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Right to equality, but only on paper

world Updated: Aug 25, 2011 01:01 IST
Utpal Parashar

As a child Balkumari dreamt of becoming an engineer, but her difficulty in walking came in the way. The 21-year-old who was denied proper education because of her disability now wants to help others like her so that they may chase their dreams and fulfill them.

In Nepal there are thousands like Balkumari, children with physical and intellectual disabilities whose dreams and aspirations are getting crushed due to diverse and imposing barriers that deny them their right to an inclusive education like most other children.

The country has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Nepal’s interim constitution also guarantees right to equal and inclusive education to all children including those with disabilities. But in practice, they face discrimination of all sorts.

There is a lack of holistic approach and the government has failed to set up an education system for the disabled that is “available, accessible, appropriate and of good quality”, found a field research conducted by Human Rights Watch, a New York-based organisation, this year.

In its report — Futures Stolen: Barriers to Education for Children with Disabilities in Nepal — released in Kathmandu on Wednesday, it mentions of the several obstacles and issues that marginalise these children and deny them the rights enshrined in the constitution.

Inaccessibility of schools, lack of adequate classrooms, denial of admission, segregated and inferior quality of education, ineffective social support and stigma are some causes that ensure low enrollment and high drop-out rates among children with disabilities.

The problem gets compounded as there is no reliable data on the number of children with disabilities in Nepal. It is estimated that the figure could be anywhere between 0.45 pc to 1.63 pc of Nepal’s population or even more as details of many such children are not enumerated by parents.

To begin with, since the country is drafting its new statute, lawmakers need to put in place constitutional provisions regarding non-discrimination on the ground of disability and specific anti-discrimination laws.

The report recommends establishment of a Disability Commission, awareness programmes, better training of teachers and more funding are other things that can improve the current scenario. But unless there is effective implementation of laws and utilisation of funds, no miracles can be expected.

Ratifying international conventions and drafting of constitutional provisions would have no meaning if children with disabilities are kept segregated and denied their right to inclusive education.