Considering nearly 40 million Pakistanis live below the poverty line, it is hardly surprising that many of these disabled face difficulties in accessing employment, education and health care. In poor families, disabled children and adults often end up begging on road sides and in other public places in order to supplement household earnings.
According to the charity Sightsavers, prospects for the disabled in the country are restricted by a lack of education. A survey of nearly 50 villages in the Jehlum District revealed that three quarters of the disabled in the region were illiterate and over 90 per cent were completely dependent on family members. With many disabled people lacking even a basic education, it is impossible for them to apply for jobs, even where places are available, such as in the Pakistani government which reserves 2 per cent of posts for those with disabilities. Disabled people are also entitled to free medical treatment in all federal hospitals, as well as rehabilitation aid. However, since many of Pakistan’s poor are not even registered, the disabled often have difficulty accessing services to which they are entitled.
A worrying new trend has also emerged in some of the poorest regions of Pakistan. In southern provinces such as Sindh, Pakistani police have discovered trafficking schemes which target disabled adults and children. Hundreds are being taken to foreign countries such as Iran, where they are forced to beg by the traffickers. IRIN spoke to one manager of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working for the Protection of the Rights of the Child. Salam Dharejo reported that gangs of traffickers were working across Sindh to recruit poor disabled Pakistanis. The NGO discovered that disabled adults, or parents with disabled children were being paid a lump sum of around 200 dollars to go to Iran and beg outside shrines and mosques. Some locals even fear abductions. One parent said he worried that his disabled 12-year old son could be kidnapped when he goes out to beg near the local hospital. One man who had been trafficked from Khairpur reported having seen hundreds of Pakistanis with disabilities in Iran, including children, who were begging for money.
Social attitudes in Pakistan still make it acceptable for those with disabilities to live on the fringes of society. Sightsavers is working to change attitudes by helping poor and disabled people find representation on Citizen Community Boards, set up by the government for local people to influence the development of their communities. By allowing the voices of people with disabilities to be heard, the charity hopes that improvements will be made in their rights and services and by removing barriers to education, that begging will no longer be seen as the only viable option for disabled children and adults.