Pakistan is failing its children in more ways than one. Despite multiple reassurances that child education is a priority, the figures remain damning. Almost 22.5 million children in Pakistan are out of school. The impact is still felt mostly by young girls. A Human Rights Watch report titled ‘Barriers to girls education in Pakistan’ says that many girls are not provided access to education, especially due to the lack of government schools for girls. The tragic fate of girls’ education is confirmed by the fact that 32 percent of primary-age school girls are out of school in the country. The figure becomes far more alarming by the time it comes to ninth grade. Only 13 percent of girls in Pakistan are still in school at the start of matriculation. The fact that the importance of girls’ education has been highlighted in national education campaigns seems to have had little impact on the actual ability of girls to remain in the schooling system.
The tragedy of nine out of 10 girls being able to barely complete matriculation in Pakistan should not be taken lightly. With Pakistan spending less than 2.8 percent of its GDP on education, this is not a surprise. But one must note that archaic attitudes towards women’s education continue to remain dominant cultural mores. The state’s abject failure to provide the infrastructure necessary for girls to be educated has only compounded the issue.
Education is a fundamental right granted by our constitution. However, it remains one of the most abused of the rights granted to young Pakistani citizens. Most young girls remain eager – even desperate – to go to school. But opportunities and attitudes have not adjusted with time. Policies and their implementation remain miles apart, which has a devastating impact on the lives of millions of children. With education being a key point in the agenda of the new government, it remains to be seen if an effective education emergency will be imposed. The first task should be to build consensus around the importance of girls’ education. Education should be one of the non-negotiable duties performed by the state. There is a need for holistic policymaking that increases the number of schools as well as builds consensus around girls schooling. Our future is at stake.