Out-of-school children in Gilgit-Baltistan
By Israr Uddin Israr
On 21 November 2022, the Gilgit regional office of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) organised a meeting to commemorate World Children’s Day. The purpose of this meeting was to consult with stakeholders regarding out-of-school children (OOSC) in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and to discuss ways and means to make GB’s education system more inclusive. The participants at this meeting included representatives from the GB government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on education, representatives from the Association of Persons with Disabilities and members of the civil society.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Pakistan currently has the world’s secondhighest number of OOSC at approximately 22.8 million children, representing 44% of the total population of children. While GB has a high literacy rate in Pakistan compared to the rest of Pakistan, the region also has a considerable number of OOSC. According to a socio-economic survey conducted by the Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP), 22% (125,894) of GB’s total population of children (569,421). Of these figures, 20% (58,671) are boys and 24% (68,175) are girls. A survey of GB’s population of 735 transgender children also shows that 48 are OOSC.
Various socio-economic factors contribute to OOSC, such as an inability to afford tuition, non-inclusive learning environments, distance of schools from homes, poor infrastructure, or a dysfunctional family environment. OOSC ultimately leads to a higher proportion of an unskilled and uneducated workforce, an increase in poverty and other hurdles to sustainable development. Children also become vulnerable to rights violations such as child labour.
Children’s right to education is considered a fundamental right enshrined under Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), Article 25-A of the Constitution of Pakistan, Article 27 of the Gilgit-Baltistan Order 2018 and Section 6 of the GB Child Protection Response Act 2017. Pakistan is also obligated to uphold this right after ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1990. Despite the very clear international obligations, articles of the Constitution of Pakistan, national and provincial laws regarding the right to education of children in Pakistan and GB, an overwhelming number of OOSC is alarming for policymakers and civil society.
The participants at HRCP’s meeting proposed the following steps that must be taken by the GB government to minimise the number of OOSC in the region:
- Conduct a district-level survey for an accurate assessment of the various factors that keep children out
- Draft and implement a constitutional policy under Article 25-A to provide accessible education for
every child. This policy must include steps to curb child labour as well as provide financial support to
- Establish a steering committee or task force to oversee the implementation of a program aimed
towards increasing school enrollment and curbing dropouts at the provincial and district levels. This
program must be linked with measures for poverty reduction, population control, drug control and
mental health accessibility for a holistic system of administration and welfare.
- Revisit school curriculums to incorporate components on life skills and human rights. The examination
and grading systems must also be revisited.
- Ensure that children complete their basic education from ECD to grade 12 within a reasonable distance
from their homes.
- Monitor schools to ensure they deliver a good-quality of education with adequate facilities and cocurricular activities. A good-quality education must include a diverse array of subjects including arts,
humanities and sciences, and be inclusive to children regardless of their abilities and socio-economic
- Create a strong collaborative environment between local communities and school managements for
the inclusion of OOSC. This can be done by launching awareness campaigns about children’s right to
receive an education.
- Ensure that parents provide their children’s citizenship documents, such as a birth certificate, when
enrolling their children in schools. If they are unable to do so, NADRA should facilitate them – Ensure a
quota for the enrollment of children with disabilities. Schools must also be equipped with trained staff
members and accessible facilities to accommodate their needs.
- Implement the existing national and GB child protection laws to protect children from harassment,
abuse, and corporal punishment.
- Make it a mandatory requirement for schools to design and implement policies for reporting child
abuse on school premises as well as on routes between schools and homes.
- Provide special attention to children’s mental health issues and social displacement resulting from
family dysfunction or domestic violence.
- Introduce informal skill-based learning programmes for OOSC.
- Strategise for reducing dropouts after natural disasters take place. A good model for reference is a new project launched by CEENA Health and Welfare Services under which the school tuitions of disasteraffected children will be paid for one year and then renewed after assessing the rehabilitation of the affected families.
The contributor is a Gilgit-based human rights activist and columnist. Currently, he is attached to HRCP as a regional coordinator for the GB chapter. He can be reached on email@example.com