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Old Thursday, March 19, 2015
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Census & disability


THE census forms the basis of all activities of the government, from economic management to infrastructural and institutional development, provision of basic human rights such as security, health, education and housing, social welfare, population planning, and resource allocation.

The last census in Pakistan was held in 1998, after a gap of 16 years, and now, after a gap of 16 more years, it has still not been conducted although it is supposed to be on a decennial basis. This is just another sign of the decay of national institutions which are of critical significance in a civilised society but that have fallen on evil days in Pakistan due to political and bureaucratic lethargy.

In India, the census has been conducted regularly every 10 years from 1901 onwards, and the 2011 census was the first time that information was collected through the use of biometric technology. The 2011 census is remarkable as it was conducted in 16 languages, with segregated data on education, households, languages, religious affiliations, and age-wise grouping of the youth. However, the census is drastically short on disability data, which is as under-reported there as it is in Pakistan.

In Pakistan, the figure of 3,286,630 disabled persons in a total population of 132,352,000 was first arrived at through the 1998 census, indicating 2.4pc disabled in Pakistan. This figure was hotly contested by civil society and NGOs working for the disabled, who pointed out the shortcomings of the survey methodology which, among other things, did not take into account the social barriers and stigma related to the disabled in the country.

The first barrier that the disabled encounter is statistics.
According to the same census, 7.6pc of the disabled were classified as ‘mentally retarded’. This term does not differentiate between the various intellectual disabilities such as autism, ADHD, ADD, dyslexia, Down’s, or other learning disabilities, with the result that teachers and caregivers are not properly trained to deal with these problems, closing the doors forever to the education and rehabilitation of those with these disabilities.

However, the 2.4pc figure continues to have an impact on the allocation of resources for the disabled, as with miniscule funding the government cannot properly plan and deliver services necessary for treatment, intervention and rehabilitation, such as medical care, developing special education materials and aids, training of teachers, ensuring prosthetics, physiotherapy, psychotherapy, etc.

The UN Experts Group on Disability that met in July 2014 to look at various issues in collection and measuring of data on disability found that more than a billion people or 15pc of the world’s population are living with disabilities. Further, the report stated that “persons with disabilities are disproportionately represented among the poorest segments of society” and about 80pc of persons with disabilities reside in developing countries.

The meeting also highlighted the fact that the realisation of the MDGs for persons with disabilities had not been accomplished partly due to poor data collection methodologies. 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.

So, for example, in the 2014-15 provincial budgets, the total outlay for special education is less than Rs1.5bn. Add to that another Rs1.5bn which is allocated from the social welfare and Baitul Mal grants. Even then the figure of about Rs3bn is abysmally low as at 15pc of the population, the disabled are at least 30 million, given the added factors of terrorist attacks, domestic violence and cousin marriages in the country. At Rs3bn, the government is spending Rs100 per disabled person every year; minus the administrative costs, it is spending Rs30 per disabled person.

So, the first barrier that persons with disabilities encounter is statistics. If the government does not know the number of people who need specific intervention, treatment, training and rehabilitation, the budgetary allocations can never meet the needs. And sadly, statistics can still be misleading because of attitudes in our social set-up. There are huge uneducated, disenfranchised, poor communities in Pakistan and other developing countries where the parents refuse to bring out their disabled child or children from being seen and counted.

The social contract between citizens and the state makes it imperative for the state/government to develop credible systems of data collection of the disabled to gauge their needs and take steps to rehabilitate them in society. Civil society and community-based organisations must also come forward with new ideas and solutions. But at the end of the day, a strong, buoyant and people-friendly local government is most effective, as demonstrated by the developed countries. It is on this level that data collection is the easiest, and this is an area that has been totally neglected in Pakistan by our politicians.



Published in Dawn March 19th , 2015
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