Disenfranchised citizenEvery citizen has the right to a good education, even the visually impaired
Free, and compulsory, education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level sponsored by the state of Nepal became a fundamental right for students with the promulgation of the new constitution. Nepal also recently endorsed a new Disability Act, which reads that educational institutions designated by the government shall provide to persons with disabilities higher education free of charge. The Nepal Law Commission also recently passed the highly debated Education Bill, which is expected to pave the way that will create more learning opportunities for deprived children of the country. Despite all this, the government seems to be unaware about the problems faced by the blind and visually impaired section of the society. Today, with the development of technology and virtual communities, where everything is just one click away for most of us, the blind and visually impaired people are deprived of the most basic human rights like education, right to read and freedom of expression.
Most visually impaired and blind people reside in the rural areas of the country. Most often, regular schools in the rural areas are not able to provide adequate support to their visually impaired students due to a lack of adequate teaching materials. These blind and visually impaired people are deprived of audio materials, large print materials, and Braille text books. According to the report of Blind Youth Association of Nepal, by the end of 2015, only 61 percent of enrolled blind and partially sighted children were reported to have received such text books. The rest must rely on their classmates to read to them from their text books. Also according to a report created by the World Blind Union and WHO, only about 10 percent of school-aged children with visual impairment receive education. This low level of overall education for those who are visually impaired results in lower employment rates.
Recently, there was a dispute regarding a bill on education. Arguers said that the bill contradicts the spirit of the constitution, as the statute says the public has the constitutional right to get free education up to grade 12, be it from a private or a public school. Freedom of expression and information are the pillars of a healthy social life. It is crucial for the social and economic growth of every individual. To allow an individual to have a free flow of ideas, it is necessary that every individual has equal enjoyment of the right.
It is a paradox when the government, despite having a solution, fails to take an effective initiative to solve a problem. In 2013, the member states of WIPO adopted the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are blind, visually impaired or otherwise print disabled. The Marrakesh Treaty represents a significant step towards making books available to everyone, by easing the creation and transfer across national boundaries of texts in accessible formats such as Braille, audio, or large print. By giving access to information and educational materials, the treaty hopes to abolish blindness as an impediment for the visually impaired. The only purpose of the treaty is to ensure and safeguard the human rights of the visually impaired people and end the book famine. With the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty, organisations that cater to blind-and visually impaired-readers can now produce books in Braille or other user-friendly formats without seeking the permission of publishers or copyright holders. The only eligibility the contracting party needs to provide, before the ratification of the treaty, is their national copyright laws.
In 2015, the government of Nepal had ept the ratification of the Marrakesh Treaty in its three-year action plan of the government, but not much progress seems to have happened since then. Nepal had also ratified CRPD in 2010, as a member state. Nepal’s National Intellectual Property Policy of 2017 also failed to address the issue of legal and policy choices of copyrighted work in Marrakesh Treaty.
India was the first country to ratify the Marrakesh Treaty. If India, despite having the world’s largest number of blind people, has already ratified the treaty and has been working tremendously for its implementation, then why is Nepal as a country not taking the initiative, when the number of blind and visually impaired people is comparatively less in number in Nepal? This shows that the government is not paying any heed to the basic human rights of the blind and visually impaired people residing in the country.
The implementation of treaties like the Marrakesh Treaty will end the plights of the neediest sections of our society. Further, it will enhance the chances of expanding the role of education among them. By attaining education, a person will be able to contribute to their local economy. The implementation of the Marrakesh Treaty is a powerful tool for an economy, for it will allo blind and print disabled people to gain professional growth and become self-sufficient.
Mishra is an advocate