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'Shall I feed my daughter or educate her?': The abysmal state of girls' education in Pakistan

HRW report says barriers to girls' education include under-investment, prohibitive school fees and gender discrimination
Updated Nov 14, 2018 12:52pm
A free non-government school in Karachi's Lyari's neighbourhood provides a few hours of classes per day to children who otherwise have no access to education. *Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch*
A free non-government school in Karachi's Lyari's neighbourhood provides a few hours of classes per day to children who otherwise have no access to education. Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch

Pakistan is failing to educate a huge proportion of the country's girls, who have little or no access to education, notes a recent report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

The report called 'Shall I Feed My Daughter, or Educate Her?', catalogs barriers to girl's education based on over 200 interviews – most of them with girls who never attended school or were unable to complete their education, and their families – conducted in all four of Pakistan’s provinces in places like Peshawar, Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, and several nearby rural areas.

The report concludes that in a country of 200 million, a shocking 22 million children are out of school — with a majority of them being girls.

In fact, by 9th grade only 13 percent of girls are still in school.

Also read: 10 alarming statistics about Pakistan’s out-of-school children

“The Pakistan government’s failure to educate children is having a devastating impact on millions of 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.” — ” Liesl Gerntholtz, women’s rights director at HRW.

“Even parents who are not educated themselves understand that their daughters’ future depends on them going to school, but the government is abandoning these families,” Gerntholtz said.

As of 2017, Pakistan was spending less than 2.8 percent of its gross domestic product on education – far below the recommended 4 to 6 percent.


Below are some of the factors that keep girls out of schools, as highlighted by the report:

1. A wildly inadequate government school system

2. Chronic under-investment in education

3. Flourishing unregulated private sector means poor quality private schools

4. Corruption contributes to poor quality government schools


Saba is one of almost 22.5 million children who are out of school. She sells potatoes on the street outside a private school and longs to attend school herself. *Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch*
Saba is one of almost 22.5 million children who are out of school. She sells potatoes on the street outside a private school and longs to attend school herself. Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch

5. No education is free

6. No effort has been made to make education compulsory

7. Girls face discrimination


Bushra, a 10th grader, sews to help earn money for her expenses. Education cost often increases as children advance in grades. *Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch*
Bushra, a 10th grader, sews to help earn money for her expenses. Education cost often increases as children advance in grades. Image by Insiya Syed for Human Rights Watch

Key recommendations by HRW:

Compiled by Shahbano Ali Khan