CMCFeature-RIGHTS-Legislating for disability rights in Trinidad and Tobago


PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – When we say that a person has legal capacity, the law recognizes you as a person with rights. It means that you can make

Decisions about essential things in your life.
Perhaps more importantly, it means you can then enforce your rights. So what happens when you do not have legal capacity? Well, ask anyone with Down Syndrome, and they will tell you.

Many people with Down Syndrome worldwide, including in Trinidad and Tobago, are denied legal capacity.

To put it simply, the law does not recognize them as autonomous human beings capable of making decisions about where and who they live with their health care, including their sexual and reproductive health care, which is relevant to women with Down Syndrome, about marriage and family, and control over their money or property.

Trinidad and Tobago’s current legal and policy framework does not adequately address the right to legal capacity and, consequently, the inclusion of persons with Down Syndrome in society.

To a large extent, it does not adequately address the rights of persons with disabilities in general.

The Equal Opportunity Act (“the Act”) and the Tribunal exist. However, there are certain deficiencies in the Act. For example, the definition of disability in the Act does not cover all persons with disabilities.

A person with Down Syndrome, a person with an intellectual disability, is not afforded protection because they do not fall within the definition of a person with a disability in the Act itself.

There are one or two other provisions in the Education Act and the Constitution that can potentially be used to protect the rights of persons with disabilities, but interestingly,

they do not make specific mention of persons with disabilities. It is a case of forcing the shoe to fit.

Furthermore, considering that the Constitution is regarded as the “supreme” law of the land and that it makes no mention of “disability” as being a protected ground, the impact that this has on persons with disabilities as it relates to enforcement of their human rights is prejudicial and detrimental.

Trinidad and Tobago ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2015. The State has thus given formal consent in the eyes of international law to ensure that our national legislation and policies conform with the convention under Article 4, General Obligations, of the Convention.

The UNCRPD also states that people with disabilities have the right to “enjoy legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life.”

The convention also explicitly provides the right to inclusive education, employment, healthcare, and other primary and essential human freedoms. It ensures that persons with disabilities can advocate and challenge public authorities that deny them access to these things.

However, if persons with disabilities, including those with Down Syndrome, have no legal capacity, they cannot enforce these other listed rights on their own. Hence, if any legislation is being drafted, the main objective ought to be harmonizing domestic laws with

The UNCRPD includes the right to enjoy legal capacity equally with others.

Call me crazy, but persons with Down Syndrome and other intellectual disabilities ought to be able to make their own choices and control their lives just like you and me. Their right to make their own decisions ought not to be taken away from them on account of their

Disability. After all, are they not human beings?
*Laurina Ramkaran is an attorney and Down Syndrome Family Network board member.


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