MPs debate raising state disability benefits

Parliament began preliminary debate today on an amendment submitted by Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem to the Disabilities Act to raise the monthly allowance provided by the state to persons with special needs from MVR2,000 (US$150) to MVR5,000 (US$324).

Presenting the legislation to the Majlis floor, the MP for Makunudhoo said persons with special needs deserved the same “care and protection” provided by the state to the elderly, referring to the current administration raising old age pensions to MVR5,000 a month in March this year.

Anara suggested that MVR2,000 a month was not sufficient to cover the expenses of children with special needs, who require special care and attention.

“I believe it is very important in the Maldives to determine allowances to the neediest in an equal manner. That is because sometimes a person’s means are not considered when subsidies are given [and] we see subsidies given to rich or well-off people,” she said.

Anara also referred to Article 35(b) of the constitution, which states, “Elderly and disadvantaged persons are entitled to protection and special assistance from the family, the community and the state.”

In some cases, she continued, if medical treatment is provided to children with special needs at infancy, they could “grow up as normal children.”

However, specialised services for children with special needs – such as speech therapy and physiotherapy – were not available in the Maldives, she added, while parents sent children to the special needs school in the capital “only to fill time.”

Debate

While all MPs who spoke in the ensuing debate supported the amendment, Jumhooree Party MP Ilham Ahmed suggested that the government could dismiss a few deputy ministers and coordinators – who he claimed earn MVR35,000 (US$2,269) a month – and use the savings to send specialised teachers to islands.

Progressive Party of Maldives MP Ali Arif noted that there were 5,100 persons in the national registry on persons with special needs, concurring that the monthly allowance should be raised to help parents of children with special needs as they were often forced to stay home to care for the child.

Opposition Maldivian Democratic Party MP Abdul Ghafoor Moosa argued that persons with special needs as well as single parents should receive the same monthly allowance as the elderly.

Ghafoor also urged the government to consider introducing unemployment benefits and a minimum wage, which he suggested should not be lower than state benefits.

In May, hundreds of people gave testimony to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives’ (HRCM) ‘National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities’.

Parents spoke of the state’s failure to provide medical services and education to children with special needs whilst private services were costly. A single diagnostic assessment costs MVR5,000 and an hour of therapy costs MVR500, neither of which are covered by the ‘Aasandha’ health care scheme.

According to the HRCM, statistics from 2009 indicate that, out of 2250 children with disabilities, only 230 were attending schools at the time.

Citing a 2010 report by the HRCM and the UNDP, the US State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on the Maldives noted that “most schools accepted only children with very limited to moderate disabilities and not those with more serious disabilities.”

“Children with disabilities had virtually no access or transition to secondary-level education. Only three psychiatrists, two of them foreign, worked in the country, and they primarily worked on drug rehabilitation. No mental health care was available in Malé. There also was a lack of quality residential care,” the report stated.

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Bill submitted to raise disability benefits to MVR5,000

Adhaalath Party MP Anara Naeem has submitted an amendment to the Disability Act to raise the monthly allowance provided by the state to persons with special needs from MVR2,000 (US$150) to MVR5,000 (US$324).

The stated purpose of the amendment bill (Dhivehi) is to provide financial assistance to families with persons with special needs to seek medical treatment overseas.

While treatment for disabled persons was covered in the government’s ‘Aasandha’ health insurance scheme, the MP for Makunudhoo stated that securing Aasandha in hospitals abroad was difficult for families.

The first reading of the bill took place at today’s sitting of parliament, after which it will be tabled for preliminary debate.

According to local media, Anara has also submitted a petition to parliament for raising the benefits, which has been signed by 54 MPs.

The Disabilities Act (Dhivehi) was passed in July 2010 to provide financial assistance and protect the rights of persons with special needs whilst a national registry was compiled in 2011 with more than 4,000 active members.

Subsidising

The President’s Office meanwhile announced yesterday that the government would cover advance payments for 15 flats in Hulhumalé allocated for children with special needs.

President’s Office Spokesperson Ibrahim Muaz Ali told local media that at MVR18,500 (US$1,199) per apartment, the total cost would be MVR277,500 (US$17,996).

“The government has decided to provide speech therapy, developmental physiotherapy, and occupational therapy both at Vilimalé Health Centre which is being developed as a hospital, and at Dhamanaveshi [in Vilimalé]. It has also decided to provide special seating services for children with disabilities at IGMH,” he was quoted as saying by Sun Online.

In March, the government raised the old age pensions from MVR2,300 to MVR5,000 a month to fulfil a campaign pledge by President Abdulla Yameen and the ruling Progressive Party of Maldives.

National inquiry

In May, hundreds of people gave testimony to the Human Rights Commission of the Maldives’ (HRCM) “National Inquiry on Access to Education for Children with Disabilities.”

Parents spoke of the state’s failure to provide medical services and education to children with special needs whilst private services were costly. A single diagnostic assessment costs MVR5,000 and an hour of therapy costs MVR500, neither of which are covered by the ‘Aasandha.’

According to the HRCM, statistic from 2009 indicate that, out of 2250 children with disabilities, only 230 were attending schools at the time.

Citing a 2010 report by the HRCM and the UNDP, the US State Department’s 2013 Human Rights Report on the Maldives noted that “most schools accepted only children with very limited to moderate disabilities and not those with more serious disabilities.”

“Children with disabilities had virtually no access or transition to secondary-level education. Only three psychiatrists, two of them foreign, worked in the country, and they primarily worked on drug rehabilitation. No mental health care was available in Male. There also was a lack of quality residential care,” the report stated.

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