The recent census shows that 2.2 percent of the population of Nepal lives with some form of disability. Of the total Nepali population of 29, 164,578, a total of 657,782 persons have one or more types of disability. Among women, 2 percent live with disability, while among the male population this figure stands at 2.5 percent.
Of the about 650 thousand persons with disabilities, the biggest group lives in Bagmati Province. Nearly 19 percent of persons with disabilities live in Bagmati Province, while 18.52 live in Lumbini Province, 18 percent live in Koshi Province, 14 percent live in Madhesh Province, 11.75 percent live in Gandaki Province, 10.70 live in Sudurpashchim Province, and the smallest group lives in Karnali Province, with 8.10 percent.
In terms of provincial populations, the census results have revealed that 2.4 percent of the population of Koshi Province (Women: 2.1 percent, Men: 1.7 percent); 1.5 percent of the population of Madhesh Province (Women: 1.3 percent, Men: 2.2 percent); 2 percent of the population of Bagmati Province (Women: 1.9 percent, Men: 2.2 percent); 3.1 percent of the population of Gandaki Province (Women: 2.8 percent, Men: 3.5 percent); 2.4 percent of the population of Lumbini Province (Women: 2.1 percent, Men: 2.7 percent); 3.1 percent of the population of Karnali Province (Women: 2.7 percent, Men: 3.6 percent); and 2.6 percent of the population of Sudurpashchim Province (Women: 2.3 percent, Men: 2.9 percent) are living with one or more disabilities.
In terms of types of disabilities, 39.1 percent are living with physical disabilities, 17.1 percent have poor eyesight, 5.4 percent are blind, 8 percent suffer from poor hearing, 1.6 percent are deaf, 6.4 percent have mental or psychosocial disabilities, 1.8 percent have intellectual disabilities, 0.8 percent suffer from haemophilia, 0.8 percent have autism, and 8.9 percent of persons have multiple disabilities. The ratio of persons with disabilities appears to have increased by a significant number in the past decade. The 2011 census showed that 1.94 percent of the population, or a total of 513,321 persons were living with some form of disability.
The census data contradicts data from the Public Health Survey. According to the Nepal Demographic and Health Survey – 2022, the number of Nepalis living with disabilities of a serious nature stands at 6 percent of the population. A total of 22.5 percent of the people who participated in this survey reported living with some form of disability. During the national census, the respondents either hid details about their disability, or didn’t want to report them, or the census failed to include them completely during the survey. The six-stage survey by Sharecast Initiative Nepal to determine the household-level effect of the COVID-19 pandemic had also shown that 6.5 percent of the population lives with disability. This means that at least between 2 and 6 percent of Nepalis living in Nepal have some form of disability.
The lack of understanding regarding disability issues runs deep, resulting in the community being knowingly kept backward in various fields like access to education, health care, employment and other fundamental services. Between 60 and 65 percent of children living with disabilities have been deprived of education due to issues relating to physical infrastructure in schools, social discrimination, and absence of access. Similarly, only about 20 percent of persons with disability between the ages of 16 and 59 have obtained full-time jobs. This reflects our piteous situation.
Nepal ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2010. As a signatory to CRPD, Nepal is obligated to align all of its laws, policies and programs to the principals and standards contained in the Convention.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has especially addressed the rights of persons with disabilities through provisions like Article 31 (Right relating to education), Article 39 (Rights of child), Article 42 (Right to social justice), Article 43 (Right to social security), etc. It has also ensured their participation in all aspects of society through rights to education, employment and health care.
The Act Relating to Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 2074 (2017) was created in order to implement the CRPD and other constitutionally provided provisions. It aims to promote the rights of persons with disabilities and ensure their participation in all aspects of society. However, in the absence of its full implementation, persons with disability continue to be subjected to discrimination even though they are invested with rights from a policy and legal perspective.
Persons with disability and the disability community has not been particularly successful in benefiting from the various policies aimed at inclusion which have been embraced by the country, especially since the promulgation of the Interim Constitution of Nepal 2063 (2007). For example, since 2008, a total of 45 percent of the total new recruitment seats in civil service was set aside under quotas for various groups. Taking this 45 percent as the entire 100 percent, only 5 percent was set aside as the reservation quota for persons with disability. Over the past decade, on average only 4.4 percent of the total reserved quotas has been fulfilled by persons with disability. At present, persons with disability comprise less than 1 percent of the total number of civil service employees.
Similarly, although the Constitution has guaranteed the political participation of persons with disabilities, the ‘and/or provision’ has been abused to snatch away the person with disability’s opportunity for political participation. Across all three levels of governments, a negligible number – fewer than 10 persons with disability – have been elected as representatives. There is not a single person with disability in the House of Representative or the National Assembly. Although the Constitution envisions eight various kinds of Commissions, the Inclusion Commission, aimed at addressing the needs of persons with disability, doesn’t have any representation from the disability community.
The absence of representation at the entities responsible for creating and implementing state policies and laws has created barriers in enjoying the policy, constitutional and legal rights of persons with disability, including international conventions, the national constitution, and national policy on disability.
Although the Nepal National Building Code stipulates that all public structures must contain access for persons with disability, the very parliament where policies are created, along with other structures, does not comply with the code. Nearly every public space in Nepal, building and transportation system, is not designed to address the needs of persons with disability. Consequently, significant barriers continue to exist in areas like education, health care, employment and socio-political participation, among others.
Although partial satisfaction may be derived from some of the efforts made toward protecting the rights of persons with disability and promoting their social inclusion, a lot more effort is needed in their implementation. For example, although the Constitution envisions the welfare of persons with disability as the duty of each of the three levels of governments, it is being brushed aside as if it is the sole responsibility of the local governments. Elected representatives at local governments do not know much about issues like disability rights, the needs of persons with disability, assistive materials, rehabilitation, etc. The situation is so dire that we are forced to make appeals through social media sites even for a pair of wheelchairs.
There is uncertainty regarding the services required by persons with disability because of a lack of accurate data and statistics about them. In order to address this problem, the government must first form a high-level, autonomous entity with commensurate rights and resources in order to protect the rights of persons with disability and promote their social inclusion and participation. Secondly, a new set of disability policies, plans and procedures must be created through the partnership and participation of all stakeholders under the leadership of such an entity and put into implementation throughout all three levels of governments.
Gajendra Budathoki is a journalist and a disability rights activist.
This blog was initially written in Nepali and has been translated to English.