Courtesy: Dawn News
By Tahera Hasan
The writer is a lawyer and founder-director of Imkaan Welfare Organisation.
THERE are certain responsibilities a state has towards its children. The most fundamental of them is providing access to education, alongside the other basic rights of nationality, housing, recreation, freedom, protection and belonging.
Inability to access education is one of the major challenges faced by people in Pakistan. The non-existence of quality public institutions leads to few opportunities and possibilities. In marginalised communities, there are home-grown schools that parents send their children to as a last resort. However, these schools are unable to retain their students due to lack of quality engagement and nurturing and the inflicting of corporal punishment. This combination results in children dropping out of school or playing truant.
Education in Pakistan is a luxury that most cannot afford. Without educating children, there is no hope for empowerment and progress. In this landscape, we have a large population of children who are stateless: ie, they are without any identity or citizenship documents in their country of residence, which makes them virtually non-existent.
The requirement for school admissions and subsequently taking high school exams is a Child Registration Certificate. There are countless families in Pakistan that, because of the lack of documentation, are unable to acquire a CRC. Struggles of this nature exist not only in communities that are stateless, but also among those who have a generational lack of documentation.
Lack of documents is depriving children of education.
The kind of challenges faced by children and young people due to this requirement are unimaginable. There have been cases of children who have been removed from school in secondary grades or whose studies have been aborted midway. In most cases, there has been no access to schooling as schools refuse to enrol a child because of lack of documentation. There are students who have managed to complete their college degrees but are then unable to get their certificates, rendering their education useless.
These are violations of the fundamental rights of the child guaranteed by the Constitution of Pakistan, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that have been ratified by Pakistan. Pakistan has therefore accepted its legal obligations and is bound to make the changes required to ensure implementation.
The Constitution of Pakistan in Article 25A clearly lays down that “The state shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to 16 years in such manner as may be determined by law”. Similarly, Article 28 of the Convention on the Rights of Child asserts that primary education must be compulsory and free for all and stresses the development of secondary education, and accessibility to vocational education.
In addition, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights recognises education as a fundamental right and, as such, one of the most important rights for survival. It is very clear that the right to education is a fundamental right and cannot and should not in any way be curtailed through policy and process. It is imperative that as a state that is vested in its children, and for progress and the future of our country, we ensure that every child can access his or her right to education.
Removal of children from school, or children not being allowed to be educated, is violative of the Constitution and the principles of child welfare. Vocational training centres in most cases require a Matriculation certificate for enrolment, which automatically restricts it to those that have access to education, while depriving those who need it most.
At a mental health clinic that Imkaan Welfare Organisation runs at Machhar Colony, one of the largest informal settlements in Karachi and home to a primarily stateless population, engagement and studies show that in 80 per cent of cases of depression the lack of access to education is cited as the main cause. The inability to progress, together with hopelessness, impacts the youth and increases gravitation towards drug addiction and anti-social activities.
Not implementing Article 25A is anti-poor and ensures that a marginalised and deprived section of society has no chance of progress. There is an urgent need to make sure that all children have the right to access education by removing the requirement of CRC for school admissions and high school examinations. School registrations can be done, alternatively, on the basis of a birth certificate or any other proof of birth. This will ensure equal access to education for all. By implementing this change, we will be able to give children one of the very basic rights granted to them and protected in our Constitution and a chance for a better future and society.