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Tackling the problem of out-of-school girls in Pakistan

Pakistan has more than 7 million primary-school-age children who are not enrolled at school.

With Bangladesh and India, these three Asian countries account for nearly a fifth of all out-of-school children across the world. Many of the children not attending school in these countries are girls.

A new report brought out by Gordon Brown, United Nations special envoy on education, refers to interesting research conducted in Pakistan. The report - ‘Child labour and educational disadvantage: breaking the link, building opportunity’ – cites a study which looked at the effect of the eldest girl in a family dropping out of school.

The study found that when the oldest sister in a household finishes her education early, this has an impact on the prospects of her siblings. For an additional year the eldest girl stays in school, a younger brother will likely complete an extra half-a-year, increasing the brother’s probability of being enrolled at school by 10%. It also increases the probability of a younger brother being literate and numerate, by between 7-19%. These findings suggest that the curtailment of a girls’ education has consequences not only for her, but also for the education prospects of her siblings.

As well as the resulting economic benefits for individual families and for Pakistan as a whole, encouraging girls to stay on in education is also seen as vital in the country’s fight against extremist ideologies. This week, Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, attended a UNESCO event in Paris, which was being held in honour of Malala Yousufzai, the schoolgirl who was recently shot by extremists. The president pledged 10 million dollars to provide support for girls’ education, saying that sending girls to school was the best way to combat extremism.

Mr Zardari recently visited Malala, who is being treated for her injuries in the UK. He said he was “deeply moved” by the visit. In a report by The Guardian, Mr Zardari is quoted as saying “I have no doubt that our resolve to provide education to all, in particular to the millions of schoolgirls, is the best strategy to defeat the forces of violence.”

The US secretary of state, Hilary Clinton, attended the UNESCO event. She spoke about the importance of girls continuing their education, especially since it meant girls were less likely to become child brides and were better able to contribute to their families’ livelihoods. However, she acknowledged that girls still faced enormous obstacles to completing a full education, not only in Pakistan, but in many countries all over the world.

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