Breaking free of the traditional practice of sterilising people with mental illnesses, particularly women, a proposed law for disabled persons gives them the right to retain their fertility.

Recognising the legal capacity of all persons with disabilities and making provision for support where required to exercise such legal capacity as under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the proposed new law — Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011 — also prohibits forcible abortions or any medical intervention that could result in a woman losing her fertility.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011 — the final draft of which has been submitted to the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment — wants governments to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to information regarding family and reproductive planning on an equal basis with others, while prohibiting subjecting any person with disability to any medical procedure, which leads to or could lead to infertility without their free and informed consent.

Traditionally, mentally unsound women are subject to sterilisation to avoid unwanted pregnancy as the chances of sexual exploitation of such women are higher and people with physical disabilities are perceived to be incapable of taking care of their children. Physically and mentally disabled women are often made to undergo abortions against their wishes.

But now any contravention of this provision that protects the reproductive rights of the people with disabilities is liable to be penalised under Section 153 of the proposed law with imprisonment and fine.

Whoever performs, conducts or directs any medical procedure to be performed on a person with disability which leads to or is likely to lead to infertility in contravention of proposed law will be punishable with imprisonment for a period not exceeding seven years and with fine.

Any person acting as a care-giver of the person with disability, whether as parent or guardian or in any other capacity, lawful or unlawful, who does any act to facilitate or negligently fails to prevent such medical procedure from being performed, shall be punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to five years and with fine.

On forceful termination of pregnancy, the proposed law suggests thatwhoever performs or directs any medical procedure on a woman with disability, which leads to or is likely to lead to termination of pregnancy without her express consent, shall be punishable with imprisonment for 10 years and with fine; any person acting as a care-giver of the woman with disability, whether as parent or guardian or in any other capacity, lawful or unlawful, who does any act to facilitate, or negligently fails to prevent such medical procedure from being performed, shall be punishable with imprisonment, which may extend to seven years and with fine.

The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill, 2011, covers a whole spectrum of disabilities ranging from physical disabilities to mental illness and multiple disabilities. It will replace the existing Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunity Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act of 1995.

Political participation

On political participation, the proposed law says that every person with disability who fulfils the eligibility requirements shall be entitled to be registered as a voter and not be disqualified to exercise his or her right to vote on the ground of disability, irrespective of any stipulation to the contrary in any law for the time being in force.

Any person with disability who is unable to cast vote in person due to his or her disability or because of admission in any establishment for treatment of persons at the time of the poll shall be entitled to vote by postal ballot, it says while directing the Election Commission to ensure that all polling stations are accessible to persons with disabilities.

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