PAKISTAN: First international day of the girl child — an opportunity to review policies and societal attitudes 

The United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to declare October 11 as the International Day of the Girl Child. The occasion aims to highlight the difficulties and barriers faced by young girls in their social and economic development.

No one can deny that education is the right of every human, either male or female; however, in Pakistan girls, especially in rural areas of the country are still struggling to have this fundamental right. And because of this Pakistan has a long way to go in order to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of Universal Education by 2015.

The First International Day of the Girl Child provides an opportunity to review and reflect upon the existing polices and societal attitudes, placing hindrances in girls’ education and overall development in the country.

Humaira Munir, a social sciences researcher, stated that according to the available data, “The overall literacy rate in Pakistan is 58%; with male literacy stands at 69%, and females at 45%. Around 7 million children aged 5 to 9 are not enrolled in schools, whereas more than 30 million children aged 4 to 16 have no access to education.” She added that according to a report by UN Education, Science, Culture Organization (UNESCO) in 2010, around 30% of Pakistan population lives in “extreme educational poverty” with less than two years of education. It is redundant to say that girls formed a major portion of this group.

The Constitution of Pakistan in its Article 25A pertaining to Right to Education states that, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.”  Additionally, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 in Article 26 (1) states that, “Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory.”  Furthermore, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in Article 28 and Article 29 also emphasized on the Right of the Child to get Education.

However the parents of Kausar, a thirteen year old resident of a village near Hyderabad, are not aware of any local or international legislation regarding the importance of education.  Kausar has never had the opportunity to be enrolled in any school despite the fact that a government school is located close to her house.  She had only learnt some chapters of Holy Quran from her grandmother.  She narrated that, “My parents are illiterate; however, two of my brothers are getting education.  My elder sister got married at the age of fifteen and now my parents are trying hard to arrange my marriage.  My parents are absolutely not in favor of girl’s education though I had shown my desire to get education on several times.”

Parveen is a close friend of Kausar, and at the age of fifteen she is a mother of an infant girl.  Parveen also has never attended any formal or informal schooling system as her parents wanted to arrange her marriage since she was twelve year old.  Parveen said, “One of my brothers is studying in Hyderabad but my father never allowed me to even attend the local school.”  Parveen’s husband is a semi literate young man who is in favor of educating his newborn girl.

Unlike Kausar and Parveen, Azeema had the opportunity to attend the school; however, she did not get the permission to continue her education when she was studying in fourth grade.  “I was allowed to get education because my father was in favour of education.  However, I was withdrawn from the school because my mother was pregnant at that time and I had to cook and do other domestic work for my family,” said Azeema who is also fifteen years old. She got married recently and now spends ten to twelve hours a day to fulfil her domestic duties.

There have been consistent efforts to enhance the status of girl child by the government, legislators, civil society organizations and media.  It is a fact that girls still belong to one of most neglected sections of the society.  Many families prefer to have boys and the birth of a girl child is not desired by a majority of parents.
Kareema Bibi has three daughters and two sons.  Both of her sons are getting education; however, none of her daughters had the opportunity to attend school. Kareema Bibi maintained that, “These girls will get married very soon and therefore my husband is trying to earn as much money as possible to arrange dowry for them.  I am fully convinced that any investment on their education is a sheer wastage of money.”  Kareema Bibi is aware of the importance of education and she believed that both of her sons will get very good jobs after finishing their education.

According to different media reports about 37 per cent of women in the country get married before reaching the age of 18.  The phenomenon of early marriage is more prevalent in rural areas and according to a newspaper report, “An official informed that, his NGO had conducted a survey in six districts of rural areas and found that 61 per cent women get married before reaching the age of 18 years.”

A nexus between the low literacy rate among girls or women and early marriages is crystal clear.  Early marriages are certainly a phenomenon that has been in practice in South Asia for a very long time.  Laws related to early marriages are available in Pakistan; additionally, the successive governments have also ratified international legislations pertaining to the protection of children.  It is often regarded that the weak implementation of legal instruments along with abhorrent cultural norms is the major cause of early marriages. The treatment of girls and women as weak, inferior, and a burden, by the wider part of the society, has also exposed them to numerous violations of their fundamental rights.  And the situation is liable to continue until and unless concrete practical steps are taken by all segments of the society.

On the occasion of First International Day of the Girl Child, it is absolutely necessary that government, civil society organizations and media should devise long and short term policies to eliminate inherent bias against the girl child.  Additionally, consistent efforts are required to make people aware about the fundamental rights of girl child, as outlined in national and international legislation.


About the author: Mr. Amir Murtaza is a senior researcher and can be reached at;

Document Type : Article
Document ID : AHRC-ART-099-2012
Countries : Pakistan,
Issues : Women's rights,