The recently elected government of Pakistan must face many daunting challenges ahead, not limited to economic, political and social issues. Nonetheless, if Pakistan wants to be taken seriously within the international arena, it needs to consider serious educational reforms.
Pakistan guarantees educational rights for all children up to the age of 16 and has policies in place at federal and provincial levels. However, Pakistan is ranked second on the world's most out-of-school-children list with a staggering 9.2 million 5-16 year olds currently not in school. Despite these failing policies in place, it is evident that an educational reform needs to take place if Pakistan wants to improve literacy rates for generations to come. Unfortunately, education is currently a privilege enjoyed by the wealthy who are able to send their children to private schools contributing to the rich-poor divide gap.
A recent report published by UNICEF in June 2013 provides an overwhelming amount of statistics on children in Pakistan. The study concludes that the majority of children who do not receive an education will be prone to child labour, poverty, and gender biases amongst many other deep-rooted concerns. These problems for children are more prominent in rural areas where education is further limited, either due to the lack of teachers or school resources.
Around 74 percent of the countries population survives on less than $2 a day. Considering these dire circumstances, children therefore are forced out of schools and into the labour markets in order to support families. The relationship between many out-of-school children and child labour thus becomes intermutual. Contradictory however, an article under The Constitution of Pakistan (Article 11 ) states; No child below the age of 14 years shall be engaged in any factory or mine or any other hazardous employment. According to UNICEF, Pakistan's child workforce is around 10 million, many whom adorn factory lines working under treacherous conditions and dangerous sectors. Some of these sectors include cleaning oil tankers, glass factories, motor workshops, hotels, and pharmaceutical factories etc.
Laws and initiatives have been passed by the previous Governments of Pakistan to counter child labour such as the Punjab Bonded Labour System Act, a five-year venture costing $2 million to tackle the worst forms of child labour. Nonetheless, it is failing to protect the children of Punjab and has had no or very little affect in combating child labour. The difficulty lies with the lack of enforcement of these laws especially at the provincial level. Furthermore, since child labour has now progressed into homes, it is difficult for agencies to monitor the extreme abuse imposed on children by their employers.
In areas of high conflict and with an influence from insurgency groups, access to education is either limited or perhaps non-existent. One of the major infrastructures to suffer are schools, which are often damaged in skirmishes or by natural disaster. Militant groups who oppose secular or girl's education destroy schools and other places of learning and even attempt to prohibit girls from attending educational institutions. This was the case for Malala, the girl shot by the Taliban for simply wanting an education. Other children who are displaced by natural disaster are housed in camps, which receive limited funding for education.
A few days ago it was announced that All Pakistan Private Schools Federation has banned Malala Yusufzai's new book claiming it will have a "negative" impact on children. The federation, which represents 152,000 national institutions, furthermore accuses the book of being disrespectful to Islam. Malala who has become an international icon and a role model for many girls in Pakistan seeking an education, has ironically been smeared by an educational authority. Instead of using her as a positive example, many are vengefully attempting to portray her as a US puppet.
Pakistan already faces an economic crisis and with the rupee declining at an astounding rate of 2.5 percent a month, inflation is on the rise. The GDP growth is less than 3 percent while the fiscal deficit is at 9 percent. Moreover, Pakistan still chooses to spend $6 billion U.S. dollars on its military spending, leaving education a meagre 2 percent of its annual budget allowance. Clearly, money needs to be spent where it is needed and that is on educational reforms. An educated society yields better results economically and socially. Therefore, Pakistan's Premier Sharif must act with immediate concern in order to save this crippling nation.
Sharif faces some tough decisions ahead but tackling education should most definitely be on the priority list. In his campaign leading up to the elections, he concluded to raise the education budget to 4 percent by 2018, whether this is established is yet to be seen. In the interim, Pakistan's leaders are consumed by infighting and tensions amongst themselves to act accordingly.
Providing compulsory education for all children up to the ages of 16 will ensure a high percentage of literacy and skills which can be transferred to the economic market. Not only is it important to pass such laws, which already exist, but also, it is crucial to ensure that these laws are enforced and regularly monitored. A just education will eliminate many problems including and thus not limited to radicalization. The public must put pressure on our new government to reform education for all classes. The children of Pakistan are our future and they deserve the right to receive an education; a necessity, a basic human right and an obligation for every Muslim.