NCRC Urges Immediate Action to Tackle Pakistan's Out-of-School Children Crisis

Out-of-school children in Pakistan have surpassed the 26.2 million mark with Sindh the most affected

NCRC Urges Immediate Action to Tackle Pakistan's Out-of-School Children Crisis

The number of out-of-school children in Pakistan has surpassed the 26.2 million mark — with 7.6 million in Sindh alone — the most in any country in the world. It has prompted national rights organisations to ring alarm bells and demand immediate action to tackle the issue.

These alarming statistics were disclosed during the Sindh provincial consultation on free and compulsory education, a collaborative effort by the National Commission on the Rights of Child (NCRC) and the School Education and Literacy Department. The session was held at the Reforms Support Unit on Friday with support from the Sindh government.

The meeting was chaired by NCRC Chairperson Ayesha Raza Farooq and was participated by representatives from the government's education department, civil society and social organisations, international bodies such as UNICEF and the International Rescue Committee (IRC), along with representatives of private schools.

Farooq emphasised the critical state of education in Pakistan, stressing that education is not merely a right but a fundamental pillar for the nation's progress. 

Despite the government's efforts to raise awareness about rights and violations, she said the country continues to grapple with a high volume of out-of-school children, which has swelled to more than 40% of children under 18 years of age. 

The NCRC chairperson underscored the urgency of curbing child labour and promoting educational advancement.

"We are at a crossroads where the future of our children and our country is at stake," Farooq said, adding, "If these children are in school, they are shielded from child labour."

"We must explore actionable measures and extend support to provincial governments to ensure children progress beyond primary education."

Highlighting the disproportionately high dropout rates among girls compared to boys, the NCRC chief called for collective efforts to alter this trajectory, asserting, "For Pakistan to move forward, we must educate our children."

Junaid Samoon, chief programme manager at the Reform Support Unit (RSU), echoed the chairperson's concerns, referencing Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and underscoring the Sindh Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2013, which mandates compulsory education for all children. He also highlighted salient features of the Sindh Education Sector Plan and Roadmap (SESP&R) for 2019-2024, noting Sindh's pioneering role in conducting a census of private schools.

In another presentation, Qamar Shahid Siddiqui, from the Department of Empowerment of Persons with Disabilities, outlined the provincial government's efforts to provide education to children with special needs.

Other Sindh government officials addressed the challenges faced by schools, including shortage of furniture, scarcity of books, transitioning from primary to secondary education, and the high proportion of budget allocated to teachers' salaries.

Critical issues such as malnutrition and the need for STEAM education were also discussed, alongside the devastating impact of floods in 2022 and the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants also highlighted the low rate of registering births, with the government, particularly in rural areas. This deprived the government of crucial data on age of children in the region.

Earlier in his welcome remarks, NCRC member Pirbhu Satyani explained the meeting's purpose, emphasising that similar discussions are being held across all four provinces and the Islamabad Capital Territory.

He highlighted that the foundation of education sector plans is laid on Article 25-A of the Constitution, which guarantees free and compulsory education for all. 

These plans aim to provide implementation guidelines, focusing on improving access, retention, and equity in education, enhancing its quality, improving governance and management, and monitoring and evaluating educational programmes.

Arshad Yousafzai is based in Karachi and mainly covers political parties, labour, education policy, science and research, minorities, and human rights for The News International