D.N.I.S. News Network, India: The Ministry of Human Resource Development (M.H.R.D.) is about to enact the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill which seeks to make education a fundamental right of every child in the age group of 6 to 14 years.
But this Act, in its present form, will leave out a major section of children with disabilities. The Bill defines ‘disability’ as it is defined in the Disability Act, 1995. Although talks are on about making amendments, the present Disability Act does not cover autism, cerebral palsy and multiple disabilities which are covered by the National Trust Act.
“We want the definition of disability to be exclusively defined in the Bill. The implication of this Bill being passed has grave consequences while addressing the educational needs of all children with disability. There are approximately 20 million children with disability in our country. Less than 2 percent have access to education. We need to take them into account as well,” says Radhika Alkazi, Managing Trustee and Director, Alternative Strategies for the Handicapped (A.S.T.H.A.).
“We need to have wider consultation on this with civil society groups so that this Bill, which is a very important step for the country, incorporates the spirit and essence of U.N.C.R.P.D.
“We request the government not to pass the Bill in its present form, else children with disability would be divided between M.H.R.D. and M.S.J.E.,” adds Alkazi.
A.S.T.H.A. convened an emergency meeting on July 29 which was attended by several civil society groups. It was decided that they would write to the Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Kapil Sibal about this.
“A number of N.G.O.s and other organizations are also trying at their level to talk to the Prime Minister and other parliamentarians about this,” informed Alkazi.
The Bill also proposes to provide education in an alternative environment to children with ‘severe and profound disabilities’. Disabled rights activists feel that this goes against the principle of inclusion as mandated by U.N.C.R.P.D. Moreover, it does not mention anything about facilities like ramps, Braille readers, etc. needed to enable children with disabilities to attend school.
The Bill has already been passed in the Rajya Sabha and was to be tabled in the Lok Sabha on July 31 but was deferred.
A number of disabled rights activists tried to meet Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resource Development. But all he had to say was that nothing could be done now. Disabled Rights Group held a protest march at Jantar Mantar on July 31 where around 150-200 people shouted slogans against the Ministry’s apathy towards children with disabilities.