The Asian Human Rights Commission has received the very sad news that a young student set himself on fire for want of a new school uniform in Shabquadar, Pakhunkha province. The tragic story is a reminder of the woeful lives of Pakistan’s many impoverished citizens. It highlights the challenges facing those that cling to the hope that education could be the means to escape from the grinding poverty that so many of them face.
While Kamran Khan’s family could not afford to send him to school his grades were such that a local private school allowed him to attend without having to pay the normal school fees. Largely self taught, Kamran was a promising student and an intelligent young man.
However, even then the family struggled. Kamran’s father had to borrow money to buy a work visa for Saudi Arabia four months earlier. To-date though, he has been unable to find work. His mother works as a domestic servant and he himself collected scrap for sale to bring in a few Rupees. The combined efforts of the family brought in less than US$ 2.00 per day.
Kamran never asked for anything for himself, a member of his family said. He was respected by his friends and teachers for his intelligence and wanted to have a new uniform so that he attend the school with pride. But last month he pleaded with his mother for several days to buy him a new school uniform, the traditional white shalwar kameez, the loose-fitting pants and top worn by both men and women. He was embarrassed that his old one was worn out and patched.
When his mother told him that there was simply no money available he left the house doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. Kamran suffered burns over 65 percent of his body and was taken to an army-run hospital in Punjab. The hospital demanded $ 5,500 for his treatment but the family could only afford a small percentage of that sum. He died of his injuries shortly after admission.
Kamran Khan is not the only student whose chance at an education is in jeopardy. There are hundreds of thousands of such students throughout the country who either abandon their education or go for such extreme measures. His case should be an eye-opener for the educational authorities and the government that is supposed to be the representatives of the people but who pay no attention to their plight. The young people of any country are that very country’s future. Over 60% of the population of Pakistan (180 Million) consists of young people from the age of 1-24 years. Among this young population 80% live in poverty. As a result of this proper education is limited to only 20% of the young population and only 2.5% of the GDP is allocated to education. However, at the end of every year this is slashed due to the defense budget and non-productive expenditure.
In the case of Kamran Khan his situation was ignored by the provincial authorities as well as the federal government. The very people who could and should have supported Kanran turned a blind eye to his situation. They offered no support so that he could continue his education and ignored the causes that created this situation. How many more Kamrans need to die before vast improvements are made to the educational facilities throughout the county and especially in the provinces.
It is commonly reported that 40% of the population of Pakistan lives below the poverty line and earn less than $ 2.00 per day. This is hardly enough to feed a family let alone educate the children. What should be a full meal is divided into three in order to ensure that they have three meals a day out of that one. As there is hardly enough money to feed the family there is rarely any to spare on school books.
Health care is an even lower priority. When the family could not afford to pay for a new uniform that would have cost $ 6.00 how could they have possibly afforded the $ 5,500 demanded by the hospital. The government totally ignored their plight in the misguided belief that this class of people were born to suffer such calamities. This is a clear message to the poor that attempting to educate their children can only lead to hardship and that they simply should not bother.
Kamran’s case shows the dire lack of prioritization of the limited facilities that the government is prepared to spend on education. Changes must come from the top down and it is up to the government to ensure that the people who elected it must be given the highest priority if their lives are to improve. Kamran Khan’s family should receive proper compensation and assistance to lift them out of the grinding poverty that caused his death. They must take immediate measures to ensure that there are no more Kamrans.