April 2012


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How Many More Kamrans Need to Die in the Quest for Education in Pakistan?

Asian Human Rights Commission

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received the very sad news that a young student set himself on fire for want of a new school uniform in Shabquadar in Pakhunkha Province. The tragic story is a reminder of the woeful lives of Pakistan’s many impoverished citizens. It highlights the challenges facing those that cling to the hope that education could be the means to escape from the grinding poverty that so many of them face.

While Kamran Khan’s family could not afford to send him to school, his grades were such that a local private school allowed him to attend without having to pay the normal school fees. Largely self-taught, Kamran was a promising student and an intelligent young man.

However, even then, the family struggled. Kamran’s father had to borrow money to buy a work visa for Saudi Arabia four months earlier. Presently, however, he has been unable to find work. His mother works as a domestic servant, and Kamran himself collected scrap for sale to bring in a few rupees. The combined efforts of the family brought in less than US$2.00 per day.

Kamran never asked for anything for himself, a member of his family said. He was respected by his friends and teachers for his intelligence and wanted to have a new uniform so that he could attend school with pride. Last month, however, he pleaded with his mother for several days to buy him a new school uniform, the traditional white shalwar kameez, the loose-fitting pants and top worn by both men and women. He was embarrassed that his old one was worn out and patched.

When his mother told him that there was simply no money available, he left the house, doused himself with gasoline and set himself alight. Kamran suffered burns over 65 percent of his body and was taken to an army-run hospital in Punjab. The hospital demanded US$5,500 for his treatment, but the family could only afford a small percentage of that sum. He died of his injuries shortly after admission.

Kamran Khan is not the only student whose chance at an education is in jeopardy. There are hundreds of thousands of such students throughout the country who either abandon their education or go to such extreme measures. His case should be an eye-opener for the educational authorities and the government that is supposed to be the representatives of the people but who pay no attention to their plight. The young people of any country are that country’s future. More than 60 percent of the population of Pakistan of 180 million consists of young people from the age of 1 to 24 years. Among this young population, 80 percent live in poverty. As a result of this fact, proper education is limited to only 20 percent of the young population, and only 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) is allocated to education. However, at the end of every year, this is slashed due to the defense budget and non-productive expenditure.

In the case of Kamran Khan, his situation was ignored by the provincial authorities as well as the federal government. The very people who could, and should, have supported Kamran turned a blind eye to his situation. They offered no support so that he could continue his education and disregarded the causes that created this situation. How many more Kamrans need to die before vast improvements are made to the educational facilities throughout the county, especially in the provinces.

It is commonly reported that 40 percent of the population of Pakistan lives below the poverty line and earn less than US$2.00 per day. This income is hardly enough to feed a family, let alone educate the children. What should be a full meal is divided into three in order to ensure that they have three meals a day out of that one. As there is hardly enough money to feed the family, there is rarely anything to spare on school books.

Health care is an even lower priority. When the family could not afford to pay for a new school uniform that would have cost US$6.00, how could they have possibly afforded the US$5,500 demanded by the hospital. The government totally ignored their plight in the misguided belief that this class of people were born to suffer such calamities. Their reaction is a clear message to the poor that attempting to educate their children can only lead to hardship and that they simply should not bother.

Kamran’s case shows the dire lack of prioritization of the limited facilities that the government is prepared to spend on education. Change must come from the top levels, and it is up to the government to ensure that the people who elected it must be given the highest priority if their lives are to improve. Kamran Khan’s family should receive proper compensation and assistance to lift them out of the grinding poverty that caused his death. The authorities must take immediate measures to ensure that there are no more Kamrans.

* The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is a regional non-governmental organization monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984. More information is available on AHRC’s web site at <http://www.ahrchk.net/index.php>.