umair Najeeb Khan via AN)

In May, Faheem rolled out "Hum Sab Saath, Corona ki Kilaaf" ("All of Us Together Against the Coronavirus"), a campaign through posters, social media and talks by community leaders to address the situation.
"It got to the point where relief efforts in these areas were being compromised because people were questioning who deserved help," Faheem said. "We needed to address not only the severity of what was going on but educate the citizens of these areas on what was real information to help combat the fake news and rising bigotry."
The comic book is a follow up to these efforts.
"When kids read our comics, we hope they will learn more about the pandemic and how it is a collective effort that we all have to join together, regardless of our backgrounds."