Globe, Latin America

Peru discriminates against disabled voters

The country, which was among the first to ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, is preventing them from participating in elections and is denying them certain civil rights.


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Miriam Valero


María Ramos is an activist for the rights of disabled people who suffer from schizophrenia. The situation of this Peruvian woman is contradictory, because her country deems her mentally competent to give consent when donating her organs, but does not consider her able to elect her political representatives.

It all began when María went to renew her identity card (ID) and showed a proof of her illness. Since then, she has not even been able to collect her own ID, and had to arrange a third party to do so for her, nor could she vote.

“People like you can’t vote,” she was told at the polling station as she no longer appeared in the census either.

Ramos says that before submitting the document, already suffering from the disease, she was entirely self-sufficient to perform all these legal and civil actions. Moreover, the government had not assigned a guardian to be in charge of her as it was not necessary.

Roberto has had a similar experience. His national identity card indicates that he is mentally disabled and cannot vote or even open a bank account alone.

Robert feels “shame” in this situation because he believes that he has sufficient mental capacity to exercise these rights and to be perfectly aware of this denial of his freedoms.

The cases of María and Roberto are just one example of the reality of the disabled in Peru.

Human Rights Watch has reported in their research “I want to be a citizen just like any other” that it is a widespread situation in the country – that citizens with an intellectual, sensory or psychosocial disability are unable to exercise their voting rights or other rights civil or to open a bank account because they are considered “incompetent”.

Thus, these citizens cannot use their other rights such as getting a job, owning or inheriting property, marrying, signing official documents or legally representing their children, although many of them live completely independently, without relying on third parties.

Even so, taking into account that the government considers them dependent and therefore discriminates against them when it comes to exercising these rights, the country also fails to offer them a protection system to help them make their own decisions through tutors, complains Human Rights Watch.

Similarly, in recent elections, there was no access to polling stations.

The government does not guarantee the basic requirements of the environment that would allow physical and sensory disabled people to exert their right to vote.

In addition, Peru’s law provides that the national identity document must contain information as to whether the person has a mental disability.

In this regard, many people choose not to include this personal description on paper, for fear of being discriminated against in their daily lives.

However, in many cases this option is not respected by the government since after they have explicitly asked for this information to be removed, when collecting the documentation, the affected can see that the words “mentally disabled” have not been erased, according to some cases documented by Human Rights Watch.

All these cases are in conflict with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the country signed in 2008. Peru was one of the first countries to sign it, and in doing so, it expressed its commitment to “ensuring equal rights for all persons with disabilities, including the right to political participation.

“According to the latest national census carried out in Peru, it is estimated that three million people have disabilities, representing 10.9% of the total population.

According to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) there are 176 million people with mental disabilities in total on the whole continent.

In Peru, as in many other countries, the relationship between disability and poverty is direct.

Thus, the poor economic situation of families further aggravates the situation of discrimination and marginalization that disabled people face and means that access to adequate health care or education is even more difficult.

Moreover, in Peru people with disabilities suffer extremely high rates of unemployment compared to people without disabilities.

In the conclusion to their study, Human Rights Watch recognizes that current government policies and initiatives “have made significant progress to remedy the deprivation of electoral rights of disabled people”. However, the organisation urges the government to repeal “all laws, policies and discriminatory practices and to allocate the necessary resources to implement these guarantees.”

(Translated by Sylvia Hoffmann – Email: sylviahoffmann.spanish@gmail.com)

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