May 21: For an audience numbering more than two thousand people including college and university students, “to save Pakistan, educate Pakistan” became an oath and a challenge to help child labourers get into schools. The faculty and students of Lahore College for Women University (LCWU) in collaboration with Child Care Foundation dedicated a five-hour seminar to the theme “From Child Labour to Child Education: To Save Pakistan, Educate Pakistan”. The young women of LCWU saw the effects of child labour on a multimedia screen and there was hardly anyone there who did not feel that lump in the throat and eyes that suddenly went moist.
Children working at brick kilns, carpet weaving factories, running errands at chai shops, and learning the trade at motor workshops and also the salacious job as house servants were some of the graphic images shown. Other well-to-do children drive or walk to school in their uniforms past these working child labourers without realising how fortunate and lucky they are not to be earning a living at such a tender age. The sheer injustice of it all had an instant effect on the audience which vowed to support the Child Care Foundation (CCF) schools for these children. LCWU’s Vice Chancellor Dr Sabiha Mansoor set the ball rolling by committing to support one CCF school personally and her example led some six department heads of LCWU to follow suit.
Set up in 1996 by committed, concerned citizens at a time when the world community had banned products from Pakistan on the premise that they were using child labour, Child Care Foundation has proved its efficacy in the 17 years since to eradicate child labour wherever they can. According to its Chairman, Mr Pervez Hassan, child labour is widespread in rural and backward areas of Pakistan where poverty levels are extreme. Child Care Foundation’s vision is of a Pakistan free of child labour and where each child can go to school to realise his/her potential in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Consequently, the foundation helps rehabilitate working children with basic secondary education, vocational training, and life skills which will improve their living and working conditions.
Pakistan’s statistics for education provision are still grim. ILO states that 3.8 million children between the ages of 10 and 14 are engaged in child labour. Pakistan has the third largest out of school population in the world with 7.26 million children out of school due to poverty. Of these, 4.21 million girl children have no access to education. Moreover, 43 per cent population of Pakistan cannot read or write. Yet, money allocated to education in the budget is barely one to two per cent of GDP and there has been a consistent lack of political will to tackle quality education for all by successive governments of Pakistan since the ’70s.
Lately, Article 25 A of the Constitution of Pakistan makes it mandatory on the Government to provide free and compulsory schooling to all its citizens aged five to 16. It has still to be legislated through the Provincial Assemblies as the 18th Amendment has devolved the education portfolio to the provinces. So far, numerous meetings are being held by civil society to help the educational bureaucracy formulate viable policies to meet the requirements of Article 25 A. It seems the logistics of such an exercise will warrant making of innumerable schools to accommodate the huge numbers of children not yet in school. Funds available may not meet the needs of such a huge exercise but policy makers will have to juggle and innovate for such an exercise to take off.
The impasse on improving education by struggling government officials has gone on for far too long and a comeback is becoming difficult to imagine.The Government of Pakistan would do well to declare an emergency and use technocrats to devise effective policies to be legislated through the provincial assemblies. Lack of competence is one big issue that impedes progress towards realistic and creative plans to uplift education in the country. Pakistani experts (not foreign aid ones) are needed to bring together a master plan to make education in the country quantitative and qualitative which can then be monitored over the next five to 10 years for implementation to succeed.
Till education is revamped and made uniform for all to access in a quality format, Pakistan is liable to lose its momentum to save itself. However, the resilience of the Pakistani people to take on impossible situations is well grounded. Right now to save Pakistan from all kinds of ignorance which illiteracy and poverty generate, it has to educate itself and on an emergency basis.
Child Care Foundation quotes Allama Iqbal to motivate the Pakistani citizenry:
Afrad ke hathon mein hai aqwam ki taqdeer
Har fard hai millat ke muqaddas ka sitara
An Article by Ismat Riaz
Published by Daily Dawn on May 20, 2012