Right to Political and Public Life

Article 29 of the UNCRPD requires that persons with disabilities face no barriers to be elected or to vote and ensures:

  • Participation in political and public life on an equal basis with others.
  • Right and opportunities for PWDs to vote and be elected.
  • Formation of community organizations and associations, such as political parties and organizations of PWDs.

Promote an environment where PWDs can effectively and fully participate in the conduct of public affairs, without discrimination [1].

Laws and Policies Promoting Disability Rights

The Disability Rights 2013 clarifies the right of persons with disabilities to be registered as voters, the right to vote and the right to take part in elections [2]. It prohibits the denial of such rights on the basis of discrimination or discriminatory behaviour by any individual, organization, group or authority [3].

Schedule 16 of the Act requires the State to make reasonable arrangements and give encouragement to PWDs and help them to develop their leadership capability (at a national, divisional and district level); to provide financial and other support and assistance to enable people with disabilities to set up their own groups, unions and to provide help with developing their group/union related decision making abilities [4].

Section 36 of the Act entitles a disabled person who has been aggrieved by the denial of the above rights due to discrimination to make a complaint to the District Committee (what is this?) [5]. If a PWD is refused a National ID or registration in the electoral roll, then s/he may challenge the refusal within 30 days [6].

Apart from the Constitution of Bangladesh, the Representation of the People Order, 1972 lays out the functions of the Election Commission. Section 31 (7) of the Act states that “where an elector is blind or is otherwise so incapacitated that he cannot vote without the assistance of a companion”, the Presiding Officer shall provide assistance.

Gaps in Laws and Policies

Article 122(2) (c) of the Constitution bars people who have been declared by a competent court to be of ‘unsound mind’, that is persons with intellectual disabilities among others, from qualifying as voters [7].

Although Section 36 of the Disability Rights Act allows for a PWD to file complaints or appeal against an unfavourable decision denying their right to political and public participation, is yet to come into force, as no order doing so has yet been published in the official gazette. Until that is done, disabled people are not able to use this provision to challenge any discriminatory decision affecting their political rights.

Non-compliance with Schedule 16 of the Act is pervasive, resulting in denial of rights to PWDs to form organizations using which they could act in representational capacities to voice their concerns.

Non-compliance with Schedule 6 denies PWDs their right to information regarding elections or electoral candidates, which affects the enjoyment of their political rights.

While some seven million eligible people with disabilities reportedly registered as voters, others could not due to illiteracy, lack of access to information, vulnerability and poverty.

Survey Findings

The following findings were made through FGDs held across the country.

Discrimination in being registered into the voter’s list: Pursuant to Article 122 of the Constitution, persons with intellectual or psychosocial disabilities are generally excluded from the voter’s list. Lack of knowledge about the terms used to describe a person’s disability leads to problems such as the one where those updating the voter’s list fail to identify the nature of disability of a person.

Fig1_PoliticsFig 1: Can all disabled people take part in elections?

Inaccessibility of polling centers and security issues: 4% of the PWDs surveyed said that voting centers are physically inaccessible, as there is no ramp in most voting centers and many polling booths are located on the second or third floor, there is no separate queue or priority voting for PWDs who have to queue for hours to cast their vote. Public transport is limited on election days, making it very hard for people with disabilities to travel to polling centers. Around 9% of the PWDs surveyed said transport issues acted as a barrier to their exercising their voting rights.

Non-participation in the voting/election process: Political participation of persons with disabilities as voters and campaigners remain limited, mainly due to poverty, poor literacy and lack of organizational affiliation and support.

People with disabilities rarely get to participate as a candidate in political elections and even in those rare cases where they do participate, they have not won. There are no politically affiliated groups, which comprises of people with disabilities. 38% of PWDs said that they could not participate in the election process since they were neglected in their own community due to their disability. 25% saw their lack of qualification as a barrier to participation in elections.

Reserved quota for PWDs in Parliament: 9% said that there was no quota system. 13 % of the PWDs surveyed were of the opinion that reservation of seats for PWDs would ensure their political rights.

Lack of awareness of political rights of PWDs: People with disabilities and their family members are often not aware of their voting rights [8].

Problem with registration and ID: Although Part 12 of the voter’s registration form requires an entry regarding nature of disability; however this information appears not to be preserved. The National ID card does not refer to disabled status. There are no statistics on the number of disabled people who vote, which makes it harder to advocate for or make arrangements for the disabled voters.

Non-access to information: Information regarding the voting and registration process is not communicated in the way that would be understood by people with disabilities. 16% of the PWDs surveyed said that they were not included on the voter’s list, which prevented them from casting their vote.

Fig2_PoliticsFig 2:Are ballots printed in braille format for visually impaired voters?

Privacy issues of voters with disabilities: Privacy regarding voting is never maintained in cases of people with disabilities. Since the polling booth is inaccessible to people with physical disabilities, the presiding officer often brings the ballot paper to the disabled person, which leaves that person with no option but to cast his/her vote in the presence of many onlookers. Regarding persons with visual impairments, the presiding officer assists in the casting of the vote but due to lack of Braille technology being available in these polling centers, a blind voter can never confirm whether her vote was in fact cast for his/her chosen candidate.

Recommendations

The State should take the following steps:

  • Amend Article 122 (2) (c) of the Constitution to ensure that persons with intellectual disabilities may register and be included in the voter’s list.
  • Amend Section 44 E. 1 of the Representation of the People Order, 1972 [9] and the ‘Code of Conduct for Parliament Elections’ to ensure that persons with disabilities are not discriminated from voting on the basis of disability and that the EC maintains the anonymity, privacy and autonomy of voters with disabilities.
  • Ensure capacity building and orientation for presiding officers and Election Commission staff on how to approach, deal, and assist disabled persons to cast their vote.
  • Ensure rights of PWDs to participate in political and public life through the full implementation of Section 16 and Schedule 16 of the Act which allows for PWDs to participate in the political sphere of life by forming organizations and using them to act from a representational capacity. For example Schedule 16(ka), requires the State to train and encourage PWDs on a national, divisional, district and upazilla level to their develop leadership capability [10].
  • Form and activate the Committees under the 2013 Disability Act by implementing Section 17, 19, 21, 23 and 24 of the said Act.
  • Activate the complaints process to enable legal protection of PWDs from discrimination, by publication of an order in the official gazette to bring Section 36 of the 2013 Act into force.
  • Remove barriers related to physical accessibility of disabled voters in all polling centers (equipping such centers with the facilities to enable a disabled person to vote easily and with adequate privacy) through the implementation of Section 34 and Schedules 5 and 7 of the 2013 Act and use them to bring the following changes: Have separate access points in polling booths, courts, police stations, government buildings and separate toilets for PWDs, maintain a separate queue for disabled voters in polling centers and a separate area to allow them to cast their vote in private, use ballot papers printed using the tactile process for the visually impaired and to arrange transport facilities tailored to the needs of disabled persons for free (by the Election Commission) to encourage voters with disabilities to vote.
  • Record Statistics on the number of disabled people voting in every general election and include data on the nature of disability derived from information given on National ID cards and in the voter registration form through implementation of Schedule 1 of the 2013 Act.
  • Reserve seats for people with disabilities [11] in Parliament and Local Government to create awareness about a disabled person’s political rights, and to encourage disabled persons to put themselves forward as candidates and encourage political parties to nominate them.
  • Remove barriers to communication, access to data and information by implementing Schedule 6 of the Act (Sharing Information and Information & Communication Technology) to ensure that communication issued by the government or a political party is not denied to people with disabilities.
  • Increase awareness among PWDs and the public about their political rights by implementing Schedule 15 of the 2013 Act requiring the State to undertake awareness programmes on political rights of disabled people and disseminate such information to PWDs, their family members, political parties and others concerned.

 

[1] Article 29, Participation in political and public life: http://www.un.org/disabilities/default.asp?id=289
[2] Section 16, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013.
[3] Section 16 and Section 36, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013.
[4] Schedule 16, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013.
[5] Section 36(2), Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013.
[6] Section 31, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2013.
[7] The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/sections_detail.php?id=367&sections_id=24681 Section 122. (2) A person shall be entitled to be enrolled on the electoral roll for a constituency delimited for the purpose of election to the Parliament, if he –

(a) is a citizen of Bangladesh; (b) is not less than eighteen years of age; (c) does not stand declared by a competent court to be of unsound mind ; (d) is or is deemed by law to be a resident of that constituency ; and (e) has not been convicted of any offence under the Bangladesh Collaborators (Special Tribunals) Order, 1972. (emphasis added)

[8] Page 13, Consolidated Report 7 FGDs, 1 October 2013.
[9] http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/pdf_part.php?id=424&vol=16&search=1972
[10] Schedule 16, Rights and Protection of Persons with Disabilities Act 2013. Website: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/pdf/1126___Schedule.pdf
[11] Currently the Parliament has 50 seats reserved for women pursuant to Article 65(3) of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh and related legislation. Website: http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/sections_detail.php?id=367&sections_id=24619

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