Education

Pakistan: Millions of girls aren’t attending school

In a new report, Human Rights Watch says the country lacks facilities to educate them.

Photo: @Martinez_Elin

Photo: @Martinez_Elin

The Pakistani government isn’t providing children living in poverty with the facilities they need to learn, according to a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published Monday.

Millions of girls are especially at risk, and HRW is calling on the government to step up for their futures.

According to the report, titled Shall I Feed my Daughter or Educate Her?, more than one-third of Pakistani girls are not attending primary school, compared to 21% of boys. Only 13% of girls are still in school by the 9th grade.

As of 2018, 22.5 million children in the country are not in school, according to Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party manifesto. But in Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province, for example, the gender disparity is stark— 81% of girls did not finish primary school in 2014, compared to 52% of boys, HRW reported. In 2013, UNICEF found literacy rates are 20% higher for boys than girls.

“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,” HRW Women’s Rights Director Liesl Gerntholtz told the Guardian.

In Pakistan, young girls miss school partly because of the Sunni Islamic militant group the Taliban. The group claims educating women goes against Islam. In 2012, Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban after advocating for girls' education using a pen name, bringing global attention to the group’s violent threat on the nation’s young women.

But according to the report, Pakistan’s school system is primarily responsible for the country’s education barriers. The government hasn’t invested enough in schools, especially ones for girls, HRW says. Unaffordable school fees, corporal punishment, low-quality public and private schools, corruption, and lenient regulation also contribute to the country’s education crisis.

“The government recognizes that education reform is desperately needed and promises to make this a priority, especially for girls — a positive step,” Gerntholtz told the Guardian.

For many young girls in Pakistan, receiving an education is their only hope for avoiding child marriage. It is estimated that 21% of girls in Pakistan are married before the age of 18, according to the organization Girls Not Brides. Child brides who stop attending school are more likely to experience an early pregnancy, malnourishment, domestic violence, and pregnancy complications.

While the Pakistani government has acknowledged its poor education system, the HRW says it’s not enough. The country doesn’t make an effort to enforce its law that requires all children between the ages of five and 16 receive an education, the organization argues. As a result, unregulated private schools open, leaving families living in poverty to send their children to the cheapest option, which isn’t always of the highest quality.

“We hope that our findings will help the government to diagnose the problems and identify solutions that will give every Pakistani girl a bright future,” Gerntholtz said.

With 130 million girls around the world missing school because they live in poverty, lack resources, or are surrounded by violence and conflict, every effort counts.

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