In 2012, the same year Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for drawing attention to girls’ struggle for an education in Pakistan, less than half of girls living in the country’s southernmost province of Sindh were enrolled in primary school.
Five years later, the future looks brighter for those girls, thanks Plan International’s work with local young people and policymakers.
In December 2016, Sindh authorities took a step toward upholding children’s right to a free education in the province by implementing a local law ensuring adherence by parents and schools to a constitutional amendment by Pakistan’s federal government.
“Most of the schools in our village are closed, but our group has managed to reopen eight of them due to this campaign,” says Mahnoor Fatima Shah, 16, a member of a youth group facilitated by Plan International.
Ensuring all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary education is part of Goal 4 of the Global Goals for Sustainable Development. Plan contributes to this goal by working with girls to ensure they can claim their right to a quality education, and in Pakistan Plan has stood beside young leaders to hold local authorities to account.
Since 2010, it has been part of the Pakistani constitution that children between 5 and 16 should be granted free and compulsory education. But it wasn’t until 2013 that the provincial government of Sindh began to accept this responsibility, bringing in the Sindh Right of the Children Free and Compulsory Act 2013, which officially made education free and compulsory in the province.
Even then, the local authorities did not fully implement the act, and at least 3 million girls in the province continued missing out on an education.
In 2014, Plan teamed up with young people in Sindh, who launched a petition calling for the government to take action. Through door-to-door signature collections, phone calls, advertising on local radio stations, and a series of rallies organized by student councils, they collected more than 15,000 signatures.
The young people also held one-on-one meetings and education conferences with senior policymakers and secured the support of influential people in their communities, including district leaders and head teachers, helping to raise the campaign’s profile.
“My perspective has really changed,” said Shah. “I am now not only aware of my rights and feel confident about myself but I also feel I can help others in my village and stand up for their rights.”
In September 2015, the young people’s petition was handed to the Sindh education department. Over the ensuing 15 months, the group continued to build their campaign and in December 2016 they finally received the news that Sindh’s Secretary of Education had passed a law requiring the 2013 act to be implemented.
Whereas previously many parents kept their daughters at home and many school officials turned a blind eye to empty seats in class, this year both parties will be fined if children in their care do not attend school.
“This is an impressive achievement,” says Sabir Baig, project manager at Plan International Pakistan. “All children have a right to go to school and the Sindh government has a duty to ensure this. This new law will allow more boys and girls to develop to their full potential and make more choices in life.”