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Malala Yousafzai proves an inspiration for girl’s education in Pakistan

Today, on her 16th birthday, Malala Yousafzai is set to address the United Nations, but already her example is helping girls in Pakistan.

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At the United Nations, Malala Yousafzai is expected to call on world leaders to do more to ensure all children have access to education. But even before her speech, she has already helped girls in her native Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.

For a special article, BBC reporters have been speaking to community workers about the impact of Malala’s shooting on the region. In the weeks directly after the school girl was shot, local workers say families were frightened to let their girls attend school and classrooms were empty. However, it didn’t take long for aid workers and teachers to respond. Soon campaigns were being run, with meetings and pamphlet drops, to persuade parents to let their daughters attend school.

'The Malala effect’

But education workers say ‘the Malala effect’ has also kicked in, as parents refuse to be intimidated about the choices they make for their children. One ten year-old told the BBC that after her mother saw what happened on the television, she and her sisters were informed they should start going to school. One school in the region has reported that enrolment numbers for girls have actually increased as more families decide their daughters should have an education. Teachers say the arrival of extra pupils is due to Malala’s story.

However, the problem remains huge in Pakistan, which has the second highest number of out-of-school children in the world (after Nigeria). More than 5.4 million Pakistani children of primary age were not in school during 2010-2011 (according to UNESCO), which represents a rise of 0.3 million from the previous year. And there are an additional 7 million adolescents out of school. National spending on education has also been decreasing over recent years.

Poverty forces children to work

While the problem is partly cultural, with girls often expected to stay at home to help with family chores, poverty is also a significant factor. Many families still rely on the labour of their children to help put food on the table. The BBC talks to a ten year-old called Jeeni, who lives in Hyderabad in the southern province of Sindh and has only been to school one day out of her whole life.

Like her nine siblings, Jeeni has to work at a local kiln outside the city. The family toils there each day, earning the equivalent of 2 pounds for producing 1,000 bricks. This can take them up to 15 hours and the pay isn’t even enough for a decent meal for all of them. With such meagre earnings, there is therefore little chance that Jeeni will ever get to school again, because as she explains “if we earn, we eat”.

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