Census 2017 and Disability


Census to be held after a gap of eight years but no questions on disability in the main form.


By Khalid Khattak


Nadir Khan has survived a highly infectious disease. He was diagnosed with polio when he was an infant. Now 28, he is a wheelchair user. However, what distinguishes him among many of the disabled persons is his ardent advocacy for the rights of people with disabilities.

Based in Multan district and having a graduate degree, Nadir is a pioneer of disability rights movement in South Punjab. For almost ten years now, he has been running a network of disabled person’s organizations (DPOs) named Southern Punjab Disability Inclusive Network (SPDIN).

Nadir is really excited about population census in Pakistan which has been scheduled for March 15 after a gap of almost eight years as the latest in the series was supposed to be held in 2008. But what saddens him and many others like him is the absence of disability related column in the census form. This means the government is not going to count the disabled population.

In a recent YouTube video message, Nadir sitting on his wheelchair is seen demanding the Government of Pakistan to ensure enumeration of persons with disabilities (PWDs) in the upcoming population census. He believes the last census held in 1998 did not portray a clear picture vis-à-vis the number of persons with different disabilities—2.5 percent of the entire population in Pakistan.



Importance and history                                        

There’s no denying that an accurate data is critical for the budgetary allocations and mapping out strategies for human development. This helps in understanding the magnitude of a problem and making informed decisions accordingly. Realizing the importance of data, many governments around the world mandated population census as part of their constitutions. This is not the case in Pakistan.

Nonetheless, the Constitution of Pakistan provides guidelines for the allocation of seats in the National Assembly to all the four provinces and federally administered regions—Fata and Islamabad—on the basis of population. The present allocation of National Assembly seats is based on 1998 census.

Therefore, the upcoming census becomes more important as the next general elections are scheduled to be held in 2018. Will seats be allocated on 1998 or 2017 census remains the key question.

Pakistan’s data regime has deteriorated over the years. After independence in 1947, the country held its first ever population census in 1951. The second took place right after ten years in 1961. The next census witnessed a delay of one year as the population count was held in 1972. The fourth was conducted in 1981, again on time. However the fifth census which was scheduled for 1991 was held after six years delay in 1998. And there has been no survey since then.



The neighboring India held its first census in the same year Pakistan did i.e. 1951 and has since been conducting this exercise after every ten years. The last in the series was held in 2011. According to the last census, the total disabled population of India is 21 million (equal to estimated population of Karachi) which is 2.1 percent of the country’s entire population.

Interestingly the Indian census on the disabled population also details the type of their disability. Over 10 million (half of the disabled Indians) are having seeing related disability.

The government in Pakistan would not have decided to hold the 2017 census had the Supreme Court of Pakistan not taken a suo moto notice of the inordinate delays in this regard.

In 2016, the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali took suo moto notice. After multiple hearing, the government finally assured the apex court in December last that the sixth population census will start from March 15, 2017 and complete in two months.

Concerns over the upcoming census

What worries the most disability rights activists and related organizations working in the field is the fact that the government is not making a population count of the disabled persons in the census.

The government plans to do a sample survey after the main census is done for which it has developed a separate form. This has irked the real stakeholders. The rights activists have now launched a social media campaign in order to press the government to enumerate disabled population in the main census to get a clear picture as they believe the same will help in related policy making in the future.

Nadir estimates there are some 2.6 million ‘differently abled’ persons in South Punjab alone. “We need to have a clear picture”, he says and adds because of social barriers and stigma related to disability, majority of the disabled remain confined to their homes.

“If we really want to bring them into the mainstream, we need to have data about them first and foremost,” says Nadir.




The government argues that since 55 million forms had already been printed it is not possible now to include additional questions in the main form.

Chief Statistician/Chief Census Commissioner Asif Bajwa, however, asserts that the upcoming census will be held as per internationally recognized practices. He says sampling survey, though to be held after the main exercise, is part of the census. He also claims the same sampling method was adopted in all the previous censuses held so far to count the disabled population in Pakistan.

Nadir, however, is not satisfied and demands the government should include PWDs related questions in the main census form just as transgender people are being included in the main form for the first time on the orders of the apex court.

One of the important aspects Nadir draws our attention towards is the ongoing war on terror. He says while thousands of precious lives have been lost all these years, many more got physical and other disabilities. “When the government does not have accurate statistics about the persons with disabilities, how it can empower us?” His question is valid and deserves merit consideration.


This story first appeared on CIRP.