Disabled people can commit crimes too

... but their rights are trampled on
Among the majority of sober minded Zimbabweans, and indeed among many people of southern Africa, it is often received as shocking news to hear that a disabled man or boy has been taken to a court of law to answer charges of raping a girl or woman.

Equally, some people are also often shocked when they hear that a disabled woman or girl has appeared in court of law to answer charges of strangling her newly born baby to death. Such types of crimes are viewed as sophisticated hence people think the disabled are not capable of committing such offences. Crimes that are normally associated with the disabled people are witchcraft, or public indecency such as urinating in the streets. Yet the disabled people are capable of committing any crime just like any other human being.

Misunderstanding

The slogan disability does not mean inability is at times misunderstood by many people including the disabled people themselves. It is often used when a disabled person has excelled in a particular thing. Thus the slogan is associated with positive connotations only. However, this is misleading. What it means is that a disabled person is able to do both good and bad things. It also means that all things being equal, and conditions allowing, a disabled person is just as capable to commit a serious crime like any other human being. However what is grossly unfair and unjust is that for a similar crime committed, a disabled person endures far much more pain than an able bodied person.

Discrimination

The discrimination and the burden of pain start as soon as both, a disabled person and a non disabled person are arrested and thrown at the back of a truck. In Zimbabwe, the toilets and all other social amenities at the police stations and prison buildings were constructed, and they continue to be built with non disabled persons (prisoners) in mind. Therefore it cannot be reasonably denied that the pain of prison life that is likely to be felt by a disabled prisoner is more than that will be experienced by his able bodied counterpart.

In addition to that, most prisons and police stations in Zimbabwe have no sign language interpreters. This is a great disadvantage to our deaf brothers and sisters who find themselves unable to raise some important issues with the law enforcement personnel before, during and after the arrest because unfortunately, almost all police officers and prison officers in Zimbabwe do not understand sign language. Most disabled people languish in prison because they fail to communicate their needs to police or prison officers.

In Zimbabwe, there have been some growing calls by Disabled Peoples Organisations (DPOs) for the state to consider having at least one police officer, who is able to use sign language, for every police district. Some have argued that since the country has teachers trained in special education to cater for the special needs of some types of disabilities, the same can be done for the police. Police officers can be trained to deal with the special and unique needs of a section of the countrys population. These are legitimate concerns that deserve consideration by government.

Equal Treatment

However this is not to say disabled people are not supposed to face the wrath of the law when they commit crimes. They are simply calling for equal treatment. Disabled people must have equal access to the countrys justice systems. These must be enshrined in the new constitution. But so far, surprisingly there is no single deaf person among the outreach team members of the new constitution team.

It is not only in Zimbabwe, where such discriminations occur. It is no longer indisputable, that in all over the world, disabled people are discriminated from family to national level. Article number eleven of the United Nations Standard Rules of Equalisation of Opportunities for Disabled Persons reads: Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.

There have been many violations of that article and the following was documented as evidence:In Kumasi Central Region, in Ghana, a disabled prisoner was carried into court on someones back and tried lying down on the floor.

Editors note: Watson Khupe is a disability rights activist who works and stays in Bulawayo. He is contactable on e-mail: [email protected]

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