“Education is education. We should learn everything and then choose which path to follow.” Education is neither Eastern nor Western, it is human.”- Malala Yousafzai, I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban.

India and Pakistan, two nuclear-armed nations with a common cultural heritage have been fraught with tensions for decades. While the two countries pride themselves on their extravagant military weapons, it is the children in both countries that have ultimately paid the price as they been deprived of education. The facts and figures revealed by UNICEF are extremely worrisome.

In India, close to 6 million children are out of school (OOSC). Out of 100 students, 29 percent of girls and boys drop out of school before even completing the full cycle of elementary education. Furthermore, approximately 20 million children, between the ages of 3-6, are unable to attend even preschool. Unfortunately, these are often the most marginalized children. The majority (75 percent) of the OOSC are concentrated in the 6 states of Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, and West Bengal.

In Pakistan, approximately 22.8 million children in the age group 5-16 are out-of-school. In the 5-9 age group, 5 million children are not enrolled in schools and after primary-school age, the number of OOSC doubles, with 11.4 million adolescents between the ages of 10-14 not receiving formal education. Disparities based on gender, socio-economic status, and geography are significant in the Provinces of Sindh, where 52 percent of the poorest children (58 percent girls) are out of school, and in Balochistan, where 78 percent of girls are out of school.

Both Nations are signatories to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). While India ratified the CRC in 1992, Pakistan ratified it in 1990. Article 28 of the CRC stipulates that, ‘’States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all;(b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education…make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need…’’ The ratification of the CRC has created legally binding obligations on the States of India and Pakistan. Accordingly, both Nations through constitutional amendments recognized the right to education as a constitutionally protected fundamental right.

In 2002, the 86th Amendment to the Indian Constitution made education a fundamental right via Article 21A, which stipulates that ’’The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of six to fourteen years in such manner as the State may, by law, determine.’’ The Courts in India have interpreted Article 21A progressively. In the 2005 case of Messrs Zee Telefilms Limited v Union of India, the Supreme Court of India held that even sport was deemed to be a part of education.

In 2010, about eight years after India’s amendment of its constitution to introduce the right to education as a fundamental right, Pakistan via the 18th Amendment inserted Article 25A to its Constitution. It stipulates 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.’’ In the 2012 case of Fiaaqat Hussain v Federation of Pakistan, the Supreme Court of Pakistan extended Article 25A to also cover the informal education system to ensure that children in less privileged areas were not deprived of their right to an education.

Unfortunately, despite the existence of the laws obligating the governments of both Nations and the broad and progressive interpretation of the right to education by the apex Courts, the above-mentioned statistics tell a very grim tale of the reality.  As per the World Bank, while Pakistan allocated 2.9% of its total GDP to education, India allocated 3.8%. Considering the fact that India has a much higher population than Pakistan, it seems that both countries have allocated a very meager percentage of its GDP to one of the most important aspects of human life. In view of the high number of OOSC in both countries, the percentage of GDP allocated to education should be much higher. It is time for both Nations to straighten their priorities. Nations that leave their children behind can never move forward.

© The Eastern Herald
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Rida Tahir
Barrister of the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn. A human rights activist in Karachi Pakistan. Contributor to The Eastern Herald.