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Information on Disability Laws in Sri Lanka


Act for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Sri Lanka

Padmani Mendis
Course Director & Head, Disability Studies Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka

The Act for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities came into effect on 24th October 1996 by proclamation in the Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka (The Gazette, 1996). A Bill for its enactment had been presented to the Parliament on 09th August 1996 by the Minister of Health, Highways and Social Services (Offical Report (Hansard) of Parliamentary Debates, 1996). This Bill was passed unanimously on 17th September. It is not often that members of both the Government and Opposition concur in the Parliment (Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, 1996), and this unanimity is a significant indication of national support for the Bill and the subsequent Act, and for what it sets out to do. The Act principally provides for the establishment of a "National Council for Persons with Disabilities" which will be concerned with all matters concerning the promotion, advancement and protection of the rights of persons with disabilities in Sri Lanka.

Events Leading up to the Act

There had been in existence from 1989 a "National Council for Coordinating the Work of Disability Organizations" appointed by the Minister of Social Services. With stimulation being provided by the Sri Lanka Office of the Swedish Handicapped Organization International Aid Foundation (SHIA), discussions started within this Coordinating Council about the necessity for legal provision to safeguard the Rights of People who have Disabilities.

Accordingly, a Technical Sub-Committee was set up five years ago with the membership consisting largely of people who have disabilities. The Organisations represented included the Sri Lanka Federation of the Visually Impaired, National Council for the Blind, Central Council for the Deaf, Sri Lanka Association of Physically Handicapped Technicians, Sri Lanka Association for the Mentally Retarded (which has a large representation of parents in its membership), other non-governmental organizations working in the disability field, and the various line Ministries.

The task of the Technical Sub-Committee was to prepare the draft legislation. This was submitted to the Ministry in 1994.

The draft legislation submitted by the Technical Sub-Committee was finalized by the parent body and the Ministry, and presented to the Cabinet of Ministers, and following their approval, to the Parliament.

The UN World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, the UN Rules for the Equalization of Opportunities, and the Constitution of Sri Lanka provided both the basis and the background documentation for the formulation of the Act.

Ratification by Sri Lanka of the ESCAP (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific Region) Resolution No 48/3 declaring the period 1993-2002 as the Decade of Persons with Disabilities in the Asia-Pacific Region and identification of the formulation of legislation as one of the regional priorities for the decade gave a considerable momentum to the process described above leading to the enactment of this much needed legislation in the form of the Act.

Main Provisions

The Act provides the necessary legislation to implement the national policy on rehabilitation. The Act established a "National Council for Persons with Disabilities" and gave it a legal status to take action regarding all matters concerning "the Promotion, Advancement and Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities".

The Act is, therefore, at the same time a comprehensive statement of the national policy on rehabilitation.

It should also be mentioned that in the Act a person with disability is defined as any person who, as a result of a deficiency in physical or mental capability, is not able to ensure for himself or herself the necessities of daily life. It is thus a reasonably broad definition, encompassing the conventional socio-economic basis and definition of "handicap".

The Act has five major provisions.

1. Establishment of a National Council for Persons with Disabilities

The purpose of the Council is to take any and all necessary actions to promote and safeguard the interests of people who have dsiabilities, which include initiating, implementing and sponsoring programmes to meet their needs, monitoring and evaluating State and NGO activities, recommending policy and research, information collection and dissemination. The Act empowers the Council to work autonomously in all these activities.

2. Establishment of a "National Secretariat for Persons with Disabilities"

This is the implementing arm of the Council. Its proposed organizational structure, represented in Fig. 1, describes the manner in which it aims at fulfilling its role of carrying out the Council policy and strategy.

3. Establishment of a "National Fund for Persons with Disabilities"

The National Fund deals with all the financial transactions of the Council, both receiving funds voted by the Parliament for the use of the Council donations, aid and grants, and paying out all such finances required for expenditure by the Council.

4. Registration of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs)

All NGOs working in the disability field are required, under the Act, to be registered with the Council. Fears that this is a repressive measure are unfounded. This provision has been made to give the Council the necessary powers to prevent the exploitation of individuals who have disabilities and disabilities itself. It will also no doubt be valuable in enabling the Council to facilitate coordination between the State and NGO sectors.

5. Protection of Individual Rights

The fifth major provision deals with individual rights, making particular mention of discrimination in employment and educational aspects and access to public places. It also describes legal measures that may be taken in instances where individuals have been discriminated against, empowering Provincial level Judicial Institutions to deal with such matters, and gives the Council powers to act on behalf of individuals when necessary.

Membership of the Council

The Minister of Health, Highways and Social Services is the Chairman of the Council. On his recommendation twenty members are appointed to the Council by the President of Sri Lanka - 11 representing people who have disabilities and their organizations or institutions, and nine from among members of the Parliament, Provincial Councils or Local Authorities, professionals, and public officers. The Secretary of the Ministry is the Secretary of the Council.

Figure1: Proposed Organizational Structure


The Act for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities marks a watershed in the struggle of the disability movement in Sri Lanka for equal rights. It means that at last equality will no longer depend on chance and charity but can now be legally enforced.

However, legislation by itself, or the Act in isolation, is of little use. The Sri Lanka Act provides two vehicles for its implementation. The first is the National Council as the executive body. The second is the empowerment of the Council to develop programmes to meet the needs of people who have disabilities. The National Community-Based Rehabilitation Programme which is now being developed will go a long way towards enabling the very Act that gives it strength, to fulfil its own objectives.


Official Report (Hansard) of Parliamentary Debates. (1996). (Volume 106 - No 13, 17th September 1996). Sri Lanka: Department of Government Printing.

Parliament of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. (1996). Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act. (No 28 of 1996). Sri Lanka: Department of Government Printing.

The Gazette of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. (1996). Bill for the Protection of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. (Supplement Part II of 09th August 1996). Sri Lanka: Department of Government Printing.


Vol.1, No. 1, September 1997

Published by the Asia and Pacific Regional Committee of Rehabilitation International (RI) and the Regional NGO Network (RNN)

Table of Contents

Autism: The Problem is Understanding