China, Paralympics about to begin, but disabled face workplace discrimination
The government has launched a campaign aimed at promoting the rights of the disabled and attention toward them, but their living conditions do not seem to have improved. Business owners prefer to pay fines rather than hire disabled persons, many of whom are victims of workplace accidents and are sacrificed in the name of economic growth.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - China is preparing to host the Paralympics, scheduled for September 6-17 in Beijing, but there is still too much disparity in the treatment of the disabled in the country, especially for those who want to work. Zhao Chunluan, director of the Beijing Disabled Persons' Federation, says that 83 million handicapped people in China "suffer discrimination" in various forms.

Last August 28, on the occasion of the lighting of the Olympic torch for the games for the disabled, Li Caimao, director of the government committee for the disabled, expressed his hope that the Olympic event would represent "the ideal opportunity" for China and its people to improve "awareness and understanding" toward the disabled. It is a hope that so far has gone unheeded, because many business owners deliberately "violate the law", preferring to pay fines rather than hire handicapped workers.

"Some companies", affirms Zhao Chunluan, "argue they do not want to hire those with disabilities on the grounds that there are still a lot of healthy people, or even university students, waiting for jobs". "Enterprises are required by law to hire the disabled, otherwise they have to face fines and other kinds of punishments". "But some firms", the activist denounces, "prefer to pay the fines rather than hire disabled people". She emphasizes, however, that "such people are only a minor proportion" of Chinese society, which does not have "prejudices of any kind" toward the disabled.

"People do want to understand the disabled", she continues, "but they are ignorant of their condition. Chinese society itself is not inhumane. But our society is not fully informed about disabled people's suffering". For this reason, the activist calls for "new policies to educate people about the reality of the millions of physically and mentally disabled" (about 6% of the population) living in China today.

In many cases, the cause of physical or psychological injury is in the rapid and often uncontrolled process of industrialization seen in the country in recent decades: in its effort to reach the objective of double-digit economic growth, the workplace has often overlooked the most basic safety procedures. Many of the disabled, in fact, are victims of accidents in the factories or on construction sites, and now have no work or possibility of social reintegration.

Last March, during a meeting of the politburo presided over by President Hu Jintao, the leaders of the communist party decided to increase funding for the disabled, only half of whom receive health care in the cities, and a miserable 2% in the countryside. In view of the Paralympics, the government has also launched a massive publicity campaign aimed at promoting the rights of the disabled and attention to them, but their real living conditions do not seem to have improved.