President vetoes special needs legislation

President Mohamed Nasheed has vetoed the bill on protecting the rights of and providing financial assistance to people with special needs following an appeal from NGOs and advice from the attorney general that it would conflict with UN conventions.

Article 91(a) of the constitution states the president shall either assent to a bill within 15 days or return it for reconsideration.

The bill was passed on 21 December and would have automatically become law if the president did not ratify it today.

Mohamed Zuhair, president’s office press secretary, said the legislation was returned as the president believed it could lead to “social, economical and legal problems” if it was enacted.

Zuhair said Attorney General Husnu Suood advised the president that many provisions in the bill conflicted with international standards and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the Maldives has acceded to.

Suood told the president that the bill would create obstacles for persons with special needs making decisions on their own and participating in society.

Zuhair added the ministry of health and family informed the president that social and economic difficulties could arise if the provisions in the legislation were implemented.

Moreover, the Human Rights Commission of Maldives as well as NGOs Care Society, Handicap International and Association for Disabilities and Development had urged the president to ask parliament to ensure that the law would protect the rights of people with special needs as required by the UN convention.


"Don't ratify the bill!"
"Don't ratify the bill!"

Care Society, the Maldivian Deaf Association and the Association for Disabilities and Development were joined by parents of persons with special needs at a gathering outside the president’s office this morning.

The NGOs and parents held up placards urging the president not to ratify the bill.

Speaking to Minivan News, Sidaatha Shareef from Care Society said the NGOs wanted a law to protect the rights of the special needs.

“But we had to gather today after working through a lot of different stages. When the bill was at parliament, we met parliament members and met members of the social affairs committee separately and made recommendations in writing and gave them a presentation,” she said.

The bill was passed without considering any of the recommendations, she continued, and the NGOs met with the president’s office, the HRCM and the health ministry to raise their concerns.

“But, since we have not got an adequate response, we are here today to see what decision is made,” she said, adding if the president ratified the bill it would be a “big failure”.

Among the main concerns with the bill was lack of health rehabilitation. “That is one difficulty that the parents here endure every day. It is a basic right that they should be getting,” she said.

She added the language of some provisions the “spirit of the bill” would “segregate” people with special needs or provide assistance as “charity”.

The NGOs wanted the bill to be “more inclusive, rights-based and in line with the UNCPWD”.

Shortly after Sidaatha went into the president’s office and was told to wait until the end of lunch hour, Hassan Afeef, political advisor to the president, came out and addressed the group.

Asked how the president would make his decision, Afeef said, “The president is considering doing it in line with your thinking.”


Legislation passed for special assistance for the disabled

Parliament today passed legislation to provide financial assistance and protect the rights of people with disabilities.

Of the 53 MPs in attendance, 52 voted to pass the bill, while one abstained.

Presenting the committee report, Fuahmulah South MP Ahmed Maseeh Mohamed, said a bill proposed by the government in July to protect the rights of the disabled was combined with a bill submitted by Vilufushi MP Riyaz Rasheed on providing monetary assistance to people with disabilities.

A sub-committee selected to review the legislation consulted with the Maldivian Thalassemia Association, Care Society and senior officials of the ministry of health as well as the attorney general’s office.

Once ratified, a council will be formed and entrusted with compiling a national database on the disabled, protecting the rights of the disabled, overseeing monitoring centres, formulating guidelines for their operation, addressing complaints and compiling an annual report.

The government will provide financial assistance of a minimum of Rf2,000 (US$155) a month for disabled persons.

The law states that the disabled should be given special protection in work places and cannot be discriminated against in the provision of employment.

It further calls for the establishment of a special educational centre for the disabled and for the government to provide free education for disabled persons up to the age of 18.

All government schools will be required to establish facilities for the disabled and no one shall be denied an education due to a disability.

Persons found guilty of harassing or mocking disabled persons are liable to be fined between Rf5,000 (US$389) to Rf10,000 (US$778).

Further, public places, such as supermarkets and parks, are required to have facilities such as ramps to enable access for disabled people.

Maldivian citizens with disabilities are among the most marginalised people in society. A study conducted in 2008 found that 25 per cent of children with disabilities in Haa Alifu and Haa Dhaal never left their homes.

The bill was passed today with three amendments proposed by Kelaa MP Abdullah Mausoom of the opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

Among the amendments were making people with disabilities on the national registry eligible for the monthly benefits without evaluating the extent of their disabilities.

Mausoom’s most contentious amendment was to make children with thalassemia eligible for the monthly benefits.

During the debate on the two bills, several MPs supported providing financial benefits to families with thalassemia children.

“Parents will have the option of not including their children on the list or registry,” said Mausoom.

The amendment was passed with 35 in favour, two against and 19 abstentions.

During the final debate before the vote, MPs on the committee said the thalassemia association objected to including thalassemia patients in a bill for persons with disabilities.

Maseeh, chairman of the committee, said the bill was based on article 35(b), which states “disadvantaged people are entitled to protection and special assistance from the family, the community and the state”.

He added the bill clearly specified people with disabilities in terms of psychological and physical disabilities who face difficulties in society.

“The bill is formulated to provide financial and special assistance to people with disabilities,” he said. “That is why the Maldivian Thalassemia Association said they do not want children with thalassemia to be given that label.”

Defending his amendment, Mausoom said the purpose of the legislation was providing “special assistance”, which includes families facing financial burdens to treat their children with thalassemia.

Thulusdhoo MP Rozaina Adam said the title of the legislation would not matter to families of children with thalassemia.

Most MPs spoke of the importance of allocating funds for the financial benefits in next year’s budget to ensure that the laws are enforced.