Making policy changes on the domestic level: a critical exposition of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)

Author: Oludayo Olufowobi
Law student, University of Lagos

Fifteen percent of the world population experience some form of disability, with between 110 million and 190 million people experiencing significant disabilities. Persons with disabilities are more susceptible to experiencing more adverse socio-economic or living conditions compared to others. The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) aims to bridge this gap. At the domestic level, persons with disabilities are most times subjected to live as second-class citizens. Discriminatory practices in our society and deficits in inclusive infrastructure exacerbate this problem. It is against this premise that this article seeks to explore the peculiarities of the Nigerian landscape, taking into account its plaguing insecurity, infrastructural deficits, and lapses in the protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities. There is a focus on the Discrimination Against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition Act) 2018 vis-a-vis the government’s quest to realise the objectives of the CRPD.

Disability is an encapsulating term for impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions, referring to negative aspects of the interaction between an individual (with a health condition) and that individual’s contextual factors (environmental and personal factors). Disability is a part of the human condition. There are predictions that everyone would experience at least both temporary or permanent impairment in life, and those who survive until old age would have trouble in functioning. There has been debate on the best approach to dealing with persons with disabilities. The CRPD established a human rights-based approach upon its adoption on 13 December 2006 and entering into force on 3 May 2008. This was a replacement for the charity approach, following a forceful call by persons with disabilities around the world to have their human rights respected, protected, and fulfilled on an equal basis with others. This instrument accentuates the human diversity and human dignity of all persons, persons with disabilities inclusive.

The introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) marked a turning point in recognising the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and further bolstered the achievement of the objectives of the CRPD. It effectively covered the lapses in the Millennium Development Goals, because it opened the floodgate for mainstream participation of persons with disabilities as stakeholders in government. In leaving no one behind, the SDGs include persons with disabilities: seven targets and eleven indicators of the 17 goals have an explicit reference to persons with disabilities and the need for their consultation by the governments, the UN system, civil society, and stakeholders.

The CRPD is the first international instrument, which explicitly makes provisions for the rights of persons with disability and contains robust provisions towards this end. Article 3 of the Convention proclaims the principle of respect for the individual autonomy of persons with disabilities and the freedom to make their own choices.  Article 12 of CRPD recognises the equal rights to enjoy legal capacity in all areas of life, such as deciding where to live and whether to accept medical treatment. The drafters of this instrument did not fail to recognise precedence in other instruments including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For instance, Article 15 of the Convention posits that PWDs have the right to be free from torture, or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, in particular, to scientific or medical experimentation.

In contrast, the legislation in Nigeria for persons with disabilities has lacunae. It does not fare well compared to other African jurisdictions like South Africa that have specific legislation on disability and guidelines for implementation. Although the introduction of the Discrimination against Persons with Disabilities (Prohibition) Act, 2019 is a step in the right direction there can still be improvements.

There is an inextricable link between poverty and disability. However, the Act fails to address this sufficiently. This is because although proscribing discrimination against persons with disabilities by employers, there is no real enforcement mechanism put in place. In addition, it is necessary that the government consider bolstering this effort with skill development schemes and other inclusive social protection schemes that are inclusive of women and girl children because of their vulnerability. This is against the background of the high unemployment rate ravaging the nation; this type of initiative affords persons with disability a level playing field for economic empowerment.

The legislation like others in time past, has failed to cater for political participation of persons with disability. Although in the previous elections, there were provisions to aid persons with disability exercise their franchise, there is room for improvement in terms of those covered. In addition, there is no provision for their participation as candidates for political positions through, for instance affirmative action. The government should consider a quota system to ensure their participation. This is because it would foster their ability to implement policies that will better serve their needs as a group.

To achieve full implementation of this legislation, the Nigerian government should consider using the Washington Group questions. The Washington Group developed these questions as a United Nations Statistical Commission City Group. It aims at promoting and coordinating international cooperation in generating statistics on disability suitable for censuses and national surveys, to provide basic information on disability that is comparable worldwide. The Nigerian government can leverage these questions on disability status in national census or surveys to facilitate data disaggregation into national policies on education, health, disaster risk reduction

Bearing in mind the insecurity in Nigeria, especially the Northern areas, and statistics that reveal that in crisis-affected communities, persons with disabilities are the most marginalised with 80% living in poverty as a result of persecution, conflict, and human rights violation, the legislation should seek to improve inclusive humanitarian response. In providing these humanitarian actions, the government should adopt a twin-track approach. This is such that on one hand, it strengthens the participation of persons with disabilities through the delivery of disability-specific services, capacity development and advocacy; to ensure that persons with disabilities and their representative organisations can equally access and contribute to humanitarian responses. On the other hand, the government should ensure that the relevant authorities and stakeholders have clear knowledge of the needs of persons with disabilities during a humanitarian response such as rehabilitation services, reasonable accommodation, and accessible information in Braille amongst others.

About the Author:

Oludayo Olufowobi is a fourth-year law student at the University of Lagos. He has interests in intersections between law, finance, and technology and is deeply concerned about the welfare of persons with disabilities. He is an avid researcher and writer. He is currently the Deputy Editor-in-Chief for UNILAG Law Review and the Under-Secretary-General (Research) for the Lagos Model United Nations 2021.

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