Pakistan’s implementation of the Convention on the Rights of Child, which it ratified in 1990, was recently reviewed by the UN Committee on the Rights of Child. The State party was represented by an eleven person delegation, including a federal minister and Pakistan’s ambassador to the UN.
For the review, the Pakistan Coalition for Education and seven national civil society organisations, together with international partners such as the Asia South Pacific Association for Basic and Adult Education (ASPBAE) and the Global Initiatives for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (GIESCR) submitted a shadow report on key right to education issues.
The Committee, comprised of child rights experts and informed by our shadow report, questioned Pakistan on its failure to adopt legislation implementing the right to compulsory education in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and in the territories of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir, and the poor enforcement of right to education legislation in provinces where such legislation exists. The Committee also raised concerns about the privatisation of education and in particular, the lack of measures to ensure the compliance of private schools with minimum educational standards, curriculum requirements and qualification for teachers. Connected to the above issues the Committee was concerned about the extremely low allocation of the budget to education.
It is to be noted that the education sector in Pakistan is one of the most neglected in terms of percentage of GDP allocated. If the current Sustainable Developmental Goal on education is to be met, the budget allocation to education would roughly need to triple. In addition, the private sector is given a free hand and even subsidised by the government as a part of the push to fast-track enrolment. In view of such an aggressive pursuit of privatisation policies, the fate of the most disadvantaged children with no access to quality public education is a pressing human rights concern. And it seems the Committee agrees.
As a representative of Pakistani civil society, having the opportunity to attend the session and informally engage with committee members and the State delegation, I have some mixed observations about the whole experience.
It was a success for the Pakistan Coalition for Education and our national and international partners to be able to effectively persuade the Committee to ask such pertinent questions based on our shadow report submitted for the session. However, despite the seriousness of the issues, the responses we got from the State party were non-committal and, in some instances, almost critical.
The session commenced with Chairperson Mezmur assuring the Pakistani delegation that the review was not an inquisition but rather a dialogue in an amicable setting. However, the delegation seemed to be in a defensive mode from the outset. There were many instances of the delegation misrepresenting facts and figures, which the Committee observed. The educational adviser in the Ministry of Federal Education and Training could not adequately answer questions regarding the insufficient allocation of resources for education and the unfettered privatisation leading to discrimination and segregation in society. Instead, he blamed the ‘war on terror’ and the Taliban for putting Pakistan in this situation. The Minister of Human Rights, Mr Zafarullah, also claimed that the right to education bills had been passed in all provinces, which is patently not true, as the Committee made clear in its concluding observations.
Overall the Pakistani delegation was blasé towards the review, with the Permanent Representative to the UN often seen shuttling between the session and other commitments. The Federal Minister of Human Rights, Barrister Zafrullah on numerous occasions also blamed national NGOs for not cooperating with the government and attributed to them blame for many problems in the social and developmental sector. Such comments from the State delegation reflect a deep rooted mistrust for national NGOs and the non-committal approach towards the social sector. The Committee was also concerned about this, highlighting in its concluding observations that: “cooperation with civil society is limited and restrictions are reportedly imposed on certain non-governmental organisations.”
This all raises serious questions about Pakistan’s commitment to the right to education, to its cooperation with civil society in order to ensure the effective implementation of the right to education, and its willingness to cooperate with the UN and to be held accountable for its legal obligations which it willingly consented to by ratifying the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Pakistan’s blasé attitude was perfectly summed-up by an off-hand remark made by a high ranking member of the delegation: “…education is all good in Pakistan - so don’t worry!”