Less Talking, More Action On Disability Concerns

February was awash with debate over the decision by Uganda to pass a law criminalising homosexuality and any actions deemed to be promoting it.

Uganda’s development partners protested, cut aid and issued a litany of other threats.

Still, Uganda stood its ground. Regardless of one’s views on that law, it was evident to all that President Museveni and Members of Parliament exhibited unwavering resolve in the face of relentless external pressure.

That kind of determination is lacking in the government’s approach to the concerns of persons with disabilities (PWDs).

It is not enough for Uganda to have policies and laws on disability issues when they are not bearing fruit.

Early this month, for instance, I travelled to Sironko district in eastern Uganda to identify marginalised youths with disabilities (YWDs). That initiative, part of a youth empowerment project being implemented by the National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu), aims to empower YWDs.

In Sironko, we visited several families, schools and met stakeholders that included district leaders. We saw different high levels of need.

There was one particular case of a 19-year-old YWD in Sironko town council that showed the levels of neglect within our communities. Eric (not real name), who has multiple disabilities (he can’t speak, walk or do anything by himself), lives with his elder brother in a one-roomed house.

Locals say the two brothers lost their father and were abandoned by their mother. An aunt, who brought the boys up, lives in the same compound with them. But she hardly takes time to check on Eric, only occasionally receiving updates on his condition from her other nephew.

Eric’s brother apparently locks him in the house whenever he goes out. When that happens, Eric has no one else to turn to for help, including when nature calls. By the time we made our surprise visit, a frail-looking Eric lay naked in the house.

It is difficult to tell the last time Eric’s beddings were washed, because a nauseating stench is what welcomes his visitors. Until we brought Eric’s case to the attention of the Sironko district leadership, the issue appeared to be nobody’s business. In fact, one councillor confessed that he had no idea such cases existed in Sironko.

During stakeholder meetings, it was evident that some local leaders were not familiar with policies and laws relating to disability. Those with some knowledge didn’t make the best use of what they knew.

If the situation is that bad in Sironko district, chances are it is equally lamentable in many other parts of the country.

According to the 1995 Constitution, all government organs and agencies have a duty to protect and promote the fundamental human rights of all Ugandans. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) particularly places more responsibility on government to ensure protection and promotion of the human rights of persons with disabilities in all policies and programmes.

Eric’s case is thus a manifestation of existing gaps in the promotion and protection of human rights, even though the government has consistently received praise for producing some of the best laws and policies on the issue.

Our field experiences have shown that the government is yet to take her commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities beyond the words on paper. Yet it is the government’s responsibility to create public awareness on matters regarding disability and other marginalised groups of the population.

Of course, we are aware of the budget constraints, but a good starting point is by showing the will to act. Then Kampala can look to next-door Kenya and borrow a leaf.

The government of Kenya supports the National Council for Persons with Disabilities with an estimated annual budget of KShs 200 million (approximately UShs 5.6 billion). The council then disburses the funds to the United Disabled Persons of Kenya UDPK (an equivalent of Nudipu), which in turn supports disability interventions.

On the contrary, Uganda allocated Shs 836m to National Council for Disability (NCD) in the 2013-14 financial year, and has since released only Shs 360m. The shortfall is enormous.

Financial resources are instrumental in operationalising disability councils, whose role is to monitor the implementation of policies and programmes.

The government has exhibited high level of commitment to curbing the promotion of homosexuality. It is only prudent, therefore, that similar commitment must be applied to disability concerns.

The author is communications manager, National Union of Disabled Persons of Uganda (Nudipu).

Source : The Observer

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