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WHO Goodwill Ambassador's Newsletter For The Elimination Of Leprosy

NEWS: Act Now, India’s Law Panel Urges

Calls on government to fulfill obligations to eliminate leprosy discrimination.


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The Law Commission of India has drawn up draft legislation for eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy, including the repeal or amendment of all laws with discriminatory provisions and an end to use of the term “leper” in official documents. The draft bill is annexed to Report 256 (“Eliminating Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy”) submitted to India’s justice ministry on April 7.

In a covering letter, Commission Chairman Justice Ajit Prakash Shah observed that leprosy is now a completely curable disease, yet social stigma remains a major obstacle to uplifting the status of people affected by leprosy, while Indian laws continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against them. Although India has signed and ratified the U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and was a member of the U.N. General Assembly that unanimously passed the December 2010 resolution on elimination of leprosy-related discrimination, he said that no action had been taken at central or state level to modify or repeal any of the legislation.

“Under the Constitution, the Union of India has both the obligation as well as the competence to enact a comprehensive law eliminating discrimination against persons affected by leprosy. This is now an urgent need,” he said.

The draft bill is designed to eliminate any discrimination or denial of equal treatment; to repeal and amend existing laws that negatively affect such persons or promote their segregation and discrimination; and to enable the state to discharge its obligations through affirmative action. Key provisions include those relating to land rights, employment, education and training opportunities, and freedom of movement. Among laws that would be repealed or amended are the Lepers Act (1898) and various laws that make leprosy grounds for divorce.

On terminology, the draft says that “‘leper’ and other such terms in national, regional and local languages shall be substituted by the term ‘persons affected by leprosy’ or any other term in the national, regional or local language that is synonymous.”