KARACHI/LAHORE: Nearly 22.5 million children in Pakistan are out of school, the majority of them girls, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a new report released on Tuesday.
The report titled ‘Shall I feed my daughter or educate her’: Barriers to girls’ education in Pakistan’ concluded that many girls simply had no access to education, including because of a shortage of government schools — especially for girls.
The report revealed that 32 per cent of primary school age girls were out of school in the country, compared with 21pc boys. By ninth grade, it added, only 13pc of girls were still in school.
As of 2017, it said, Pakistan was spending less than 2.8pc of its gross domestic product on education — far below the recommended four to six per cent.
“The Pakistan government’s failure to educate children is having a devastating impact on millions of girls,” said HRW women’s rights director, LieslGerntholtz, in a press release. “Many of the girls we interviewed are desperate to study, but instead are growing up without the education that would help them have options for their future,” she said.
The HRW interviewed 209 people for the report in all four provinces, most of them girls who have never attended school or were unable to complete their education.
Speaking to Dawn, HRW’s lawyer in Pakistan, Saroop Ijaz, said: “It seemed as if the government is tuned out and abdicated from its constitutional responsibility to provide free and compulsory education.”
However, he added, the new government did not have enough time — only about 90 days — and there was hope it would come up with a solid roadmap. “For PTI education was a major campaign point,” he said. “We just hope it translates into action as soon as possible because the scale of the problem is huge.”
Elin Martinez, a children’s rights researcher with HRW, said: “There is a lack of enforcement of government’s constitutional obligation to provide free and compulsory education such that parents who want to send their girls to school are often not able to do so as they can’t afford to pay informal fees.”
Among the factors keeping girls out of school, the report found, were the government’s under-investment in schools, lack of schools, prohibitive school fees and related costs, corporal punishment and a failure to enforce compulsory education.
For educationist Mosharraf Zaidi, the out of school issue was a structural problem. He said it certainly cannot be fixed by herding children into schools buildings as there are not enough schools.“The government can fix this problem by building more schools as a start,” he said. “But it has to ensure that schools are safe and productive places.”
The HRW also found poor quality both within the government and low-cost private schools, a lack of government regulation of private schools, and corruption. In addition to these factors within the education system, girls are also blocked from attending school by external factors including child labour, gender discrimination, child marriage, sexual harassment, insecurity, and attacks on education.