We must include and empower people with disabilities

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Disability Rights Program Advisor, Kenya Human Rights Commission

Today one billion people around the world are living with disabilities. According to Kenya National Survey for Persons with Disabilities more than three million people in Kenya are living with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities have good jobs and proper education. However, far too many persons with disabilities in Kenya face barriers to inclusion in many key aspects of society. As a result, people with disabilities do not enjoy access to society on an equal basis with others, which includes areas of transportation, employment, and education as well as social and political participation. The right to participate in public life is essential to create stable democracies, active citizenship and reduce inequalities in society.

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Of stereotypes and the ‘unsound mind’ clauses

Patricia_MwanyisaAuthor: Patricia Mwanyisa
Human Rights, Justice and Rule of Law Programme Officer, Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA)

Recently, during my studies I delved into the concept of stereotypes and their effects, albeit from a gender perspective. This academic encounter has become an important one to both my personal and professional frames of reference. I have discovered that my prior use and appreciation of the term stereotype was presumptuous, without depth and assumed familiarity. I had nonchalantly used the term often, in writing and conversation without fully appreciating the intricacies of this concept.

Quite worrying one might say, coming from a professional working on human rights, justice and equality issues – but I believe that my nonchalance is common among many of us. We tend to have a general over familiarisation with issues that form part of the realm in which we work and operate without necessarily appreciating the rudimentary theories underpinning particular terms or concepts.

So I think I deserve some credit for acknowledging my deficiency, and urge that we do not rush to deem as catastrophic such inadequacies in all circumstances because it is impossible to know everything about everything, even in your most familiar of territory. To be expected to know and fully understand each and every detail about a subject is a naïve expectation on the part of peers and an arrogant unintelligent assertion on the part of any such declarants. The universally renowned great mind Michelangelo, is remembered for his famous quote “ancora imparo” reportedly made at the age of 87 which means ‘I am still learning’ – well, so am I. So I ask for your indulgence as I share some of my learning on how stereotypes perpetuate inequality and marginalisation – you might just also learn that we all are still learning and need to keep learning.

I have learnt that stereotypes are a component of stigma. They assign negative attributes to socially salient differences forming what social identity theorists call in-group and out-group categorisation. People tend to stereotype as a means of screening people into either the in-group (us) or out-group (them) which in eventuality determines whether a group is accepted or rejected.

This categorisation (stereotyping) of other(s), provides people with a feeling of comfort and confidence based on what they are accustomed to, for predictability and personal security’s sake. Whilst it may be argued in some quarters that categorisation is useful in, for example, target marketing or planning of community and development projects among other mass planning purposes; unfortunately the cumulative effects of general categorisation and consequent stereotyping in most circumstances reinforce and perpetuate inequality.

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The right to education: Children with disabilities in The Gambia

Sheriff Kumba JobeAuthor: Sheriff Kumba Jobe
Graduate, Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia

Section 30 of the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia states, “All persons shall have the right to equal educational opportunities and facilities and with a view to achieving the full realization of that right- (a) basic education shall be free, compulsory and available to all; (b) secondary education, including technical and vocational education, shall be made generally available and accessible to all by every appropriate means, and in particular, by the progressive introduction of free education.”

It is without doubt that the Gambia has been working toward this constitutional provision and has registered a significant gain in the area of education. The enabling environment has been created to make this fundamental right realistic by acceding and ratifying enormous international conventions such as the African Charter on Human and People Rights, African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Convention on Elimination of All forms of Discriminations Against Women, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child to name just a few; and there are also domestic legal frameworks in addition to the Constitution such as the Children Act 2005 and Women Act 2010 all geared toward promoting right to education among others.

Notwithstanding of the government of The Gambia active role in promotion of children’s rights to education which is translated into the promulgation of the above named laws and building adequate schools in all the four corners of the country. There is yet a huge gap or disparity that needs to be addressed. Children with disabilities in The Gambia are confronted with challenges such as discrimination and marginalisation both in formal and informal institutions. It is therefore urgent to draw the attention of the government into the plight of these children as they equally have right to education as enshrined in the supreme law of the land and the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

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Sentencing ‘at the president’s pleasure’ and what it means to persons with mental disabilities in Kenya

felicia_mburuAuthor: Felicia Mburu
Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

On 8 May 2013, the High Court of Kenya in Case Number 14 of 2010 passes a sentence on the accused who had pleaded guilty on a murder charge. Nawya Mawjoya, a person with mental disability, was sentenced to detention ‘at the president’s pleasure’ under section 167(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) instead of being given a probationary sentence. The Court relied on the probation officer’s recommendation that he be institutionalised as the family believes he was bewitched and will be subjected to rituals. Such cases are common in Kenya for two reasons: lack of awareness by the criminal justice system on mental disability and cultural perception associated with mental disabilities. Thus the criminal justice system operates as a conduit to institutionalise persons with mental disabilities.

Kenya is a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Article 14 (1) (b) of the CRPD provides for the rights of persons with disabilities not to be deprived of their liberty on the basis of their disability. Article 19 further provides that persons with disability have a right to live in the community on an equal basis with others. Article 50 of the Constitution of Kenya provides for the right to a fair trial for all persons. Article 29 further supports the rights of person not to be arbitrarily denied their freedom without just cause. Article 54 of the Constitution states the rights of persons with disabilities to be treated with dignity and respect.

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The myth of inclusive education in Botswana

Tejan DeenAuthor: Tejan Deen
Barrister, Republic of Sierra Leone; LLM Candidate at the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa

It is now eighteen years since the National Policy on the Care for Persons with Disabilities was adopted in Botswana and to date people with disabilities have only this policy that speaks to their issues. Children with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable groups of children in Botswana, are still being handled in a ‘medicalised’ manner. These children are segregated especially in the educational system which lacks any form of inclusive education. They have an opportunity to gain formal education only in special schools, most of which are owned by non-governmental organisations such as Cheshire Foundation and Camphill Community Trust. This is completely contrary to the right to inclusive education as guaranteed in international human rights instruments particularly the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). Inclusive education is a method of education that gives equal opportunity to children with disabilities by guaranteeing their rights to education and creating an amiable environment to realise that right on an equally basis with other children.

Botswana currently has a Draft Reviewed National Policy on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which has remained a draft since it was drafted in 2010. There is also the Inclusive Education Policy of 2011 which has not had any positive impact on the lives of these children as they are still completely ‘out of the picture’ of mainstream schools, and very little provisional mechanisms have been instituted to address their needs. Camphill Community Trust, for example, is located out of the city of Gaborone, which is an indication of how children with disabilities are treated in Botswana: Not fit for mainstream schools. The policy currently in force is the 1996 National Policy on Care for People with Disabilities. This is a policy with a purely medical approach that focuses on the ‘disability’ as in need of cure and rehabilitation instead of providing the necessary conditions in the society to enable children with disabilities to realise their full potentials. The word “care” implies people who should be taken care of; a social encumbrance which should be remedied through social welfare initiatives and goodwill. This situation is made worse by the fact that Botswana does not have a National Human Rights Institution which could have championed the course of the rights of these children.

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People with mental disabilities ALSO have the right to marry in Kenya

william_asekaAuthor: William Aseka
Human Rights Fellow at Burton Blatt Institute, Syracuse University

The Marriage Bill (now Act) 2014 has elicited different reactions from Kenyans. Some mostly women, have argued that the law will allow men to engage in polygamous marriages. Some have hailed the law as consolidating the different types of marriages into one piece of legislation. However, the people with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities have completely been left out of this debate. The law clearly discriminates and expressly denies people with mental disorders from exercising their right to marry. Section 11(2)(b) of the Marriage Act 2014 provides:-

Consent is not freely given where the party who purports to give it is suffering from any mental disorder or mental disability whether permanent or temporary…

The Act further provides in section 73 that if one suffers from ‘recurrent bouts of insanity’ then the partner is allowed to have the marriage annulled. This essay seeks to argue that the Marriage Act 2014 not only violates Kenya’s obligation under international law but also violates the Constitution of Kenya 2010 Article 27(4), which proscribes discrimination based on disability.

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