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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Long wait for disability law

Long wait for disability law

Cambodia has one of the highest rates of disability in the world, with Ministry of

Planning statistics showing that one in 65 people suffer some form of physical handicap.

Among those are tens of thousands who have lost limbs to land mines and unexploded

ordinance. Disabilities caused by polio and cerebral palsy are also common, says

the Disability Action Council, (DAC). To compound the problem over 130,000 Cambodians

are blind. Prime Minister Hun Sen famously lost an eye in battle.

But despite the large number of Cambodians affected, draft legislation to protect

the rights of those with disabilities has been stuck in the planning stage for six

years.

Many NGOs are lobbying the government to pass the law in an attempt to end the widespread

difficulties disabled people face in gaining education and vocational training, finding

a job or even joining a monastery.

Under proposals put forward by the NGOs a quota system would be introduced, making

it mandatory for some employers to hire a fixed number of disabled staff.

Ngy San, deputy executive director at the DAC, says the real figure for mental and

physical disability is much higher than official reports. He says more than 10 percent

of the population is disabled, with widespread discrimination adding to their difficulties.

"For example [disabled people] cannot train as teachers because they need full

physical fitness," San said. "You are not allowed to be a monk if you have

any disability, and no [public] buildings, including schools, have access for disabled

people."

When asked why the law had taken so long, San points the finger squarely at the government.

Many lawmakers, he feels, are simply not interested in the topic, while certain ministries

initially suggested that the law was unnecessary as the Constitution includes provisions

to protect all citizens.

"It is difficult to pass laws on social issues. Members of the government are

not so interested - they are [more] interested in economic issues," San says.

"But they are not right. Disabled people need special laws to protect their

interests and rights."

Keo Soeun, director of the Ministry of Social Affairs' rehabilitation department,

readily admits that approval of the Draft Law on Rights of People with Disabilities

is long overdue.

"It is a very long process in Cambodia," Soeun says. "But our government

signed a UN proclamation and this obliges us to establish the law to protect the

rights of the disabled."

His department set up a working group in June 2000 to speed up the drafting process,

which was begun in 1996 by NGOs such as the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization.

Soeun is hopeful his ministry will soon send its final draft to the Council of Ministers

so it can be passed by November and finally be approved by the National Assembly

before next July's elections.

However Srey Vanthon, country representative for the UK-based NGO Action on Disability

and Development, believes it may take another two to three years before the legislation

is passed.

He also cautions that without adequate resources for implementation, the law will

be of little use when it is finally passed.

"Our experience from other countries is that they have written many laws on

disabled people and they just sit on the shelf," Vanthon says. "Implementation

is crucial."

Those pushing for speedy implementation are looking to Hun Sen to support their cause.

Sam Sotha, secretary-general of the Cambodian Mine Action and Victim Assistance Authority

and an advisor to the Prime Minister, says he will write to him about the importance

of the government and society supporting disabled people.

"[The Prime Minister] is himself disabled in one eye, and is very keen in his

heart to help disabled people," Sotha says. "This is a law with a humanitarian

purpose, and all members of the National Assembly are human beings so I do not see

any problems with it being passed."

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