The ratification of several human rights treaties over the past two-and-a-half decades seems to serve as evidence that Pakistan is working towards providing millions of children the opportunity to attend school.

In 2010, Pakistan’s legislative body amended the Constitution by inserting Article 25A, which mandates the government “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.” The amendment reflects the country’s ratification of two major human rights treaties. In 1990, Pakistan ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Under Article 28 of the CRC, States Parties must “[m]ake primary education compulsory and available free to all.” Pakistan took this commitment further in 2008 by ratifying the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, which also recognizes the necessity of affording compulsory education to all children with the view that education “shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity, and shall strengthen the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

While Pakistan’s ratification of these treaties and its subsequent constitutional amendment are positive steps towards the full realization of the right to primary education, the country continues to face many challenges. According to a report by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, Pakistan had the world’s second largest number of children out of school in 2012, with 8.3 million Pakistani children accounting for one in twelve of the world’s out-of-school children. The report further revealed that one out of every four school-aged children in Pakistan had never attended any school, with girls comprising half of those children. According to Aamir Latif of Pakistan Press International Reports, the situation is more alarming in rural regions, such as Baluchistan, where the female literacy rate stands between three and eight percent.

Providing adequate educational resources for Pakistani children is preconditioned on assuring their safety. According to a report by the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack, the total number of reported militant attacks on schools in Pakistan between 2009 to 2012 “was at least 838 and could be as high as 919.”

While these existing challenges depict a very difficult road for Pakistani children in reaching their dreams of attending school, the relevant treaties offer some mechanisms at the government’s disposal that can lead to positive outcomes. Article 44 of the CRC requires States Parties to submit their periodic reports to the CRC Committee every five years. This helps human rights experts fully assess the domestic measures affecting the rights recognized in the convention. The government of Pakistan has been adhering to this obligation since its submission of initial report in 1993, but it has failed to strictly follow the general guidelines of the Committee regarding the form and content of periodic reports. In fact, in its last Concluding Observation on Pakistan’s combined third and fourth periodic reports, the Committee expressed regret that the government did not “fully comply with [its] revised general guidelines regarding the form and content of periodic reports.”

Furthermore, the Pakistani government has the opportunity to take full advantage of the Optional Protocol to the CRC on a communications procedure. By ratifying it, the government not only provides its citizens the right to submit complaints arising out of the convention, it can also benefit from resources offered within the protocol. Under Article 15, the Committee with the consent of the State Party concerned can transmit its views and recommendations to “United Nations specialized agencies, funds and [programs] and other competent bodies” in order to provide further technical advice or assistance.

Similar to the CRC, Articles 16 and 17 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also mandate States Parties submit reports, but in stages. Pursuant to Article 16, the country must submit reports to the U.N. Secretary-General, who must then transmit copies to the Economic and Social Council and other specialized agencies. This mechanism creates a collective platform for addressing issues raised in the reports. Regrettably, since its ratification of the convention in 2008, Pakistan has not submitted a report.

Pakistan could gain substantial support by observing treaty standards. The treaty-based committees may assist with specific challenges such as terrorism, insurgency, and lack of sufficient economic resources that Pakistan is currently facing towards providing adequate primary education to all its children. These issues continue to deprive many Pakistani children of their dreams of going to school; but, the government can help to bring these obstacles into international spotlight and seek assistance by fully adhering to its treaty obligations.

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