NA adopts Convention on Rights of the Persons with Disabilities

The National Assembly adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with four reservations that are Article 18 on Liberty of Movement and nationality section 1(a) and 2; Article 23 on Respect for home and family section 1(b); Article 27 on Work and Employment section 1(c) and Article 29 on Participation in political and public life section (a) (ii).

The reservations are controversial and may violate the Constitution and also the rights of the disabled.

Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo, a member In-Charge of the Convention emphasized that the reservation made on the Convention should not be misconstrued as not supporting persons with disabilities, but to provide policy space for the government in keeping with the socio-economic development situation of the country.

Lyonpo also said provisions which are contradicting national laws, national policies, rules and regulations, must align with the national law.

Lyonpo, as an In-Charge of the Convention shared that she always wanted to table the convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities bill earlier, but due to COVID, they couldn’t. Rectifying the convention also means following the global principles of leaving no one behind and really protecting the vulnerable population.

In 2019, the health minister and the Prime Minister had an in-depth conversation on having three social protection policies in the country, that are accelerating mother and child health, disability and elderly policies under the social protection initiative, said the health minister.

In the same year, the government adopted National Policy on Persons living with a disability. So even before the convention was adopted, the government actually formulated a policy, adding that generally, at the global level, countries would adopt the convention and then formulate national policies, said the health minister.

“For Bhutan, disability was a huge agenda for us because of the social protection mandate, the current government took up, we really wanted to have a policy,” said the health minister.

According to the Population Housing Census Bhutan, 2017 (PHCB), 2.1% of the Bhutanese population lives with some form of disabilities, and this accounts to approximately 15,567 persons.

The disability prevalence rate for children aged 0-14 is 0.37%, Of the total 1,89,417 children in Bhutan (2017), 694 are found to be living with some form of disability.

Diseases/illnesses were reported as the most common causes of disability for the five domains of seeing, speaking, hearing, moving and mental health.

Among people who experienced some difficulty in functioning in their everyday lives, seeing was the most prevalent with a prevalence rate of 2.9% followed by hearing and walking with a prevalence rate of 2.2%

The most common disabilities in the country are visual and hearing impairments and mobility. In terms of visual impairments, Bhutan achieved 99.5% coverage of refractive error screening among school-going children and provided free eyeglasses to children with refractive errors across the country.

Lyonpo said through the generous support and collaboration with Essilor, they have made 400,000 eyeglasses available to all populations through the health facilities. To prevent congenital blindness, universal eye screening for infant and young child are also included in the MCH programs and services are being initiated in the three regional hospitals.

Hear Listen and Speak program was started in 2022, this program allows every eligible Bhutanese to be screened for hearing impairment and will provide either medical intervention or an assistive device such as a hearing aid or cochlear implant, if medically indicated, for free, thereby achieving universal ear and hearing service.

Mobility Aids such as walkers, crutches, canes and other aids are also provided by the department according to the Standard Operating Protocol of the Department.

Wheelchair services for both Basic Wheelchair Services and Intermediate/Advanced WheelChair services are available at JDWNRH, RRH and district hospitals.

For instance, wheelchairs are provided free of charge to those who require them permanently to conduct activities of daily living.

So, therefore unlike many countries, Bhutan, even before signing the convention, has made services available to the people.

Meanwhile, the CPRD has been forwarded to the National Council for the final endorsement and the final decision in the joint session.

“I am personally affected, so this convention really means a lot and hopes that the national council will deliver it and get endorsed. We have always been a very compassionate society, very much align with our own national value system,” said the health minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo.

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