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.”
Today we finally got our ICT Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill passed through Joint session. 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. @mohrpakistan @RabiyaJaveri
— Shireen Mazari (@ShireenMazari1) September 16, 2020
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.”