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Protecting the interests of persons with disabilities

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Disabled people are among the most vulnerable populations in developing countries such as Nigeria, as they lack equal access and opportunity. Photo: 2018 European Union (photo by Samuel Ochai)

The popular saying“do not judge a book by its cover” teaches a great lesson which can be summed up in one sentence: It is never what we think it is.

This leads me to why protecting the interests of persons with disabilities (PWDs) is important; many times, they are treated as if all they are is their physical or mental challenges. But they are more than just their disability. Every human being, rich or poor, small or big, non-disabled or disabled has a role to play in our lives, and our ability to treat everyone with dignity and respect cannot be overemphasized. Thus, as I explained in my recent proposal in the World Bank Group’s 2018 Law Student Contest for Development Solutions, lack of equal access and opportunity for PWDs will in the long-run impede the necessary development many of us desire in our world.

The term “disadvantaged” is a generic term for individuals or groups, who, due to their special needs, are deemed weak and hence, require special protection for the equal and effective enjoyment of their human rights. Women, girls, children, refugees and disabled persons are a few examples. I am focused on PWDs.

According to the World Bank’s World Report on Disability, about 25 million Nigerians have at least one disability, and 3.6 million Nigerians have very significant difficulty. Article 1 of Nigeria’s Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) provides that, “persons with disabilities include those who have long-term physical, mental and intellectual or sensory impairments in which interactions with various barriers may hinder their full and effective participation in society on equal basis with others.” Such barriers include access to education, healthcare, public facilities, negative stereotypes, dearth to public awareness and understanding of disabilities, and more.

In an attempt to correct these inadequacies, the National Assembly passed the Disability Bill, which has yet to be assented by the Nigerian President. This negatively impacts the laudable provisions of the bill, denying disabled citizens equal participation in free education and socio-economic activities, consequently affecting their contribution to national development.

Indeed, the words of former Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon that "education promotes equality and brings people out of poverty,” ring true for both non-disabled and disabled citizens. Education will build the capacities of PWDs, ultimately reducing poverty and boosting prosperity, the World Bank’s twin goals, and also reechoes several of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. It is on this note that I propose that the World Bank lend its support to the creation of a socio-economic, disabled-friendly framework which would include scholarships for education and vocational training.

Recognizing the large number of PWDs involved, focus can be given to those who have the desire but lack funds to get an education. To raise awareness, an advocacy group led by professionals and non-professionals alike can be created. For example, law students are generally trained to become advocates. Such a skill is needed in the defense of PWDs. Thus, intelligent, vibrant, problem solving skilled fourth- and fifth-year law students can be trained in social marketing campaigns, advocacy and disability-equality training, which they shall in return use in advocating for the rights, protection and development of PWDs. Social marketing campaigns using multiple media channels will help to improve public understanding of disability, confront negative stereotypes, and enhance an inclusive society. Benefits include mutual respect for and understanding of PWDs.

To effectively discharge these responsibilities, this framework could run on a trust fund and be under the direct supervision of the World Bank, but work in collaboration with the Nigerian government, civil society and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Adding to its supervisory role is the responsibility for finance, policy advice and technical assistance. This proposal further recommends that the CRPD serve as a guide.

Conclusively, the WB’s support would be guided by the following three SDGs:  creating sustainable economic growth, investing in people, and building resilience to shocks and threats that can roll back decades of progress. I believe that the recommendations I’ve presented will directly and indirectly reflect these policies.

This blog post is one of several winning proposals from the first LJD Week 2018 Law Student Contest for Development Solutions, a competition for young African students to present innovative legal solutions to development challenges. The top two winners, Mawunya Kudu and Colman Ntugwerisho, were invited to present their proposals to the LJD Week 2018 audience; see their presentations here


Zainab Mukhtar

Law student at the University of Benin, Nigeria

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