States need to repeal laws discriminating against leprosy-affected persons: NHRC

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New Delhi, Jul 20 (PTI) NHRC chairperson Justice (retd) Arun Kumar Mishra on Tuesday said the states need to repeal the laws and its various provisions, which discriminate against the leprosy-affected persons, and those need to be replaced by the policies and frameworks that will protect their human rights.

He was chairing a meeting organised by the National Human Rights Commission to discuss the issues related to persons affected with leprosy, officials said.

'The states need to repeal the laws and various provisions, which are discriminating against the leprosy-affected persons. These need to be replaced by the policies and frameworks that will protect their human rights,' Mishra was quoted as saying in a statement issued by the NHRC.

During the discussions, it was strongly felt that besides several problems notwithstanding, the COVID-19 pandemic further worsened the condition of leprosy-affected persons, particularly with regard to their food and livelihood, it said.

He said concerted efforts need to be made to sensitise and create necessary awareness among different stakeholders that leprosy is not a very contagious disease, and that the people affected with it can be cured and can be integrated into the mainstream and cohabited with their families.

Expressing serious concern over the poor living conditions of the colonies of the leprosy-affected persons, the NHRC chairperson said some 'drastic and concrete measures' are required to be taken to ensure that the schemes and the funds meant for the welfare of such persons and their colonies are implemented, with all earnest and earmarked funds are utilised properly.

He said the civil society and NGOs also need to work more sincerely to ameliorate the cause of leprosy-affected persons and to integrate their colonies with the mainstream of society.

Concerted efforts also need to be made to convince the leprosy-affected persons to go back to their homes, he said.

Some of the other important suggestions that emerged during the discussions included that states need to conduct a study to know how many leprosy cases are being reported every year to understand whether the disease is declining or increasing in the country.

They also need to conduct a study to know the number of the colonies of leprosy-affected persons and the number of people living there; appoint a nodal welfare officer to act as a bridge between the state machinery and the colonies of the leprosy-affected persons to help them get benefits of the government schemes, the statement said.

Focus be on the education and counselling of the children of leprosy-affected people to overcome the stigma and help them integrate with the mainstream of the society; it should be ensured that sanitation, water, electricity and other basic amenities, including healthcare, financial assistance is provided to the leprosy-affected people living in the separate colonies, the NHRC suggested.

Other suggestions were to provide them skills for their socio-economic empowerment to earn sustainable livelihoods with dignity; and that states need to set up a system of monitoring of funds given to NGOs working for the welfare of leprosy-affected persons to ensure proper utilisation of funds, the statement said.

The meeting was attended by NHRC members Justice M M Kumar and Rajiv Jain, Secretary General, Bimbadhar Pradhan, and field experts, including, Vineeta Shanker, former executive director of Sasakawa India Leprosy Foundation and Nikita Sarah of Leprosy Mission India, among others. PTI KND SNE SNE

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