Uncounted, unheard and unseen population of Pakistan

One of the obstacles standing in the way of obtaining accurate statistics on persons with disabilities is the failure of successive governments to carry out an exhaustive national census. In addition, the various surveys that have been taken are not comparable because of their different coverage and sample sizes. In the World Report on Disability 2011, which based its disability estimates from a World Health Survey from 2002 to 2004, they found a disability prevalence of 13.4% for Pakistan. In the absence of more recent official data, policies dealing with disability often cite the prevalence rate of the 1998 census, in which persons with disability accounted for 2.54% of the total population of 132m recorded that year. In the 16 years since the census was taken Pakistan’s total population has grown to 186m. For persons with disability, this has put them at a double disadvantage: the government data in the 1998 census about the number of persons with disability were small to begin with, and while the population has grown since then, the corresponding rise in the number of persons with disability has not been accounted for.

In 2009 the Special National Identity Card (SNIC) was introduced in response to some data collection issues. The SNIC is a special category of the national identity card which carries no fee and offers modest travel discounts on state transport. By 2011 the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), the body which handles personal data for the government and issues the cards, had registered over 600,000 people. 4 Of these, 334,000 had physical disabilities, 125,973 had intellectual disabilities, 85,254 had visual impairments and 93,869 had hearing or speech impairments. This was seen as an achievement, drawing hitherto marginalized people into the system for the first time. But the numbers still fall considerably short of registering most persons with disability in Pakistan, and they do not include children who are too young to apply for an identity card. Registration drives in cities like Karachi have seen spurts of encouraging activity that have come to a halt after changes in government. The registration process is time-consuming, and public buildings at which a person would register are sometimes not accessible.

Persons with disabilities will remain uncounted population of Pakistan if appropriate(1) questions about disability will not be included in forthcoming countrywide demographic enumeration to be conducted by Pakistan Bureau of Statistics. The questions to identify a population with functional limitations that have the potential to limit independent participation in society. The data can be used to compare levels of participation in activities covered in the census such as employment, education, or family life for those with and without disability.

The concerned got attention of persons with disabilities when the news for an expected national census was circulated through media. Since a series(2) of training workshops on Electoral and Political participation of persons with disabilities going on in 2015, the matter was deeply understood and discussed among the persons with disabilities at the grassroots level.

A meeting(3) held on January 20, 2016 with a mission from UNESCAP to Pakistan Chief Statistician, the Chairman of PBS mentioned that the question about disability is not included in the census questionnaire even the very basic question which was part of the census form in 1998 (when the last population census held in Pakistan) has been excluded. Though he couldn’t assign any particular reason for this exclusion but his responded that disability is not a priority and if it will be considered important a separate form can be developed to conduct a post census sample survey, which will be responded by a sample of approximately 25,000 households.

Later on the issues was raised at different platforms by a larger group of stakeholders. In January 2016, Senator Raza Rabbani, Chairman of the Senate of Pakistan along with 17 other women parliamentarians attended the Leadership Conference of Women with disabilities (4)  and  pledged their commitment to raise this issue at the highest level of decision making level.

After the same conference World Health Organization (WHO) took the initiative and had several meetings with PBS though in these meetings representatives of persons with disabilities were not engaged. WHO shared though on social media an updated version(5) of the form having relevant questions about prevalence of disability.

The census is scheduled to begin in the country from March this year still the disability in not included in the questionnaire even the Government of Pakistan has ratified UN Convention of persons with disabilities and pledged its  commitment to implement Incheon Strategy for Asia and Pacific decade of persons with disabilities, the issue needs to be addressed on high priority.

Organizations of and for persons with disabilities raised the voice through writing(6) to Chief Justin of Pakistan and jointly(7) filed a petition against PBS recently in Supreme Court and meanwhile a delegation of persons with disabilities had a meeting with the Chairman PBS and Chair of the Women Parliamentarian Caucus.

DPOs (8) prepared a draft white paper and immediately after these meetings a call for attention was presented in the National Assembly, four PML-N MNAs invited the attention of the finance ministry (9)towards the non-inclusion of a column for persons with disabilities in the main census form.  Parliamentary Secretary Rana Mohammad Afzal Khan, however, said that two forms had been developed in line with international best practices and UN census standards.  “There is a Form 2 and a Form 2A; the second form has 33 items, which includes persons with disability. However, Form 2A will not be distributed to everyone and will be administered through sampling methods. The sampling will be conducted after the main census is completed,” he said.  This did not satisfy Shaista Pervaiz, Pervaiz Malik, Shahida Rehmani and Shaza Fatima Khawaja, who had moved the calling attention notice. They maintained that sampling was not suited to Pakistan’s needs and insisted that such a survey would not paint an accurate picture.  A disability column should be included in the main census form, so that a complete picture of persons with disability can be obtained, they said.

  1. Overview of Implementation Protocols for Testing the Washington Group Short Set of Questions on Disability https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/washington_group/meeting6/main_implementation_protocol.pdf
  2. These workshops, training and awareness sessions were part of a Project implemented by STEP in partnership with IFES (International Foundation for Electoral System). A large number of persons with disabilities were engaged across the country in this project.
  3. The particular meeting was organized by STEP and Mr. Muhammad Atif Sheikh from STEP and Ms. Aiko Akiyama from UNESCAP had a discussion with Mr. Asif Bajwa Chairman PBS
  4. Leadership Conference was organized by Women Parliament Caucus, STEP and National Forum of Women with Disabilities in collaboration with US Embassy Pakistan and Sightsavers
  5.  Dr Maryam Malick from WHO Pakistan office responded to the issue on Facebook debate https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10211848349666100&set=a.1636669038539.89800.1291136495&type=3&theater
  6. Sayya association wrote a letter to Chief Justice of Pakistan
  7. Petition was filed from the platform of CBID (Community Based Inclusive Development) Network of Pakistan
  8. Ms. Abia Akram in close collaboration with Women parliamentary Caucus, prepared a fact sheet to develop a call for action in the National Assembly
  9. Published in News Paper The Dawn on February 8, 2017 https://www.dawn.com/news/1313485/census-cant-distinguish-between-citizens-aliens

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